Applause for Ashland’s big Appel

There is something quite wonderful about watching a live performance amid a group of complete strangers, all of whom are being impacted simultaneously by the actors on stage. When the curtain comes down, there is no mistaking the energy left drifting over an audience that has been thoroughly touched.

As if moved by an unknown spirit, these strangers sitting in the dark stand together, inextricably tied to one another through a shared emotional experience. With one voice they cry out their appreciation accompanied by raucous applause.

No one in Ashland is more deserving of this honor than Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s retiring artistic director Libby Appel.

Libby, take a bow.

After 12 magnificent years and an encore record-breaking performance this year, you deserve a standing ovation.

During Ms. Appel’s illustrious tenure, OSF produced 132 plays, of which she directed 20 (including this year’s “The Tempest” and “The Cherry Orchard”). Both Time Magazine and The New York Times have honored OSF and Ms. Appel has received two honorary doctorates for her work.

OSF’s 2007 season closed at the end of last month with attendance reaching 90 percent capacity (404,730) and more than $15 million in ticket sales. Both set records.

Consider that OSF is one of the largest employers in the city, and one of the most diverse. As the core of Ashland’s economic engine, it has withstood the dirt tossed by local critics and continued to run like a well-oiled machine.

Consider the fact that during this same year in which OSF was dealing with the issue of turnover at the top, the city itself faced a similar situation with dramatically less success. While attendance climbed at OSF, Mt. Ashland Ski Area grappled with declining season pass holders. Decisions made by MAA pertaining to its proposed expansion became a public relations nightmare.

Under Ms. Appel’s direction, with the notable help of longtime Executive Director Paul Nicholson and a top-flight staff, OSF flourished.

Recognizing the need to expand its own facilities, OSF built the New Theater in 2002 at a cost of $11 million. Today, it (and Ashland) reaps the benefits of good leadership and long-range planning and vision.

Meanwhile, the city is suffering economically from a lack of long-range planning and vision. A few minutes down the boulevard, Southern Oregon University suffers a similar fate due also to lack of long-range planning and vision.

While OSF was achieving record high ticket sales, SOU was going through a process some call “retrenchment.” In lay terms it’s called downsizing. Numerous jobs and several courses were cut to make ends meet. New leaders, at both SOU and the city, now give us hope for what may come tomorrow.

OSF actors are well known for their involvement in the community. But even OSF couldn’t save the city’s public library from closing. Nevertheless, despite a year marked by failure within a number of Ashland’s institutions, the festival show went on, and in magnificent fashion.

So in recognition of the outstanding achievements of Ashland’s iconic theater organization, we applaud the monumental accomplishments of OSF, Libby Appel and her successor, Bill Rauch. We wish Ms. Appel continued success in retirement.

As times change, so does OSF. It just keeps getting better — a fitting testament to the work of its legendary leader, Libby Appel, and all who work there.

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