Caspar Institute logoitinerary   <    Ashland >

Ashland 27 August 2018


1901 : 0

To Ashland

100  unavoidable I5 miles today. No pictures.

The rest of the miles were on lovely forested curvy up-and-down Oregon back roads; nothing more special than the South branch of the Umpqua and the very beginnings of the hardwood leaves turning ...but we were on a mission: lunch and getting ourselves situated in Ashland, and here we are!

At right: buying our third tank of gas this trip in Myrtle Creek. Momentous. We were thirsty, and tried to buy something decent to drink in the store. Nothing there but Red Bull and caffeinated sugar-laden crap. Surprise!


1902 : 0

Well. Hmmm. Where to start? Let me think out loud a bit.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) has, for as long as I can remember – that would be since 1960 – stretched the boundaries of "polite" Western North American society by including out-of-mainstream players and presenting iconoclastic ideas. Actors "of color" have notably found it easier to get parts at OSF than at any other mainstream company. In particular, Asian players and playwrights have gotten stage space ...and this inclusive program hasn't just been "appropriate" – a black Othello, for example. We have seen a black Romeo with a white Juliet. Just this year, "we" lost G. Valmont Thomas, a wonderful, huge, bombastic, tender, gentle giant of a black man who played a huge range of parts. Of course, the playing of female roles by male players is older than Shakespeare (not so much the other way ...until there was OSF!) The current artistic director, Bill Rauch, celebrated his gayness by producing a musical every season ...and it's a commonplace that the "theater world" is the gayest of workplaces. Let's start from there.

1903 : 0

Now, consider Oregon.

It wasn't until 1926 that it was legal to be black in Oregon, and the last of the exclusionary language was removed from the state's constitution in 2002. (!) Oregon was founded and operated by its founders as a whites-only state: "The object is to keep clear of that most troublesome class of population [blacks]. We are in a new world, under the most favorable circumstances and we wish to avoid most of those evils that have so much afflicted the United States and other countries.'' [reference] This spirit, expressed by a man who would later become the first US governor of California, persists. Only in the last two decades has it become unsurprising to see persons of color in Oregon. In rural Oregon, their presence still causes double takes. (The same can be said for Mendocino County.) Far northern California, the rest of "the State of Jefferson," is purple at best, with big swathes of redness where racism still thrives.

I presume that resistance to homosexuality is as deeply embedded in this region's DNA as is its resistance to people of color.

And here – Oregon and northern California – is where most of OSF's audience lives.

1904 : 0

So now, a thought experiment, if you will: let's take a "normal" musical, a beloved standard, like Oklahoma, and push those boundaries. Shoot, let's not just push 'em, let's reduce them to absurdity! Let's make all the couples and all but one of the players be varying flavors of gender and amatory eccentricity!

 

1905 : 0

That (above) would be OSF's Curly, “a cowhand,” at right, romancing Laurey, our slim blonde ingenue. Curly, played by Tatiana Wechsler, is “of color” and the characterization was amplified (we think) by dressing her in pants with a padded bootie. Curly's rival for the fair damsel's affections, Jud, was played by a more-or-less standard hairy, masculine Jud character, of whom the line that always gets a laugh,

He's all laid out to rest
With his hands acrost his chest
His fingernails have never been so clean!

got its expected response.

1906 : 0

As you may (or may not) remember, Oklahoma is a classic feel-good romantic musical in which everything revolves around the unmarried boys bidding for the picnic baskets prepared by the unmarried girls, with the strong undercurrent of the farmers feuding with the ranchers. "Cowboys dance with the farmers' daughters; Farmers dance with the ranchers' gals..." all in the spirit of of "Territory folks should stick together." 

So, why not recast all the partners as gay couples, throw in at least one transvestite, explain the whole thing this way (as expressed by Bill Rauch, the production's director): "As Curly says to his bride-to-be, 'Country a-changin', got to change with it!' You, the most adventurous audience in the American theatre, continue to teach me the truth of her words."

 

The Monday night 'volunteer productions' attract local audiences, families of cast members, and folks who have located themselves near Ashland so they can participate in this amazing little focal point of American theater, and they hugely enjoyed this production. It is a treat and an honor to sit in the big Bowmer theater with them, and share their enthusiasm. As ever, the OSF production was big, sparkly, enthralling. The small orchestra sounded like fifty players, and the accomplished musical director gave, while being unobtrusive, a master class in orchestral direction.

As has become a key element of OSF productions, the players penetrated the "fourth wall" – the perceived distance between the stage and the audience – several times. As befits a musical, there was applause after each foot-stomping musical number or plaintive love duet. And at the end, also in the OSF tradition but this time very much shared by the whole audience, a quick, participatory, standing ovation that brought tears to the eyes of several of the players.

 

As a thought experiment, it was very successful. There was applause when the lead male couple kissed, and when Curly and Laurey finally plighted their troth, a huge sigh of satisfaction and relief ...even though we all knew it was coming. 

