April 21st, 2023

Live theater thrives in Willamette Valley wine country

Several characters on stage point to something in the distance as they sing.
Into the Woods was a hit at Gallery Theater this winter. Photo by Ekay Media.

If you love live theater, you might think a trip to Oregon wine country in Yamhill County would leave you stranded in a cultural desert, but in fact you will find a surprisingly lush oasis. We have a robust, year-round theater scene and a lot of talented artists who love putting on a good show. 

Yamhill County, in fact, has as many theater companies and organizations as Ashland in Southern Oregon, the home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Let us count the ways.

Gallery Players of Oregon – This McMinnville based company has two stages, the 250-seat mainstage and a black box theater that seats around 70. Since 1968, the company has mounted more than 360 productions, performing year-round with a mix of popular musicals and classics and lesser-known shows. Check the schedule and get tickets early; increasingly, productions at Gallery on both stages frequently sell out. Because word is getting around; the shows here are outstanding. Up next: 9 to 5: The Musical opens a 4-weekend run on the mainstage May 5, followed by Kate Hamill’s Pride & Prejudice in the black box starting July 28. 

Linfield University – Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Brecht’s Mother Courage and Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Sweat … these are just a few of the gems that have been staged by the school’s theater department, which in the several decades I’ve lived here has never been afraid to swing for the fences. It’s a superb, state-of-the-art facility where, during the month-long Aquilon Music Festival in July, you can also find opera. But next up: Madeline George’s Obie Award-winning Hurricane Diane, set for April 27-29 and May 4-6.  

Penguin Productions – Founded in 2017, this Newberg-based company has been wowing audiences with quality outdoor summer productions of both classical and contemporary works, including five of Shakespeare’s most popular plays. Come July, they’ll make it six with Twelfth Night. And if you visit in August, you can see Tony Award nominee John Cariani’s popular play anthology, Almost, Maine

Gather Repertory – Newberg sprouted a second theater company last year with a gender-bending production of Our Town by Thornton Wilder, performed in front of the Chehalem Cultural Center. Next up is Jaclyn Backhaus’s acclaimed Men on Boats, based on the true story of an ill-fated 1869 trip on the Colorado River and traditionally featuring an all-female cast. Look for it May 19-28 at North Valley Friends Church, with matinees on the 21st at 28th.  

George Fox University – Founded by Quakers in 1891, this private Christian college in Newberg offers two to three mainstage productions annually, along with a host of smaller, student-directed productions on the Wood-Mar Auditorium. This season they went all in with Charles Dickens, with productions of the musical Oliver! and the lesser-known one-man show Chimes

A cartoon of David Bates

David Bates is a McMinnville writer who has appeared in Gallery Theater productions since 1998.