Expenses

Gas (round trip from Bend): 458 miles @ $3.20/gallon: $58.62

Lunch, BricktownE Brewing: $14

Dinner, Porters: $59

Ticket, Britt Festival: $37

Lodging (two nights with breakfast), Inn at the Commons: $174.62

Lunch, 4 Daughters: $13.99

Dinner, Amuse: $65

Ticket, Shakespeare Festival: $60

TOTAL: $482.23

If you go

INFORMATION

Travel Medford Visitor Information Center: 1314 Center Drive, Suite E, Medford; www.travelmedford.org, 541-776-4021, 800-469-6307

LODGING

Inn at the Commons: 200 N. Riverside Ave., Medford; www.innatthecommons.com, 541-779-5811, 866-779-5811. Rates from $80. Dining at Larks (lunch and dinner every day; moderate; 541-774-4760).

The Jacksonville Inn: 175 E. California St., Jacksonville; www.jacksonvilleinn.com, 541-899-1900, 800-321-9344. Rates from $159. Dining at The Dinner House (breakfast Monday to Saturday, lunch Wednesday to Saturday, dinner every day; moderate to expensive).

The Peerless Hotel: 243 Fourth St., Ashland. www.thepeerlesson4th.com; 541-488-1082. Rates from $99. Dining at The Peerless Restaurant and Bar (265 Fourth St.; meals: 541-488-6067).

Rogue Regency Inn & Suites: 2300 Biddle Road, Medford; www.rogueregency.com, 541-770-1234, 800-535-5805. Rates from $85. Dining at The Regency Grill (three meals every day, moderate) or Chadwick’s Pub & Sports Bar (lunch and dinner every day; budget and moderate)

The White House Bed and Breakfast: 212 Valley View Drive, Medford; www.thewhitehouse-bedandbreakfast.com, 541-301-2086. Rates from $150.

DINING

Amuse Restaurant: 15 N. First St., Ashland; www.amuserestaurant.com, 541-488-9000. Dinner Tuesday to Sunday. Moderate to expensive.

BricktownE Brewing Company: 44 S. Central Ave., Medford; www.bricktownebeer.com, 541-973-2377. Lunch Monday to Saturday, dinner every day. Budget to moderate.

Elements: 101 E. Main St., Medford; www.elementsmedford.com, 541-779-1035. Dinner (tapas) every day. Moderate

4 Daughters Irish Pub: 126 W. Main St., Medford; www.4daughtersirishpub.com, 541-779-4455. Lunch and dinner every day. Budget to moderate.

Porters Dining at the Depot: 147 N. Front St., Medford; www.porterstrainstation.com, 541-857-1910. Dinner every day. Moderate

PERFORMING ARTS

Britt Music & Arts Festival: 216 W. Main St., Medford (Performance Garden in Jacksonville); www.brittfest.org, 541-773-6077, 800-882-7488

Camelot Theatre Company: 101 Talent Ave., Talent. www.camelottheatre.org, 541-535-5250

Craterian Theater at the Collier Center for the Performing Arts. 23 S. Central Ave., Medford; www.craterian.org, 541-779-3000

Holly Theatre: 226 W. Sixth St., Medford; www.hollytheatre.org, 541-772-3797

Oregon Cabaret Theatre: First and Hagardine streets, Ashland; www.oregoncabaret.com, 541-488-2902

Oregon Shakespeare Festival: 15 S. Pioneer St., Ashland; www.osfashland.org, 541-482-2111, 800-219-8161

Randall Theatre Company: 10 E. Third St., Medford; www.randalltheatre.com, 541-632-3258

MEDFORD —

In the early years of the last century, if you were to ask someone in Medford their plans for any given evening, chances were strong that it would involve the theater.

During the years preceding the Great Depression, Southern Oregon’s largest city had a thriving performing-arts scene. Vaudeville and silent movie palaces like the Isis, the Star (later the Liberty), the Roxy (later the Esquire), the Page (a “fireproof” brick theater built in 1913 but destroyed by fire in 1923), the Rialto (built in 1917) and the Craterian (built in 1924) kept audiences entertained with traveling shows and the Edison “talkies.”

When the Holly Theatre, designed by noted architect Frank C. Clark, opened its doors in 1930, it ushered in a new era for theatergoers: It was the first hall designed with sound acoustics for the era after silent films, and it had a built-in heating and air-circulation system.

By the 1950s and ’60s, however, the surviving theaters were all in decline. The Rialto, the Craterian and the Holly all shuttered their doors. The Rialto came face-to-face with the wrecking ball in 1966. The Craterian and Holly survived until the mid-1980s, victims of multiplex cinemas and home theater. The Craterian persisted in its footprint and its name as the Craterian Theater at the Collier Center for the Performing Arts.

