"When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions." Spoken by Claudius in Hamlet, those words sum up how fans of Ashland's Oregon Shakespeare Festival are feeling. Most of the festival's 2020 season was canceled due to COVID-19, including a proposal to open productions for a fall run. And like the rest of the state, Ashland has been impacted by wildfires—the Almeda Fire has decimated the nearby towns of Phoenix and Talent.
Happily, OSF has something to tide Shakespeare-starved theatergoers over until its hoped-for 2021 return: O!, a streaming service with a plethora of goodies (Shakespearean and otherwise). Launched July 2, O! charges viewers for some of its content (productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Copper Children streamed this summer), but it also offers free classes, interviews, music videos, readings and short films.
It's a lot to take in. So here's a guide to getting started—a list of the five coolest free things that O! has to offer.
When it comes to compliments, the Bard doth teach words to burn bright. This online course, taught by Kirsten Giroux, OSF's associate director of artistic engagement, plunges into the artistry behind Shakespeare's compliments, analyzing alliteration, assonance, pacing and pitch. It's an addictive vocal exercise (I geeked out trying to see how many different ways I could say, "And when I love thee not, chaos is come again"). And who knows? It might give you some ideas for post-pandemic dating.
Queer BIPOC independent artists are spotlighted in O!'s WOMB series, which pays special attention to Los Angeles musician and analog connoisseur Danni Cassette. WOMB curator Jaz Hall's interview with Cassette is worth watching, but your best bet is Cassette's epically delightful "Banana" music video, which features them singing while dressed in a banana costume.
This is a series of digital short films inspired by a single theme: legacy. The results are eye-opening, poignant, surreal and never anything less than transfixing. Digistories includes Joanne Feinberg's Broken Fixed, a conversation about anti-Semitism and self-love between three generations of Jewish women; Nikkole Salter's Couture, a beautifully animated ode to the joys of dressmaking and mentorship; and Miles Inada and Devyn McConachie's Anthrocumulus, which plays out like an enjoyably twisted riff on Hayao Miyazaki's films.
The Green Show—the free, outdoor performance series that precedes evening shows at OSF—is one of the festival's most enduring and iconic traditions. O! has archived videos of several Green Show performances, including this agile and impassioned tribute to Michael Brown from the San Francisco dance troupe Embodiment Project, which combines hip-hop, documentary theater and choreo-poetry. The performance begins with a defiant monologue ("His name cannot be erased"), followed by a ballet of backflips, cartwheels and pushups punctuated by haunting images, like a man shaking as if being shot and then becoming as still as a corpse.
Another Kirsten Giroux special, this series of courses begins with the instructor analyzing Hamlet with surgical precision and contagious joie de vivre. Shakespeare devotees and novices alike will get a kick out of her breakdown of Claudius' opening speech, which delves into the usurper's delicious doubletalk and barbarous turns of phrase (you know a guy's up to no good when he refers to his spouse as the "imperial jointress of this war-like state"). Also worthwhile is Giroux's scrutinization of Ophelia's first scene, which makes a compelling case that despite the character's seeming descent into madness, she can be craftier than the scheming men who surround her.
SEE IT: O! programming is available at osfashland.uscreen.io/catalog