In Ashland, civic entrepreneurship was institutionalized through triple helix interactions among a university (teaching college) Industry (theatre festival) and government at various levels (municipal, state and national). A platform of not for profit activity spun-off from the University’s teaching mission generated profit-making ventures. Frustration at the meager resources available to pursue his vocation during the depression-era motivated Angus Bowmer, a drama instructor at the local university, to propose putting on plays as part of a civic celebration. His determination to overcome the obstacle of a paucity of academic resources in his specialty inspired the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) that developed into a cultural cluster.
Why Ashland rather than another Oregon town? A tradition of public spirit explains some of the town’s mobilizing capacity for civic entrepreneurship. The town’s founders had donated land for common facilities such as Lithia Park, the eventual home of OSF. The festival built upon the town’s cultural substrate as regional headquarters of the Chautauqua movement, whose summer gatherings across the United States featured lectures, entertainment and occasional religious revivals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Gould, 1961). It has been noted that, “Oregonians tend to be joiners with some of the higher rates of volunteerism in the nation. Words like “community” and “social justice” get repeated in public life like mantras” (Johnson, 2013).
As a Normal School, SOU was oriented towards the humanities, with a component of performing arts, reflecting the curriculum of the schools that it provided with trained personnel. Moreover, teachers college performing arts curricula are strongly oriented to practice since a good part of the remit of a high school drama teacher is coaching their students to mount a performance. Theatre is a collaborative art. The theatrical ethos implicit in, “Let’s put on a play” was congruent with taking this mission beyond the boundaries of the college. When the practical arts mission of a teachers college was scaled up to the community level, it was a leap that was within reach. Based on the theatre arts and humanities, rather than engineering and the sciences, and on teaching rather than research: community theatre was in tune with the college’s mission.
There was no grand vision of collaboration between theatre festival and university at its inception. The site of the first Shakespeare festival housed performances during the Chautauqua era. The first Chautauqua building, built in 1893, was enlarged and then replaced by a dome-covered structure in 1917 that was torn down in 1933 after the Chautauqua movement died out in the early 1920’s. The movement’s decline left behind the physical base of a demolished auditorium that was re-imagined to fit the form of an Elizabethan theatre. Indeed, Bowmer thought the Chautauqua walls resembled pictures he had seen of Elizabethan theatres and recycled them as the frame for the initial outdoor theater.
The Oregon festival was not a unique phenomenon at the time as cultural ventures were begun in other depressed regions, providing a platform for their initiators while demonstrating the utility of the arts. For example, “In a typical situation found during the Depression, a couple of enthusiastic people—in this case the fledgling artist, Lawrence Hinckley (1900-1987) and his wife Mildred, put forth a tiny bit of money and a lot of effort and turned a family barn into an art gallery that eventually became the pride of the community” (Moure, 1998: 236).
Civic Entrepreneurship in Depression Era Ashland
In his autobiography, Bowmer said that, “In coming to Ashland I faced the most bitter disappointment I had experienced in my young life. Southern Oregon Normal Schoolc did not have a drama department” (Bowmer, 1975: 39). “[Bowmer] realized that, if [he] were going to develop an extensive extracurricular theatre program, [his] first task was to gain the support of faculty, student body, and townspeople for the project” (Ibid. 40). He convinced the Active Club, a community service group of businessmen and professionals in which he was a member, to propose including “The First Annual Shakespeare Festival” in the revival of Ashland’s Fourth of July “Independence Day” celebration. Started in 1935, the initial two Festival plays were cast from the School’s faculty, students and townspeople.
The festival incubated within the College as an informal entity. The Normal School presented the second Festival, making a profit of $84.23. Although President Walter Redford promised Bowmer that the funds would be “earmarked” for OSF, the college spent the money on another public entertainment, outfitting its football team instead. The impetus to spin-off came from this raid on the Festival’s earnings. Bowmer and his associates organized the Oregon Shakespearean Festival Association, a non-profit, educational institution so that OSF could control its finances and destiny.
With sources of support in the business and professional community, as well as local government, OSF could survive the vicissitudes of temporary loss of support from any single partner. Due to Bowmer’s role in both the College and the community organization, OSF had a stronger take-off velocity that if it had had to rely on a single source of support, like the ill-fated 1935-36 Stanford Shakespeare festival that was not revived once it lost its academic sponsorship. When the Ashland Festival reopened in 1947, after a wartime hiatus, “…members of the community, especially the college community, became enthusiastic participants in readying the theatre for occupancy” (Ibid 162). Thus, the social capital generated from civic entrepreneurship helped restart the Festival, even after a time lapse.
Overcoming Social and Intellectual Capital Deficits
A Department Chair rejected a similar attempt to spin-off a community theatre at Stanford University, during the same era. Prof. Margery Bailey’s summer Shakespeare festival on the Stanford campus was shut down after two seasons when it was decided that public performances were not in accord with the university’s education mission.d John Maynard Keynes justified his plan to build a theatre at Cambridge University in 1934 on the grounds that a, “theatre [is] as necessary to the understanding of the dramatic arts…as a laboratory is to experimental science”. Of course, a university theater is more than a laboratory to understand drama; it is also a medium of dissemination to “publish” the result. Unfortunately, the Kings College Council rejected their bursar’s proposal to extend the purview of this elite institution from the arts and sciences to the performing arts (Sidelsky, 2003: 523).
