ashland.news
July 18, 2024

‘It’s for everybody’: OSF offers summer behind-the-scenes tours

A young tour participant takes a break from the presentation in the Bowmer Theatre. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini
July 1, 2024

Twice-weekly chance to take a peek ‘Behind the Curtain’ proves popular

By Emma Coke, Ashland.news

A year into its creation, Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Behind the Curtain: Summer Tour, a behind-the-scenes tour of OSF’s theaters and plays, now offers tours twice a week and hopes to further expand and reinvent itself with each coming year.

The Behind the Curtain: Summer Tour, a spinoff of OSF’s spring and fall tour intended only for student groups, Behind the Curtain: Talk and Tour, was launched following community interest in attending the student tour. Its creation also stems from a desire to uplift other elements of the plays — the set and costume designers, the directors, everything that goes on behind the scenes.

OSF’s Behind the Curtain: Summer Tour begins in Carpenter Hall. The 60-minute tours visit all three theaters. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

“I mean, the first thing people think about when they go to the theater is actors on stage and the wonderful work they do,” said Kristen Giroux, associate director of education and engagement at OSF. “But also, for every actor on stage, there’s about 20 people behind them that get them up on stage.” 

In summer 2023, tours were only offered once a week, and could only accommodate up to 50 people. Now, up to 200 people can attend the tour at a time. 

“My hope is that we will continue to be able to build capacity for it and offer it to anybody who comes through,” Giroux said. 

A student group gathers in front of the Thomas Theatre after attending a Behind the Curtain: Summer Tour at OSF Thursday morning. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

As more and more people attend the Behind the Curtain: Summer Tour, Giroux is looking for ways to improve it. 

“Our intention is to change it every year,” Giroux said. “Our intention is to continue to be inventive in terms of how it is interactive, and so you know, that is our real intention for the foreseeable future.”

While the website states that the tour is especially designed for younger audiences, “It’s for everybody,” Giroux said. 

Tara Houston, community and engagement manager for OSF and tour guide, showed tour attendees parts of sets, props and costumes used for shows in the theaters. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

“It’s just a little more hands on, a little less historical perspective,” Giroux added. “And just a little more, ‘This is what we do.’”

The 60-minute tour begins in OSF’s Carpenter Hall, where attendees are split into different tour groups. Each group then visits OSF’s three theaters, where the tour guide provides a mixture of fun facts and technical information on how props, sets and costumes are designed, and how they ensure shows run smoothly.

The 60-minute tour included a stop at the outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

While in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre on a June 27 tour, Tara Houston, tour guide and community and engagement manager for OSF (and an Ashland.news board member), talked about the issue of mics and amplification of actors, something that OSF only started doing in the late-80s and early-90s.

“A big part of (the decision to add sound amplification) is that modern audiences need that amplification to hear voices more clearly,” Houston said. “So it was a way to make sure that our Shakespeare in particular was being heard well by our audiences.” 

The Thomas Theater, OSF’s smallest, is a versatile performance space with seating that can be moved and adapted to a play. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

The tour literally goes behind the curtain. In one tour, the attendees were taken underneath the stage floor of the Thomas Theatre to learn about the lift used to bring props up and down from the stage during plays. 

Groups also visit the display room to view different props and costumes used in past shows, and to learn about the process behind their designing. There, Houston explained how the prop designers have to be inventive — making plastic look like leaded glass, or casting rubber and painting it to appear like a life-like banana. 

“All the engineers, all the designers, it’s remarkable,” Houston said.

This tour group went under the stage floor of the Thomas Theatre to see the lift used to add and remove props during shows. The lower floor also houses dressing rooms and a laundry where some costume parts are cleaned daily. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

Many of the attendees are avid theater enjoyers, including Silvia Cortez, a resident of California.

“I was in theater, too,” said Cortez. “But I wanted to see how they (OSF) did it and stuff.”

Melissa Good, a resident of Portland, went on the tour with her granddaughter who does theater.

“This was one of the better tours,” Good said. “I’ve been on the theater tour probably five or six times. It’s always different depending on the leader.”

For Giroux, people’s excitement and seeing their newfound appreciation of the inner workings of theater is the best part of putting on the tour. 

The Elizabethan Theatre is OSF’s largest theater with seating for about 1,200. This year “Much Ado About Nothing”  and the west coast premier of “Jane Eyre” are being staged there. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

“Watching folks come in and go, ‘Whoa,’ you know,” Giroux said, “When they get really turned on by looking at the Elizabethan, which is the big one for people where they haven’t seen it before, or when we go into our exhibit room and they get to see some of the great things our artisans make, and they have sort of an understanding of all the pieces that it takes to actually do do a show.”

Tours are offered at 10:30 a.m. each Tuesday and Thursday of the week. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online

Email Ashland.news reporter intern Emma Coke at emmasuecoke@gmail.com.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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