With an immersive show opening later this week, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is proving that despite its name, Southern Oregon’s well-regarded repertory arts group is innovating in ways well beyond the theater tradition of the English Bard.
The show, “Dr. G’s Bingo Extravaganza,” aims to transport people into a playful and joyous world through an immersive production that puts the audience at its center. It opens Wednesday at Ashland’s Carpenter Hall and runs through July 24, but its origins go back to early in the pandemic — or even decades earlier than that, depending on how you look at it.
For You, the performance collective that created the experience, began the journey to “Dr. G’s Bingo Extravaganza” in response to the pandemic’s isolation. The group sought to connect artists with older adults.
“I remember just my parents being isolated, people’s grandparents being isolated and all of these artists wanting to be productive and creative,” said Erika Chong Shuch, a core artist with For You.
“So we started, essentially, a dating service where we were connecting artists and elders for individual exchanges. And over the course of the pandemic, we paired upwards of 80 artists and elders in a number of projects.”
Through this work, the group was introduced to southern Oregon resident Geneva Craig, who holds a Ph.D. in nursing from Walden University, and who is also known as Dr. G. Over the course of multiple Zoom meetings, the For You collective learned about Craig’s life and decades-long fight for civil rights. They also learned about her love of bingo.
Members of the collective wanted to honor her work and her spirit.
And so “Dr. G’s Bingo Extravaganza” was born.
“Dr. G has had an incredible life and has been met with a lot of hardship, and she has made this very conscious, deliberate, rigorous decision to now live in a place where she is seeking joy,” Shuch said. “A lot of the joy that she seeks and that she gives and that she shares with the world is this effusive kind of love that she has for strangers and for good friends.”
The event aims to transport its audience into a playful and joyous world loosely based on Craig’s experiences.
“Performance is an opportunity to bring groups of strangers together,” Shuch said. “And see each other in a new, playful light.”
Push play to hear a full discussion of the production: