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Room and Bard

'Round the Clock Theater

The following day I have a choice of five plays, counting only the festival offerings: matinees include Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors" and a contemporary play set in an urban American ghetto, "Topdog/Underdog" by Suzan-Lori Parks. Evening choices include the classic "Raisin in the Sun" -- an older counterpoint to "Topdog" -- and two Shakespeare tragedies.

You can easily make an entire day in Ashland all about theater. Many people do, starting on a typical day with a backstage tour at 10 a.m., a lecture at noon, then a 2 o'clock matinee. That leaves you enough time to schedule a viewing of a genuine Shakespeare folio before the free nightly music and dance performances that precede the 8:30 p.m. curtain openings at the three festival theaters.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Elizabethan Stage. (T. Charles Erickson)

Each season, the festival produces 11 plays -- five Shakespeare and six classic and contemporary choices, including a world premiere or two. But the plays are rotated in such a way that a visitor can take in a maximum number of shows. Stay three days and you can see, or at least choose from, eight or nine different plays, since the festival's theaters generally offer a matinee and an evening performance daily.

I'm ready to grab tickets for "Topdog/Underdog" and "Raisin in the Sun" when I learn of the nearby Britt Festivals, in the historic town of Jacksonville. The festival, which is housed in an outdoor amphitheater similar to Virginia's Wolf Trap, happens to be hosting Garrison Keillor and his Hopeful Gospel Quartet. Can't miss that.

As long as I'm driving 15 miles or so over to Jacksonville, it makes sense to do a little winery tour and some tastings along the way. Plus I need time to visit some of the two dozen art galleries in Ashland, and I want to see the Japanese gardens in Lithia Park -- so named because its naturally carbonated spring water is loaded with lithium, which could explain its supposed healing powers. About all that leaves time for today is the Backstage Tour.

The tour begins in the $21 million New Theater, the most intimate of the festival's three theaters. Opened in 2002, it holds between 200 and 300 audience members, depending on how the moveable seats are configured. Stagehands are changing the set from the past evening's performance, preparing it for a matinee.

I also go behind the scenes of the 600-seat Angus Bowmer Theatre, named for the man who put Ashland on the cultural map.

I have tickets for tomorrow night's performance in the Angus Bowmer for "The Royal Family," by George Kaufman and Edna Ferber. But I'll start out my final day in Ashland on the Rogue River, hitting the rapids with one of the half-dozen whitewater rafting outfitters in town.

Within a short drive of Ashland, I'm in sparsely populated areas of rolling hills, mountains and orchards. Outfitters offer half-day rafting adventures on the Rogue, which intersperses mellow floating with bursts of adrenaline-kicking rapids about a half-dozen times. For those with an entire day to spare -- even so you'll be back in time for evening performances -- you might want to choose the more challenging Klamath River. A one-day trip takes you through 42 major rapids; a two-day campout takes you to a remote and uninhabited canyon, and through 74 rapids.

I pick the half-day option, spending the afternoon shooting the rapids of the Rogue. I'm on the water only a few minutes when a fox swims by. Moments later there is no time to be looking for wildlife, because I'm paddling for my life, or so it seems.

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