Theater Reflects Humanity Reflects Theater (Day 16)

Author’s Note: No Shakespeares were viewed on this trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, even though Shakespeare is one of my superpowers. Hash tag Still Not About Shakespeare. See post: Queasy Endings if you want to read mostly about The Bard.

2019 season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Photo by kajmeister.

The Melting Pot of Theater

The giveaway about what kind of season was ahead at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) is in the rainbow display of show posters on the wall from the parking lot to the box office. The plays reflect the span of multicultural America in subject matter–from Cambodian Rock Band to Alice in Wonderland–and theater tradition–from All’s Well that Ends Well to the world premiere Mother Road. There was cross-gender casting in As You Like It and a bilingual version of one of Shakespeare’s oldest farces, La Comedia of Errors. Some patrons didn’t like it, although arguably there was something for everybody in a schedule that included Hairspray and Macbeth.

We have been coming up to Ashland for a few years now, more frequently as our schedules have turned more flexible, and the breadth in casting has also broadened noticeably. As with many other aspects of American life, theater had attracted a certain type of actor and director, emphasizing a certain approach to how plays should be put on, which also meant the majority of the audience was a certain type of person. OSF started to break that mold a few decades ago, mostly due to outgoing Artistic Director Bill Rauch’s vision. In his final year in Oregon, Rauch pulled out all the stops to produce a season of forward-thinking plays, including pairing casts between plays with an explicit goal:

…[to] create a remarkable dialogue about cultural connectivity in our gorgeously diverse nation…

Artistic Director Bill Rauch in the Introduction to the OSF Playbill
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From Seattle to Shakespeare (Day 15)

Columbia River, from the iconic spot at the Red Lion Hotel, Hayward Island. Photo by Karin Kallmaker.

Technically, this part of our Left Coast Mosey is about traveling in Oregon from Portland to Ashland, but it sounded better to use two words starting with an S. I guess I could have called it Salem to Shakespeare, since Salem was our first stop, but the drive started at the Columbia River. As the skies cleared for a brief spot in the morning, we were finally able to take that river picture from our Portland-area hotel before setting out on this five-hour drive.

Also, in the interests of fair disclosure, Shakespeare represents the site of our destination, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, at the southern border of the state, but there will be no other mention of Shakespeare in this post. That may frustrate some, but will probably relieve many. Hash tag Not About Shakespeare.

Drive Time History

We have driven before from Seattle to northern California six or seven times, usually taking three days: Seattle to Portland, Portland to Medford, Medford to the Bay Area. It’s a twelve-hour drive in total, so it could be done in two long days, with a stop somewhere near Corvallis in Oregon, though that’s the perhaps the least interesting place to stop. Or the most picturesque, since it’s slightly more remote.

In the early nineteenth century, the Oregon Trail was forged by so many pioneers, who labored for six months to schlepp their household from Kansas or the Missouri River, over the Rockies, then north through the Cascades or south through the Sierras. Most of the historical records talk about moving from the east to the western horizon, while few discuss the north-south corridor.

Still, that secondary route trailing north/south must have sprung up. Thousands of people were expanding into the Oregon Territory, from the “Spanish” lands of California, all the way to Alaska (the 54th parallel) in the 1820-1840s. Once gold was found at Sutter’s Mill in the California Valley, which gave birth to Sacramento where I spent my formative years, millions of “forty-niners” were drawn from around the world. Apparently, many even made their way cross-ocean, going through Panama or even around Cape Horn. It must have taken at least a few weeks to walk and lead a team of horses with the furniture and seeds if you were migrating down from Puget Sound. I-5 today makes that much easier.

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Historical Sights Around Portlandia (Day 14)

As a mirror image to the previous day’s travels around Mount Rainier and continuing our trip down the Cascade mountain range, we spent much of the day not seeing Mount Hood. However, we did soak up quite a bit of history looking at the Columbia Gorge, wandering around Timberline Lodge, perusing what might be the largest bookstore in the world, and listening to a grumpy old rock star.