The Holly, by the mid-1990s, was scheduled for demolition. Although the Spanish Colonial Revival structure was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998, it was already condemned when the nonprofit JPR Foundation bought the building four years ago.

By that time, other Southern Oregon theater companies, from Grants Pass to Klamath Falls, were making names for themselves. And in the heart of Jackson County, Medford’s immediate neighborhood, the spirit of the performing arts were especially strong.

Ashland, of course, has hosted the renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival since 1936. The city, 12 miles southeast of Medford, also is home to the Oregon Cabaret Theatre, noted for its musical productions for three decades. Halfway between Medford and Ashland, in tiny Talent, the Camelot Theatre Company has a year-round presence. Historic Jacksonville, 5 miles west of Medford, is well-known for its Britt Music & Arts Festival, which runs from June to September.

Back in Medford itself, the little Randall Theatre Company has made a name for itself in five years of community theater work.

The Holly Theatre

The future of the Holly, meanwhile, was in the hands of Jefferson Public Radio. After buying the 1930 structure, the foundation drew up plans to restore the theater, preserving its historical integrity before reopening it as a concert and special-events space. The JPR Foundation already had successfully done so in Redding, California, with another Art Deco-era theater, the Cascade.

In 2012, JPR established Jefferson Live! to manage and operate its cultural facilities. Randy McKay, a veteran of theater restorations in Vallejo and San Jose, California, was hired as its executive director. McKay was charged not only with overseeing the work of his construction team — architect Mark McKechnie, general contractor Hammonds Construction and Development, Evergreene Architectural Arts on the finishing work — but also the fundraising.

That’s a gargantuan task. The estimated cost of the restoration is $3.5 million. When it’s finished, the theater will seat 1,003 people, down from its historical 1,200 but still substantially more than the Craterian, whose 734 seats are presently the most in Medford.

McKay welcomes visitors to the theater. He has a small office beside its main entrance, and he happily conducts public tours on the first Saturday of every month from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. It’s one small way he can encourage area citizens to see the progress being made.

But he needed an angel, and he found one in actor-musician Jim Belushi.

Belushi has been coming to the Rogue Valley “for several decades,” McKay said, to visit friends and fish for trophy trout on the Rogue River. Eventually, he found the perfect property he needed to build “a little fishing cabin,” as McKay described it.

The cabin is nearing completion. It’s not so little anymore, McKay said. But Belushi’s fondness for the region has continued to grow. When contractor Dave Hammonds one day discussed with the actor his other big project, the Holly restoration, Belushi was intrigued.

“He saw value here,” McKay said. “He asked, ‘How can I help?’”

The actor has now become actively involved in the Holly’s future. Not only is he supporting the work financially (he’ll have his name and that of his hideaway, “Rogue’s Lair,” on a brick for having made an investment in excess of $50,000); he also is making public appearances to encourage fundraising.

On Saturday, Jim Belushi and the Sacred Hearts, his nine-piece blues band, will perform a show at the EdenVale Winery in suburban Medford, with all profits designated for the Holly Theatre. Tickets start at $33 and rise as high as $169 for dinner and VIP meet-and-greet packages. (They are available on the Holly’s website.)

The Craterian

Before Frank Clark went to work on the Holly in 1929, he had a couple of other Medford theaters in his portfolio. Most notable was the Craterian, whose name blended that of Crater Lake with “Criterion,” a popular name for theaters of the day. Opened in 1924, it drew a steady stream of vaudeville and theatrical acts, along with talking pictures beginning in 1928.

Among the early performers was a 14-year-old dancer named Ginger Rogers. Years later she became famous as Fred Astaire’s dance partner and a Hollywood actress. When the theater was rebuilt in the 1990s, it was dubbed the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater in her honor. (Today her name is applied merely to the stage.) The theater is the principal venue in the Collier Center for the Performing Arts, renamed in 2012 to honor chief benefactor James Collier.

The main 2015-16 season here offers more than 40 separate productions between September and May, beginning this year on Sept. 11 with “Bus Stop,” a Tony Award-nominated comedy presented by the theater’s own professional Next Stage Repertory Company, and continuing through May 29 of next year with Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” by the Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University.

In between, there are comedy and musical theater productions, concerts and tribute shows, dance performances and acrobatics. Both Next Stage and the Teen Musical Theater of Oregon have three annual productions, and other partners — among them the Rogue Valley Chorale, Rogue Valley Symphony and Youth Symphony of Southern Oregon — also perform on a regular basis.

The Randall

Medford’s underdog theater company, the one that everyone loves to love, is the Randall. Founded in 2010 by a group of citizens headed by artistic director Robin Downward, the Randall is at home in a revamped warehouse just a block outside of Medford’s central downtown district. It seats just 61 patrons.

