The Theater Belongs to Everyone

June 2, 2014

Amanda Nagy

Two actors in a stage performance.
A scene from the Oberlin Summer Theater Festival’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2012.
Photo credit: John Seyfried

This summer, Ohio audiences can enjoy professional theater productions in the heart of Oberlin—and it doesn’t cost a dime.

The Oberlin Summer Theater Festival (OSTF), now in its sixth season, presents meaningful theater classics geared toward all ages. Each year, the company performs free of charge, keeping with its mission that quality theater should be available to everyone regardless of age or budget. But don’t be fooled by “free—the festival is composed of professional Equity actors and directors, as well as Oberlin College students and alumni.

This year’s productions are As You Like It, by William Shakespeare; Come Back, Little Sheba, by William Inge; and The Secret Garden, story by Francis Hodgson Burnett, adapted for the stage by Thomas W. Olson. The festival is produced in rotating repertory, giving audiences a chance to see a different play (and actors taking on multiple roles) throughout the season.

The season runs June 27 through August 2, with all performances in Hall Auditorium, 67 N. Main St. Afternoon and evening shows are scheduled.

OSTF founder and director Paul Moser says that not charging admission is central to the company’s mission. “We want to make theater accessible to everyone, especially families with children, so that the next generation in our area will make attending live theater an enjoyable tradition. To do that, we’ve eliminated the biggest obstacle: expensive tickets. We see what we do as being like a public library or a museum, where reading great literature or seeing masterpieces are not reserved for the elite. Similarly, our shows are free—not because they are not of value—but because we believe that the great classics of our shared theater tradition are so valuable that they belong to everyone.”

For a theater to operate in rotating repertory is a challenging, intense, yet bonding preparation process for the whole company, explains Moser, a professor in Oberlin’s theater department who teaches Shakespeare acting courses. The company includes a staff of more than 40 people.

Early in the summer, the cast and crew are all working three shifts per day, corresponding with the three shows. An actor might rehearse his or her role in one show in the morning, have lunch, then rehearse a second show all afternoon, eat dinner, then return to rehearse a third show during the evening. Moser says the rewards are multiple. “Rotating rep allows us to schedule our performances over longer runs, now up to six weeks, giving us time to generate word-of-mouth publicity for each show.

“But most important, audience members can visit Oberlin and see two different shows in one day, or all three shows over two days. The rotating repertory format has helped build our audience every year.”

A schedule of performances and more information about the 2014 season can be found on the OSTF website.

As You Like It

“All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players…”

Escape to the Forest of Arden, a pastoral refuge where romance, wit and gender-bending high jinks rule. The plot of this much beloved comedy follows our heroine, Rosalind, who flees from the corrupt court to the country, disguised as a young man, to reunite with her banished father. But there she encounters Orlando, whom she must teach the true meaning of love before revealing her female identity. This family-friendly adaptation will include wrestling, clowning and a live band. Recommended for ages 6 and up.

14 Performances: June 27 through August 1

Come Back, Little Sheba

"If you can't forget the past, you stay in it and never get out."

This powerful drama is a lovingly honest, sometimes humorous, portrait of a middle-aged couple, Lola and Doc, and their everyday struggle with past regrets, unfulfilled dreams and sobriety. Now an American classic, it was the first Broadway hit by the Pulitzer Prize winning author of Picnic, Bus Stop, and Splendor in the Grass. Because of adult themes, this show is recommended for ages 12 and up.

13 Performances: July 5 through August 1

The Secret Garden

"Where you tend a rose, my lad, A thistle cannot grow."

Based upon the 1910 children’s classic, this is the story of the contrary young orphan, Mary Lennox, who is sent to live with her Uncle Craven, in the forbidding Misselthwaite Manor. There she discovers a secret garden where she and her sickly cousin Colin gradually find the healing power of Nature. This adaptation was originally commissioned and performed by the renowned Children’s Theater Company of Minneapolis. Recommended for audiences, particularly youths ages 5 and older.

11 Performances: July 11 through August 2

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