On the Town – Hit the Road with Northwest Summer Theater and Music Jaunts

Thinking about taking some short getaways in the beauteous Northwest this summer? A quick trip of a day or more can be as refreshing and rewarding as a longer break. And adding a cultural element to your journey can be the frosting on the cake—or ice in the lemonade. Here are several suggestions for jaunts that combine the arts with eye-catching scenery.

Oregon Shakespeare Festival

One of the region’s most popular cultural destinations is the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. This charming Southern Oregon town is home to one of the largest and most respected drama companies in North America, offering an inviting 2017 season that runs through Oct. 29.

The company was founded in 1935 to present the Bard of Avon’s plays. This year, it plans stagings of Julius Caesar (“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!”), The Merry Wives of Windsor (“Why then, the world’s my oyster”), plus Henry IV, Part I (“O, while you live, tell truth, and shame the Devil!”) and Part 2 (“We have heard the chimes at midnight”).

But the festival, with its high standards of acting and production, has long since branched out to produce a variety of works. This summer features the romantic comedy Shakespeare in Love, based on the popular film, as well as Homer’s epic, The Odyssey. The Disney musical Beauty and the Beast will also get an airing, along with several new plays.

Because OSF performs in repertory, the bill of fare at its three Ashland theater venues (including the outdoor Elizabethan Stage) changes daily. You can see several different shows over a weekend, enjoy shopping at local boutiques, and visit the town’s fine eateries.  (I’m a big fan of Larks Home Kitchen and the casual, creekside Greenleaf and Thai Pepper cafes.)

Packaged bus trips to Ashland are available, if you don’t want to make the 8-hour drive south from Seattle. Lodging reservations are a must. Details: osfashland.org or call 800-219-8161.

More of the Bard, in BC

For a closer option, head to Vancouver, BC, to visit another esteemed Shakespeare company, Bard on the Beach. Its productions unfold each summer in two peaked show tents perched in Vanier Park, high above Vancouver’s beautiful English Bay. The drive from Seattle is about three hours each way, or consider the daily Amtrak and bus services.

Vanier Park itself is a treat, with a panoramic view of water and mountains, places to picnic, and an interesting museum devoted to Vancouver’s history. But the Shakespeare shows are also worth the trip for cogent interpretations of the classics and performances by some of Canada’s best thespians.

The repertory schedule this year (running through Sept. 23) sports the frolicsome comedies Much Ado About Nothing and Two Gentlemen of Verona.  On a more serious note, The Merchant of Venice and The Winter’s Tale are on the schedule, too.

There are special shows that include a barbeque dinner and a great seat to watch the city’s Celebration of Light fireworks festival, or enjoy a pre-show wine-tasting. Tickets: bardonthebeach.org or 604-737-0625.

Port Townsend Beckons

Music lovers enjoy a visit to Port Townsend, where there’s a full calendar of festivals all summer long. Port Townsend is a two-to three-hour drive from Seattle, depending on traffic and ferry schedules.

The prestigious Olympic Music Festival (various dates through Sept. 10) recently moved from its longtime quarters in a Quilcene barn to the Centrum arts center in Port Townsend. However, its mission to bring classical ensemble works performed by respected veteran players and rising younger instrumentalists continues.

Works by Vivaldi, Brahms, Bach, Schubert, and other chamber music masters will ring out at the Wheeler Theater at Fort Worden State Park. There’s a special program Aug. 27 for youths and their families—a great way to introduce a child to a grand musical tradition.

If your taste leans more toward jazz, and you like the idea of sampling some of the sweetest sounds at small clubs in picturesque Port Townsend or at Centrum’s McCurdy Pavilion, consider the annual Centrum jazz fest (July 27-29).  Among the participants are flutist Hubert Laws, singer Dee Daniels, pianist George Cables, and other jazz luminaries. Get details on these and other summer arts events at centrum.org or call 360-385-3102 ext. 110.

Misha Berson writes about the arts for The Seattle Times and many other publications, and is the author of four books, including Something’s Coming, Something Good: West Side Story and the American Imagination (Applause/Hal Leonard).



Music continues in the barn, too

Although the official Olympic Music Festival has moved to Port Townsend, world-class performers will continue to perform this summer at the festival’s original Quilcene barn venue, too. Free afternoon performances will be held there on five weekends beginning Aug 12. Hosted by Alan Iglitzin, who kicked off this annual chamber music event 33 years ago, the performers in the barn this season include many longtime friends of the festival returning to share their favorite music in this unique setting. Details at concertsinthebarn.org.


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