Stanford supported Frederick Terman’s engineering entrepreneurship in the same era that Margery Bailey’s humanities entrepreneurship was rejected. Bailey regrouped at Stanford, organizing a new plays competition that she ran for decades, with participation of leading American theatrical figures as judges. Gender roles, doubtless, were a factor but the culture of the two schools, no doubt, also played a role, with the Oregon teacher training college, heavily oriented to the humanities even as Stanford was engineering focused. Even as technical enterprises were being hatched on the same campus, a more constricted academic culture in the humanities inhibited a parallel arts entrepreneurial initiativee.
Despite Palo Alto being in closer proximity to a greater audience watershed, relatively remote Ashland became the arts and humanities cluster while Palo Alto had to settle for Silicon Valley! Prof. Margery Bailey, a member of Stanford University’s English Department, with a specialization in Elizabethan literature and an interest in promoting campus performance of Shakespeare, who had entrepreneured the Stanford Festival, wrote Bowmer that he had accomplished, “… what…I…and the rest [west coast theatre academics] have been trying to do for years,”f Bailey connected with the Ashland festival in the early post war, adapting the Stanford geology department’s field study format to offering courses on Elizabethan theatre at the festival.
Bowmer came to Stanford to work for a PhD with Bailey, solidifying an academic link between the two schools that continues to the present, with Stanford academics offering public lectures at the Festival. SOU President Elmo Stevenson soon invited Bailey to teach her courses in the SOU summer school, integrating, “…our summer schoolwork in drama, art and literature into the festivalg. Bailey founded the SOU Institute of Renaissance Studies, bringing academic analysis of Elizabethan theatre together with performance. Combining theory with practice, as an actor and as author of a critical analysis of the season, she eventually donated her collection of folios to the Institute (Shakespeare Newsletter, 1956).
Both festivals were initiated by academics, the Stanford by a female English Department Professor with a Yale PhD and the Ashland by a male drama teacher with modest academic accomplishments. Bowmer was integrated into a local network of business and professional persons while Bailey lacked a strong local network. Bailey’s peers were fellow English Department academics with a theatrical bent at west coast and inter-mountain west universities, who provided each other with a collegial support structure through correspondence and visits. The 1930’s SOU/Stanford theatre experiences suggest the importance of access to resources in the community, especially when internal resources are few. The Santa Cruz Shakespeare Festival, a deficit making project of the University of California, Santa Cruz that recently closed its doors has reopened as a spin-off in its traditional campus venue after a successful local fund raising campaign (Bain, 2014). In general, civic support is the most significant factor in Shakespeare Festival success.
Other venues also have Shakespeare Festivals, with a variety of fates. The Stratford Ontario Shakespeare Festival was the brainchild of a local journalist, concerned about the loss of the city’s railway industry. He convinced the town council to provide modest support to explore the idea with a grant of 125 dollars to seek artistic advice. Piquing the interest of a British theatrical luminary, the project thus legitimated, received local business and government support to begin the festival in the mid 1950’s. The original theatre, focused on Shakespeare, developed into a broader theatrical complex of three houses, with a more extensive repertoire, and eventually generated a specialized academic unit, the Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre, to train actors.
The existence of the theater festival encouraged creation of other arts venues in music and visual arts in Stratford. Taking advantage of Victorian architecture, as the location for boutique accommodations and restaurants to support the arts attractions that draw visitors from Toronto and the US. Stratford has become Canada’s premier arts town. Stratford Ontario has developed into a self-sustaining cluster, with an academic offshoot. Although its specialized acting school is an outcome of the theatre festival rather than source of it as in Ashland, it is noteworthy that the trajectory of a successful theatre festival generated an academic institution, specialized in the theatre that will solidify its base. Shakespeare himself asked, what is in a name? The answer is that it can be an inspiration to civic entrepreneurship.
The experience of another Shakespeare Festival reinforces the importance of local support. The Stratford Connecticut Festival, founded by New York theatre luminary, Lawrence Langner, together with such well known theatre personages as Lincoln Kirstein, founder of the New York City Center Theatre, Theresa Helburn, co-producer of the Theatre Guild, a non-commercial alternative to Broadway, Roger Stevens, noted producer and Maurice Evans, distinguished actor. Although Langner was a founder of the Theatre Guild, Stratford followed the Broadway model in emphasizing stars, expensive productions, and a theatre building, rather than the simple structures that characterized the beginnings of regional festivals, like Ashland. The Ford and Rockefeller foundations supported the theater and no less a personage than Winston Churchill sent a congratulatory message for the Festival opening.
