One of America’s oldest Elizabethan-style theaters, this majestic playhouse draws thespians and theater-lovers from all over the world.
Each performance at the Allen Elizabethan Theatre begins with a ritual called “raising the flag.” At the clarion call of a trumpet, the newest member of the crew pops his head out of an upper stage window, hoists a crest-emblazoned flag up a ten-foot pole, and tips his feathered cap to the audience. The touch of pageantry was borrowed from playhouses in Shakespearean-era London, which would raise flags to signal a performance happening later that day.
This open-air amphitheater resides in Ashland, a liberal outpost nestled in the foothills of Southern Oregon that’s also home to the world-class Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Though the repertory theatre also performs the works of contemporary playwrights, Shakespeare is still a staple. Since its inaugural season 81 years ago, the festival has cycled through the Bard’s entire 37-play canon three times.
The festival’s gemstone, the Elizabethan Theatre has endured several reincarnations. It made its debut on a sultry evening in the summer of 1935, when patrons shelled out 50 cents each to see a performance of Twelfth Night. In the following years, the structure succumbed to both fire and demolition, being rebuilt in 1947, and again in 1959. It was rechristened the Allen Elizabethan Theatre three years ago, following a grant from the The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.
The current theater is modeled after London’s 1599 Fortune Theatre. Rising above the trapezoid-shaped stage, the three-story, half-timbered façade calls to mind a life-size Tudor-style dollhouse. The edifice contains numerous alcoves and galleries where characters can deliver soliloquies, gossip, pine, spy, flirt, and ruminate. Perhaps the most theater’s magical feature is its ceiling: the open sky.