Oregon Shakespeare Festival helps bring the classroom to life

Clark Honors College students at Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Forty-four students from the Clark Honors College will have a packed schedule at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival this weekend as they see three plays in two days. This annual trip hosted by the CHC Student Association allows students to attend professional productions and spend a weekend in Ashland for just $40.

The festival offers a range of plays and musicals, and only one of the three that the students will see, "Henry V," is by Shakespeare. The others include a modern rendition of Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers’ musical "Oklahoma" and a rendition of Jane Austen’s novel "Sense and Sensibility."

Since its beginnings in 1935 as a three-day event, the festival has grown to encompass an eight-month season. More than 500 members produce up to 11 plays each year, ranging from classic Shakespeare to world premiers. Several of the latter have gone on to Broadway, one of which received a Tony Award in 2017.

Two honors college faculty members, Casey Shoop and Helen Southworth, will accompany students, who asked that the professors also lead them through discussions after each play. This will be Shoop’s first time attending the festival in his capacity as a faculty member, but he has always had a deep interest in the stage.

One of Shoop’s areas of academic expertise is film studies, and he lived with actors as an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley. On more than a few occasions, he was a lone audience member to their at-home rehearsals.

Shoop also teaches Shakespeare’s "Hamlet" in his honors college course on mystery in literature. To him, the greatest benefit of the theater festival is allowing students the chance to witness on stage the stories that they have been reading in class, giving life to the text.

“You take these classes at the honors college where these worlds can seem inert or historical,” he said. “To see them re-animated is the exciting thing.”

Many of the plays have been updated to better reflect contemporary reality and resonate with a diverse audience. This year marks the 75th anniversary for the debut of "Oklahoma," and the festival is celebrating that milestone by casting same-sex lead couples in this year’s production.

For those couldn’t make it this weekend, plenty of time remains to see a play, or all 11, in Ashland. Visit the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s website for scheduling and ticket information.

—By Derek Maiolo, Clark Honors College multimedia communications assistant