Nevertheless, the path was not smooth. The residents of Westport Connecticut, an upscale community opposed the Festival, causing it to be relocated to Stratford, an industrial town. The project moved top-down, with support of the state’s governor, a Broadway theatrical elite and supporters from,” …the worlds of finance, law, retail and government and publishing” (Cooper, 1986: 19). The Connecticut festival attempted to generate a training program but its support base was too small to carry both a performing and an educational project whereas OSF could always rely on SOU with its independent support base. Without significant local roots, external support waned and the American Shakespeare Festival closed in the mid 1980’s. The town of Stratford, supported by local volunteers, has since attempted to make the shuttered theater a tourist attraction.
The New York Shakespeare festival, begun in the same era by Joseph Papp, a visionary theatrical entrepreneur, touring New York City with Shakespeare productions performed on a flatbed truck, showed steady growth and greater staying power. It scaled up gradually, as support grew, to a summer theater in Central Park and a theatre complex downtown in the renovated headquarters of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. The New York Shakespeare Festival, now the Public Theatre, developed a symbiotic relationship with Broadway, moving its successful productions to the commercial stage and recycling funds to support its non-profit theatre.
After a period of initial ambivalence, city government also became a strong supporter, including construction of a theatre in Central Park, in recognition of the Festival’s contribution to civic life and tourism. Indeed, it was the very same Robert Moses who almost destroyed the emerging SoHo arts district (Jacobs, 1961) who was the initial opponent but, when turned around, is reported to have said, “Let’s build the bastard a theatre”. New York provided Papp a broader venue for his efforts than Ashland offered Bowmer. However, they are similar in the civic support they engendered and the clusters they generated, as an enclave within the broader theatrical scene in New York and de novo in Ashland.
University (Theatre) Industry Links
Southern Oregon University and the Ashland cultural cluster grew hand in hand, with the cluster spurring the academic development of its parent. A new SOU theatre facility, built in 1982, made SOU more attractive to OSF staff especially willing to help with the Master of Theatre Studies in Production and Design. A former teachers college is now Southern Oregon University (SOU) with a competitive theatre department. The upgrading is a typical academic progression. For example, Albany State Teachers College became the University at Albany, upgrading from teachers education to providing social science expertise in fields like criminal justice to state government and then a nano-science and technology research center in collaboration with IBM to build a semi-conductor industry.
Bowmer’s and Bailey’s dual roles in OSF and SOU helped build a variety of links. Offer of teaching positions at SOU assisted recruitment of company members, especially before OSF built its reputation. The SOU Center for Shakespeare Studies, founded in 1986, combines Shakespeare analysis and production in a Shakespeare Studies minor with OSF actors and directors as guest faculty. Its relationship with OSF helped the Center pioneer the national teaching from performance movement. From 1987-2005, summer institutes, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, helped teachers teach Shakespeare. OSF and SOU also organized the Spring Shakespeare Symposia for California and Oregon high school teachers to prepare their classes for OSF performances.
As the festival gained prominence, SOU’s relationship with OSF helped improve its theatre department. Theater professionals ‘right down the street,’ serving as adjunct professors provided, “unimaginable access” as a student noted. Student interns were treated like company members at OSF, gaining experience that helped in admittance to Master of Fine Arts programs. The Shakespearean Festival and Summer School, begun in the 1949 Festival season, offered ten courses that had a regional reach to west coast students, south to Stanford University and north to Washington State Universityh.
Many students matriculate at SOU, inspired by a school visit to OSF that included a campus stay, encouraging them to identify as college students. An SOU admissions officer, visiting high schools in California, reported that, “a girl told me ‘I am an SOU student!’ and whipped open her wallet, proudly showing me her SOU cafeteria meal card from her visit to Ashland.” Although planning to attend Northwestern, a nationally known theater arts school, a high school student stopped by the SOU campus on a trip to OSF. She spoke with an acting professor about the school’s relationship with OSF and ended-up attending SOU. Another student who began attending OSF as a 15 year old decided to attend SOU because of its relationship with OSF.
As SOU has grown so has OSF, which increases the potential for SOU graduates and alumni to find employment and internships. Just as other theatre groups, such as ANPF, want to collaborate with SOU, businesses in the area want to partner with SOU. The business community in Jackson (where Ashland is located) and Josephine counties would like SOU’s School of Business, “… to become more engaged with the local economy,”i to do research relevant to the area, hold conferences on business issues, and for SOU to become a center for entrepreneurship and offer greater support to startups and small businesses (Reid, Schein, and Wilson, 2006: iv).
The inter-related roles of the three levels of US government in fostering innovation and entrepreneurship have been called a “triple helix within a triple helix” (Penska, 2013). In the Ashland case, municipal government provided town land for the theaters at nominal cost and supported the construction of parking facilities. The city helped OSF obtain a low-interest loan to build its New Theatre through the state of Oregon as well as covering a portion of the loan payments for its garage. OSF also receives a portion of the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) on overnight accommodations. The original theatre was built with Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds in the 1930’s and, in the 1960’s; a matching grant from the US Economic Development Administration, facilitated by state government, completed the fund raising for the theater expansion project. While a fundraising campaign raised $1,000,000, this was insufficient so the matching grant was crucial. The money went to Ashland as the project was built on city land that OSF then leased (Bowmer, 1975, 262-3).