Changing Times

Aug 29, 2010 | 7 comments

Green Show Setting

     I don’t deal well with change.  I’d like to blame my age, but the truth is that I’ve never accommodated well to change.  I prefer my surroundings to remain predictable; I seldom adjust my routines or try to reinvent the proverbial wheel.
     My antipathy to change doesn’t go across the board, of course.  If it did, I wouldn’t come to Ashland each year to see the new play offerings at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  And, on the rare occasions that we see an old familiar play, I take pleasure in learning how a new director has envisioned it and how a different actor puts a fresh spin on an old, well-known part.
     But still, there are changes even here at Ashland that cause me angst.  A case in point is the Green Show which takes place each summer performance evening in the courtyard adjacent to the Elizabethan and Bower Theaters.  I believe the name “Green Show” came from the English tradition of performing on the Village Green, and until very recently OSF’s Green Shows definitely had an English Renaissance feel to them.  We especially enjoyed watching the Morris Dancers as they accompanied their intricate steps with patterns and rhythms made by sticks or swords or bells.  Green Show musicians played traditional 16th and 17th century instruments such as the crumhorn, racket and viola da gamba.
     For years, the musicians and dancers performed on the courtyard bricks just in front of the gently sloping lawn or ‘green’ where the audience sat; the music was acoustic in keeping with the era it represented.  All that has changed now, however.  A semi-permanent stage covers the bricks during the Green Show season – “safer” for the performers they say.  And now the performers wear microphones, huge speakers flank the stage, and a sound engineer with his high tech equipment is in full view of the audience.
     To compound matters, this season the Morris Dancers are completely missing.  Instead, we’ve seen a Latino group, a company of magicians, and Taiko drummers.  Each performance has been excellent, but each can be seen at other times in other venues; none is distinctive to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival experience.  On the other hand, it’s not often that one has occasion to see Morris Dancers and to hear Renaissance music played on authentic instruments of the period.  OSF has been the perfect setting for such entertainment and it pains me that the Green Show has gone completely ‘modern.’ 
     A few years ago I had an opportunity to chat with the (then) new Artistic Director Bill Rauch.  He listened politely as I expressed my concerns about the changing Green Show, but he was firm about its new direction which is intended to showcase the many talented and diverse groups in the local area.  He did assure me that the long traditions of the OSF Green Show would also be honored.  I guess he meant “but not in 2010.”     


  1. MaryBeth Kelly

    Sounds like “it is a custom
    More honor’d in the breach than the observance.”

    • sydney

      Really? Not by us nor others we’ve talked to!

  2. Stephanie Frieze

    I think change is diffiult for most people and that you’re not unique, Sydney. Having never been to the OSF I wouldn’t know what they have done historically, but I can tell you what I would expect. I would expect to see Shakespeare’s plays and any other entertainment to be in keeping with is times much like a Renaissance festival. If that is not what I can expect OSF I think I would be disappointed.

    • sydney

      I’m not sure that OSF would be exactly as you envision it, Stephanie, but I do think you would love it. The Renaissance feel is ‘just around the edges’ and the focus of the outdoor theater is entirely Shakespeare’s plays or those written during the same period. However, the theater complex as a whole is totally twenty-first century and provides the most fabulous theater experiences we have encountered anywhere including London and New York. But it’s that ‘just around the edges’ part that I worry about. If they keep chipping away at it, the Festival will lose an important part of its ambiance.

  3. Cousin Ralph

    Cousin Sydney, I agree with you entirely! Having attended a number of Celtic Festivals and Renaissance Fair(es) in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania I have always been most impressed with those groups who eschewed the modern crutch of sophisticated electronic sound systems for the purity of the music as it was originally performed. My favorite at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire in Mannheim, Pennsylvania has always been a group of two performers on various stringed instruments (viola da gambas, hurdy-gurdys, etc.) and wind instruments (recorders, dulcians, crumhorns, baroque oboes and bassoons, etc.) who perform WITHOUT ANY ELECTRONIC SOUND SYSTEMS for an intimate crowd of only 15 to 20 faire goers.

  4. Sue Carney

    Hi Sydney,

    I came upon your blog while searching for photos of the Green Show. Please allow me to introduce myself- I was a resident composer, director and performer at the “old” GS from 1984-2007. It was a pleasure playing for you!

    I thought you might want to know that I am producing a “Renaissance Music & Dance Festival” at the GS over the 4th of July weekend, 2011. Bringing fantastic Morris Dancers from the Bay Area.

    If you, or any others will be in town that weekend, please come up and say “Hello!”

    PS Your blog is really neat! Makes me want to come to Oysterville.

    • sydney

      Sue! I know exactly who you are — saw you many many times in your Green Show years at OSF and miss you immensely! Thanks so much for the dates your production will be there this year. Unfortunately, we won’t be back in Ashland until August 4th and 5th. Any chance you’ll be there then? Meanwhile, I’ll happily spread the word about your July 4th weekend gig. I’d abolutely gear our 2012 OSF plans around you if you’ll be there and if you’ll know by the time we need to order tickets (Dec.). Thanks so much for contacting me! I also wrote about OSF this past week – and groused about the Green Show again! I did express myself to Bill Rauch when I saw him on the bricks a few years ago. His vision and my preferences obviously don’t mesh…


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