“Medford didn’t have a community theater,” Downward, himself an actor, told me. “I wanted to build a theater that provided a ‘soft’ environment for actors, based upon professional ideals, even though we don’t pay them. I like to call this a ‘No Ego Zone.’ It’s better for the audience when actors are having a great time.”

When he was 8 years old, Downward said, he had been profoundly impacted by the death of his brother Randall, 10 years his senior. The theater company is named in his honor. “He was marvelously creative but also very humble,” said Downward, now 47. “I had five other brothers and sisters, but I was the only one who made theater my life.”

The Randall Theatre, which produces 11 shows per year, survives on ticket sales and donations at the door, Downward said. He has learned in five years that comedies and musicals draw much larger audiences than dramas, no matter how well-known.

The biggest annual fundraiser, Downward said, is held over about 10 days in October, when the Randall is converted into a haunted house. The Halloween scenario “provides half of our yearly budget,” he said. It’s also a clue to the theater’s entertainment philosophy. “We like to create magic,” the director said. “We make it a fun experience. Our show starts at the box office, well before anyone steps on stage.”

He added, “It’s fun to see how, in the last year and a half, the Randall has kind of grown on its own.”

Ashland theater

Most theater goers flock to Ashland when they visit Southern Oregon. The main reason is the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Founded in 1935 with three performances of two plays that drew 500 onlookers to a park pavilion, the festival has been an annual event with the exception of the World War II years. Through the 1960s, it was an outdoor summer festival with a cast of college students. A watershed year was 1970, when construction of the Angus Bowmer Theatre enabled the festival to start its season in April with an indoor stage and professional actors.

Today the festival opens the last week of February and runs until Nov. 1. The complex includes not only the Allen Elizabethan Theatre (a replica of the famed Globe Theatre of Shakespeare’s time) and the Bowmer, but also the smaller Thomas Theatre. In a single 8½-month season, there are more than 750 performances of 10 or 11 plays, with 400,000 tickets sold to about 120,000 patrons. The festival employs some 80 actors, but four times that many artistic, administrative and production staff are required to stage the festival.

The annual playbill includes only three or four works by Shakespeare, balancing the schedule with classics by other playwrights and premieres of new works. All 10 plays of the 2015 season remain in production. On the open-air Elizabethan stage, ending the second week of October, you can still catch Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra”; “The Count of Monte Cristo,” by Alexandre Dumas; and “Head Over Heels,” a world premiere with music and lyrics by the Go-Gos.

The Bowmer season, which runs until November, includes the Bard’s “Much Ado about Nothing”; a Broadway musical, “Guys and Dolls”; the U.S. premiere of a Chinese tragi- comedy “Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land”; and the world premiere of a new American drama, “Sweat.” In the Thomas, three dramas will play through Halloween weekend: Shakespeare’s “Pericles”; Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey into Night”; and Quiara Alegría Hudes’ “The Happiest Song Plays Last.”

All three festival theaters are dark on Mondays. It comes as no surprise that Mondays are exceptionally popular at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre, located just up the street and around the corner from Shakespeare Central. The musical dinner theater concludes a summerlong production of “Cabaret” on Aug. 30, a week from today; but still to come in 2015 are Tony Award-winning “The 39 Steps” and “A Christmas Carol.”

And then there’s the delightful little Camelot Theatre Company, which performs in Talent at the 164-seat James M. Collier Theatre. This state-of-the-art structure was built in 2010-2011, although its design is reminiscent of the Art Deco era. The company’s run of “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” has just concluded; still coming this year are “The Last Five Years” (in September), “The Manchurian Candidate” (in October) and “Oklahoma!” (in December).

Jacksonville’s Britt

For concerts, there’s no place in Southern Oregon like “The Britt.” Held in the charming, 19th-century gold-rush town of Jacksonville, the festival plays in an open-air amphitheater in the Britt Gardens, overlooking the main street of the village: This was once the estate of pioneer photographer Peter Britt, whose image (by sculptor Ralph Starritt) greets visitors just outside the festival box office.

The Britt season runs for three full months, from mid-June to mid-September. That’s 11 weeks of concerts by leading contemporary musicians and other performers, broken briefly during the first two weeks of August by the Britt Classical Festival, offering another seven shows in 16 days for music lovers who prefer Mozart to Mumford and Sons.

Still on the Britt music schedule, before the 2015 season comes to an end: Randy Newman (Aug. 27), Vince Gill (Aug. 30), The Gipsy Kings (Aug. 31), Rebelution (Sept. 1), “Weird Al” Yankovic (Sept. 2), Kacey Musgraves (Sept. 3) Pat Benatar (Sept. 4), Punch Brothers (Sept. 5), The Turtles (Sept. 11), Las Comic Standing (Sept. 12), Brandi Carlile (Sept. 13) and Primus (Sept. 16).

— Reporter: janderson@bendbulletin.com

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