By DENNIS WYATT
Shakespeare had it wrong.
The question isn't “to be or not to be.”
Rather it is where is the best place to enjoy Shakespeare’s works as they were originally performed in an outdoor venue — the Elizabethan Theatre in Ashland in Southern Oregon or Sand Harbor on the shores of Lake Tahoe?
Given that Lake Tahoe Shakespearean Festival is a July and August affair you might wonder why you should give thought to possibly attending the event now instead of waiting until say, mid-June, to consider booking tickets.
The answer is simple. Both the Lake Tahoe Shakespearean Festival and the Oregon Shakespearean Festival aren’t the same as traveling to San Francisco to take in a Shakespearean play — or other stage works — in the theatre district on Geary Street and nearby streets between Union Square and the Tenderloin, at the venues in the Bay Area, or even the Sierra Repertory Theatre stage in Sonora. Those are all day trips, if you well, or overnight excursions combined with dinner and a hotel.
A trip to Sand Harbor in Nevada is 180 miles away or almost 3½ hours by car. Ashland is roughly 350 miles away or just under a six-hour drive.
So why, might you ask, would you want to consider seeing a Shakespearean play — or other offerings of the respective festivals — in Lake Tahoe or Ashland? The answer is simple.
Anchoring a vacation with an outdoor Shakespearean play accented with world-class dining, exploring stunning outdoor attractions and unique venues is a pleasant twist.
Southern Oregon has outdoor gems in the form of Crater Lake National Park while Ashland has a strong mixture of specialty shops, restaurants, and outdoor activities such as golf.
Lake Tahoe, of course has Lake Tahoe with its 191 square miles of surface blue and 72 miles of shoreline at 6,225 feet ringed by the Sierra mountains. You can play on the lake, hike or bicycle mountain trails, enjoy the night life of casinos on both the north and south shores, or just sunning on a sandy beach.
Having seen Shakespearean plays at both Sand Harbor and Ashland, they each other unique visual treats. Given the Oregon Shakespearean Festival has three main theatre stages including the classic open air Elizabethan stage replicating the venue that Shakespeare saw his plays brought to live originally in England in the early 1600s, it is an experience that is rough to replicate. Ashland, if you are into live theater, is the Mecca for Northern California stage enthusiasts who want to sweeten their passion with a getaway vacation with an early 17th century twist.
It’s been years since I sat in the Elizabethan Theatre patterned on the Fortune Theatre that debuted in London in 1599 soaking in a mid-July production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. I can still remember as nature’s light faded out and twilight turned to darkness with stars twinkling above and hearing the actor portraying Pyramus deliver the line “ . . . my soul is in the sky, tongue lose thy light, moon take they flight . . .” as the night air caused me to shiver.
As for Sand Harbor, when I saw “Much Ado About Nothing” there, the grandeur of the Sierra and Lake Tahoe in the background made it magical. But to be honest it is even better if you opt for a week night when the Sand Harbor stage may be occupied by the Reno Symphony.
If Shakespeare is not your cup of tea both festivals offer other productions.
Besides offering “Othello” and “Henry V” from the works of Shakespeare this year, the Oregon festival offers the state adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel “Sense and Sensibility” as well as Karen Zacaria’s “Destiny of Desire.”
In a typical eight month season that starts in mid-February, the Ashland festival will produce up to 11 plays. It’s the real McCoy for serious theatre hiring 400,000 plus people to savor roughly 800 performances a year. They have presented all 37 plays penned by Shakespeare since} 300 plus times since 1960 and has staged more than 340 non-Shakespeare plays.
Tickets for adults range from $40 to $115 while tickets for those 6 to 17 years of age cost from $28 to $80.50.
It’s best to book your date and show and then book your hotel especially on weekends or in the summer and work the rest of your itinerary around your play date.
More information can be found at osfashland.org.
While Ashland’s outdoor stage is cozy and is open to the sky and a bit to the sides, Sand Harbor’s stage is completely open to the elements.
As such it is a different experience than Ashland. For all practical purposes it is a stage in the open.
The amplified sound counters most issues nature may create. Although plays are staged during Lake Tahoe’s two driest months — July and August — it can still rain. And, yes, the play goes on in a light rain so dress accordingly. It can also get chilly so dress accordingly or go prepared. Flashlights — a smartphone with a flashlight app will work in a pinch — are a must while walking back to your car at the end of the performance.
The Lake Tahoe festival is offering two plays this season - Shakespeare’s “MacBeth” and “Beehive”.
Tickets are $35 for adults in the unassigned upper and side galleries and $20 for those 25 and under. The lower gallery is $59 for adults and $25 for those 25 and under. The cafe tables and chairs with wait service - price of meals not included — is $198 for seating for two and $396 for seating for four. Premium service with Adirondack chairs and not the sling fabrics chairs that are provided in the galleries are $99 and include wait service but bit the price of meals.
They also offer once showcase series performances at varies prices on Monday that includes ballet, jazz and symphonic orchestras, and more.
You haven’t really listened to classic or jazz music until you can enjoy it as the sun slips over the Sierra and moonlight shimmies across Lake Tahoe in the cool night air.
More information can be found at laketahoeshakespeare.com.