While skiing, snowboarding, drinking, eating, shopping, drinking, fireside chats, snowmobiling, drinking, and drinking are all integral and incredibly enjoyable facets of the ski/après ski experience, there are times when I get tired of listening to my buddies brag about their backside 540s and how many beers they were able to fit in a bathtub. When the slopeside victory tales have been exhausted, it’s time to get out of the cabin (or the bar) and get into town for some culture.
Here are some of the gnarliest theater festivals and companies that are not far from the slopes. GO GET SOME CULTURE!
Oregon Shakespeare Festival – Ashland, Oregon
When I hear the word festival, I think of a weekend at Coachella or the weeklong sketch and improv festivals in San Francisco. This year, the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon has opening night on February 17th, and closing night on November 4th. So whether you are in Oregon for ski season, for a summer vacation, or you happen to actually live there, you can enjoy one or more of the festival’s 12 productions playing this season, which include popular Shakespeare hits like Romeo and Juliet and Henry V alongside less produced plays like Troilus and Cressida. And if you’re not a fan of the Bard, there are plenty of non-Shakespeare offerings here; Animal Crackers, a musical by the Marx Brothers and All the Way, a world premiere about LBJ, both playing till early November. Another world premiere, Party People, looks particularly interesting. It is described as “a high-energy, infectious mix of theatre, poetry, jazz, blues, hip-hop, boleros and salsa” about aged activists trying to untangle their pasts and futures. With this kind of line-up, I’d say The Ashland Shakespeare Festival is a tour de force of mountain town theater.
Telluride Comedy Festival – Telluride, Colorado
Some of the top names in stand-up, sketch, and improv descend on Telluride for 4 days every President’s Day Weekend to perform at the Sheridan Opera House. 2012 was the festival’s 13th annual iteration, and past performers included Jack McBrayer, Arj Barker, Tig Notaro, Ed Helms, Rob Corddry, Casey Wilson (of SNL), and Craig Cacowski (improv master!!). Each evening has a slightly different focus; while the emphasis on most of the festival is stand-up, there is plenty of sketch comedy and the Sunday night finale is focused on improvised comedy theater. Expect some crowds if you head out to the slopes during this festival, but skiing, snowboarding, and seeing this outstanding comedy line-up would be an EXCELLENT trip!
The Williamstown Theater Festival – Williamstown, Massachusetts
Only 20 minutes from Jiminy Peak and an hour and 20 minutes from Mount Snow, the residents of Williamstown have some great skiing very close by. This Massachusetts festival keeps the ski-bums entertained in summertime with highly successful seasons of new plays and reinterpreted classics. With a focus on attracting top talent (right now, the Festival’s homepage has an image of Bradley Cooper pointing right at you) and cultivating young artists, the Williamstown Theater Festival is definitely doing something right; many of its plays move to Broadway or off-Broadway, and it has even won a Tony Award for Best Regional Theater. This season includes plays by well-known playwrights such as Oscar Wilde, Richard Greenberg, Ivan Turgenev, and Neil Simon, but if I were in Massachusetts in June, I would want to see Here Lies Love by David Byrne (of the Talking Heads) and Fatboy Slim, which will combine disco beats and a 360-degree scenic and video environment to tell the story of Filipina First Lady Imelda Marcos. WOW!!
Utah Shakespearean Festival – Cedar City, Utah
This one misses ski season by a bit, running from June 21 to October 20, but has some awesome promotional photos. This Shakespeare festival, even more so than the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, does not highlight Shakespearean plays. The season consists of a couple of the Bard’s hits (Hamlet and The Merry Wives of Windsor), one of his less produced plays (Titus Andronicus), and an eclectic offering including Les Misérables, Scapin (a modern adaptation by the genius clown Bill Irwin), and a New American Playwrights Project. All of the these new American playwrights have awesome names like Frankie Little Hardin or Kurt Proctor.
Gaylord Community Productions – Gaylord, Michigan
This community theater, near Treetops ski resort, is definitely a lot different than the aforementioned large-scale festivals. It seems that they, like a lot of community theaters, generally produce more well-known musicals from decades long past. I am particularly impressed with their educational mission statement, “to provide scholarships for individuals who plan to study the Performing Arts and expand their knowledge of the many facets of live theatre,” and “to promote talent, love, and enjoyment of the theater through further education and learning in both the artistic and technical fields of theater arts.” As arts education is shrinking, especially in small towns, I think it is very admirable to help young artists pursue their dreams. Hopefully said young artists can keep skiing while doing so!
I’m sure there are plenty of awesome festivals and production groups that I am missing from this very short list. I’d love it if you had suggestions for other mountain town theaters to check out!
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