The Ashland High School Theatre Program is celebrating a 25-year partnership with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival that has given generations of kids a chance to learn from some of the top experts in the field.
Broadway, TV and OSF actor Tony Heald will emcee a celebration of that partnership on Friday, Dec. 28, when OSF luminaries, AHS alumni and local celebrities gather for a full evening of performance and tributes. Founding fathers Pat Patton and Kirk Boyd will be on hand for the event.
The relationship between Ashland High and OSF that began in 1993 has brought dozens of actors, directors, costumers, set designers, choreographers and technical specialists to the Mountain Avenue Theater. These OSF professionals have shaped the lives of hundreds of youth with their counsel, guidance and expertise. They serve as mentors to the students and demonstrate in very clear ways the importance of collaboration, commitment and dedication.
Matt Smith was a sophomore at Ashland High School in 1993 and, like many of his peers, he’d worked as a young actor at OSF and knew some of the staff. When budget cuts threatened the high school drama program, Matt and his best friend, Morgan Star, went to Pat Patton, who was associate artistic director at OSF at the time, and asked for help.
“They were asking us to seriously consider entering this school-business partnership; these were kids who were in school with our kids and they felt emboldened,” recalled Boyd, OSF associate director of production. “They put together a really nice presentation, strong and straightforward about what they wanted so Pat Patton and I took it through the administration at the festival and the project was born.”
Matt and Morgan asked for some design support and a director for at least one show a year. Boyd directed that first show, “A Company of Wayward Saints,” by George Herman, because it was his own first high school play.
What began in 1993 has grown into a rich and enduring relationship for students and festival professionals, a success that many attribute to the hard work and dedication of Betsy Bishop, AHS theater program faculty.
Joan Langley, recently retired after 30 years at OSF as education director, said Bishop is the glue that holds the program together. Boyd agreed, saying, “It’s all Betsy. She is indefatigable, so upbeat. She works so hard.”
Josh Houghton, who graduated from AHS in 2008 and is now an Equity actor working out of New York and Chicago, said, “She is a fabulous educator, mentor and friend and leads with no ego, always doing what is best for the children and the program.
“The program that Betsy set up really prepared me to be a well-rounded professional,” said Houghton. “Just having different and new voices in the room and being part of the process — it was huge. The things I learned from each person, all the result of having different people involved.”
Bishop credits the many Oregon Shakespeare Festival pros who participate in the AHS-OSF partnership for the many success of her students.
On the OSF side, it is Joan Langley who has been the glue. As education director, Langley matched student learning interests with OSF actors and staff, and introduced OSF actors’ ideas to the high school theater program. She has a unique perspective on why so many OSF professionals participate in the partnership with the school.
“I think high school was the time when they [OSF professionals] fully connected with theater,” Langley said. “So it gives folks an opportunity to reconnect with that time when they became passionate about theater and gives them a chance to connect some young artist to their future path whether they go into it as a vocation or as an avocation.”
The 2018 celebration of the Ashland High School-Oregon Shakespeare 25 Year Partnership will begin with a 6 p.m. Rose Studio reception at the Mountain Avenue Theatre, 201 S. Mountain Ave., followed by the program emceed by Heald from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Reserve seat tickets are $20, available online at showtix4u.com. Open seat tickets are $15, available at Paddington Station and the Ashland High School Main Office. All tickets include the Rose Studio reception.
Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at email@example.com.