For those who doubt, there was one player who started the play pregnant and ended with a babe in arms. Ultimately, that's the only legitimate grumble one can level against an all-gay world: it won't survive many generations. 


1907 : 0

Pronoun Correctness Sucks

While OSF's production of Oklahoma was, in my view, successful – as a think-piece, an entertainment, a conversation starter, and an interesting inversion of a classic – I am not so sure about another new manifestation in the Festival's Playbill, the 144 page booklet that explains the plays, lists the actors, and introduces the company. Here, in the 50 pages of company introductions, 4 or 5 bios and pictures per page, with pictures and laudatory vitas, we find (about) 226 souls.

New this year: following a person's name, in many cases we find their pronoun preferences, as

Tatiana Wechsler (she/her/hers)
"Hunh?" you might say. Oh, you sheltered reader! Know that up here in the great Pacific Northwest, we have a new fad – not sure if it's reached the east coast yet, pretty sure it's not much seen in Iowa. What alternatives might there be? Well, obviously, "he/him/his" but wait, there's more. "They/them/theirs" is the third acceptable alternative. There's also an explanation: "The sharing of [preferred] pronouns allows us to acknowledge each other's gender identity rather than making assumptions based of stereotypes and superficial observation. We hope that this information will help to facilitate respectful and affirming communication amongst our patrons and company members alike."

Here's what I say to that: HORSESHIT!

And here's a more reasoned rumination. I understand that at the root of the conflict is the English language's offhand use of the abstract "he/him/his" to stand in for a persons of unspecified gender in simple communication. For example, "An actor may be college trained. He may also have learned his skill in community productions..." Until recently, we understood that the he could also be a she. Strict grammarians (like me) abhor the weasel-wording use of "they" in this context, "They may also...", they being plural. Sensitive writers (again I include myself) redress this imbalance by switching standard usage and writing that second sentence, "She may also..." and, if anything, bending over backwards to switch the abstract gender in favor of she

I find the use of "they" in this context abhorrent on several levels. For starters, it's just plain illiterate. "They," "them," and "theirs" are all plural forms, and misusing them in a singular context defeats the purpose of language: clear communication. For a grammarian, the kindest possible interpretation of this new usage is that the user considers herself – er, themself? – to be plural, and uncertain just which gender is hers. (There's an example of a switched usage. You knew I meant to include "his," in my meaning, right?) Like Whitman said, "I am large, I contain multitudes." 

If it's political correctness we're seeking, then "they" could hardly be a less fortunate choice. "They" are always the evil unknown. They control the banks. They separate children from their parents at the border. Every war in the history of language has been fought against "them." English being a living language, why adopt such a silly, self-defeating term? In the spirit of Shakespeare, who coined hundreds of useful new words, why not a new pronoun set? let me propose ze/ziz/ziss!

Interestingly, of the 226 people in the OSF company, 127 claim the conventional she/her/hers and he/him/his. Another 97 refuse to play this silly game and give no preference – obviously, this group includes company members like William Shakespeare and Jane Austen, who could not be contacted in time for this publication. Of 226 players, technicians, musicians, and administrators, only 2 choose to exercise their pronounimic independence by claiming they/them/theirs. Six kind souls include some form of the third choice following their conventional preference, indicating, I guess, their willingness to violate grammar for "correctness." 

One easily imagines, having been an OSF member for decades, that some benighted organization gave a grant, and some poor intern hustled around and pestered the company for their bios, and "by the way, what should I write down as your preferred pronoun?" Fully 43% of the company refused to play this silly game.

1908 : 0

I stand firmly with the 43% – this form of discrimination is beneath me. And furthermore, it's none of my fucking business! or yours. It's prurient. Ladies, gentlemen, and others, I DO NOT CARE TO KNOW WHO YOU CHOOSE TO BOINK. Furthermore, I don't much care to know what plumbing you have in your drawers. I think it is unseemly to insist on the inclusion of such information herein. 

It seems to me that OSF has a more dignified mission – to perpetuate the glory of the language, as well as the dignity of the performing profession ...and this belittles and demeans us ALL. What's next? a codification of whom each company member prefers to have sex with? In his introduction to Oklahoma, Bill Rauch adds a couple of new characters to the ever-growing shorthand: LGBTQ2+ . I'm sorry, but without a scorecard, I am completely baffled by the 2+ ...is this an acknowledgement that those who prefer to be "they" are, indeed, plural? This whole thing has gone too far, even for me.

OSF has a bigger mission, and also a bigger problem ...more about that anon.

itinerary   < previous          next Ashland >

Search Query
website copyright © 2011-2018 by Caspar Institute
Feedback and comments welcome! Email us!


updated 5 August 2018 : 17:29 Caspar Time
site software and photographs by the  Caspar Institute  except as noted
this site generated with 100% recycled electrons!
send website feedback to the CI webster