Drizzling at the Columbia Gorge. Photo by kajmeister.

Columbia, the Gem of the West Coast

The Columbia gorge that runs like a sine wave along the border between southern Washington and northern Oregon is not to be missed if you come to the west coast. On a good day, you can look down the gorge to see bridge after bridge and even on a misery day like this one, the waterfalls gushing by the roadways were that much more impressive.

The gorge has been ruler to people for 13,000 years, with artifacts found from the early pioneers who crossed over the Bering Straits. Lewis and Clark traveled down the Columbia to get to the Pacific, so there are a number of historical markers. My friend Barb, who used to guide people down the Lewis and Clark Trail, would probably wish that we had stopped at all of them, but we voted to let her take us someday instead.

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Here Comes that Rain Again (Day 13 of Left Coast Mosey)

I’m ba-a-ck…

We took a three day pause from our three week trip around the northwest to cavort with my brother and family in Sammamish, a foresty suburb east of Seattle, wherein I ate all of my popcorn allotment for the remainder of 2019. Downton Abbey and Ad Astra, both highly recommended.

Our first day on the road again, we drove south to Portland, but the long way, around Mount Rainier. Spoiler alert: it rained steadily all day so that we did not see Rainer. Not a whit. It begs the question of whether it was worth spidering around all the curves and loops in fog and clouds when we couldn’t see the main attraction. Why not just take the interstate?

Above the Clouds

The rainy roads around Rainier. Photo by kajmeister.

The weather is the weather, especially in the Northwest. While residents often tell you that it really isn’t as bad as the statistics say, and that it’s great when it’s sunny, the region is famous for rain. On this trip, we lucked out on a lot of clear skies in Victoria, Tofino, and along the coast, so time’s up. It’s just going to rain, as it often does.

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Journey’s Pause: Tips on Traveling and Writing (Day 12)

Sunrise at University Heights, Victoria. Photo by kajmeister.

As we head south, I will be taking a pause to schmooze with family near Seattle for the next few days. Saturday we took a nice little lazy ferry through the San Juan Island channels over to Anacortes, at the northern Washington border. We passed the site of the pig war, mentioned the previous day, into the Strait of San Juan de Fuca, with its currents that turn into the Pacific Graveyard, from a blog earlier in the week. This is a day to reminisce about greatest hits of the trip, and maybe share thoughts about traveling itself.

People sometimes ask why we are so lucky to find the amazing things we find and see the things we do. People also often say, Gee, I wish I could write. I thought I would offer a few tips.

Friday Harbour on San Juan Island, WA. Photo by kajmeister

Ain’t It Grand?

There are plenty of travel hacks that I’ve learned, such as wearing layers regardless of your destination or the season, traveling in shoulder season (April-May or September-October), or eating lunch–not dinner–at highly-touted restaurants because it’s the same food at a discount. But if I think about what makes our trips really successful, I would highlight three core parts of our philosophy.

Plan Well, Then Be Flexible

An enjoyable trip is a balance between scheduled stops and spontaneity. Overplanning, which to my mind means shoving more than two planned activities into a travel day, leads to a lot of stress and anxiety. You keep checking your watch and worrying about whether the traffic or the crowds will “prevent” you from seeing the Next Thing. Give yourself plenty of time to breathe in the place you are seeing.

On the other hand, if you go into a famous location and hope to just soak up whatever is interesting by wandering around, then you may end up only seeing what is advertised. And, usually what is advertised is the overpriced, schlocky, “touristy,” least-localized experience you can get. Do some advanced research, and pick a planned tour that you like–Food Tour, Hiking Tour, Bus Tour, Shopping Tour–whatever floats your boat. A starter goal really helps. That will anchor you; then allow time to spontaneously return later to wander around interesting that you spot on your tour.

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