Two critics check out some big North American theatre fests.
London's Michael Billington travels to Canada to check out Stratford and Shaw--and is very pleasantly surprised!
San Francisco's Chloe Veltman also heads north, but to Ashland, OR and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (an 8-month season, not just summers, btw). She provides a wonderful description of the vibe in the town during festival season, something to give us hope in theatre's future in America:
The first thing that struck me about Ashland is that apart from Stratford-upon-Avon, I can’t think of another town so completely consumed by theatre. Go into any restaurant or bar and the wait staff will want to compare notes on shows they’ve seen with you and offer recommendations. Every book store is packed with theatre books. The local frozen yogurt dispensary gives you a 15% discount for saying you’re seeing plays at OSF. It’s a very special place.Veltman is also absolutely right that it's outrageous the Bay Area papers don't cover this nearby theatrical attraction. Let alone the NY Times, which is too busy sending Ben Brantley to London for what, a month now?
The second thing that comes to mind upon visiting OSF is how vibrant the actual festival is. There are always three plays going on at once. There are fantastic pre-play concerts in the central courtyard. Pre-show presentations and backstage tours are a daily occurrence. There is so much buzz about the place.
When you think about it, NYT's privileging of London theatre over domestic regional fare is so class-biased-- and not just in favor of the British accents. Note also how the assumption is NYT readers are more eager for London theatre tips because they can afford to travel internationally. The reality is most of us in, ahem, the middle of an economic catastrofuck, would be lucky to make it out of the tri-state area. But at least Canada or Oregon are slightly more realistic.