News & Notes: The Shakespeare festival has the numbers, PYP Day!

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival had an excellent year, Portland Youth Philharmonic opens its 90th concert season, more!

News & Notes has gotten behind. Way behind. News is piling up around the ArtsWatch Tower HQ, begging to be sent on its way to you, dear readers, knowing you can give it a good home. So without further introduction, the news…

As previously announced but maybe not OFFICIALLY, Shannon Planchon took over as interim director of the Oregon Cultural Trust and Oregon Arts Commission on Monday, replacing Christine D’Arcy, who was let go last week. Planchon was assistant director of Oregon Arts Commission from September 2004 to January 2013.

“We are grateful that Shannon agreed to return,” said Arts Commission Board Chair Julie Vigeland. “She has over eight years experience with the Arts Commission and Cultural Trust and is the perfect person to lead during this transition.”

The Trust and Commission are considering reorganization, with two separate executive directors, though in the press release Planchon said “people should expect no immediate change as we continue our advocacy, funding and technical assistance in support of artists and over 1,300 arts, heritage and humanities organizations in Oregon.”

As with many terminations, we may never know exactly why D’Arcy was shown the door or what the effect on the commission will be. I’m still digging around on it, though, and if I find out anything printable, I’ll let you know.

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Mary Zimmerman's 'White Snake' for OSF is now appearing around the country./Jenny Graham

Mary Zimmerman’s ‘White Snake’ for OSF is now appearing around the country./Jenny Graham

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival brought season 78 to a close on Sunday, and the company has already done some adding up. Allow me to enumerate?

  1. Total attendance for the year was 405,328, up 3.6 percent from 2012.
  2. Total ticket revenue was $19,573,863, up 7.2 percent from 2012.
  3. Student attendance, my favorite category, was 66,975, and the Education Department offered 928 Education events, selling 32,349 tickets.
  4. Several productions developed at OSF have spread around the country: Robert Schenkkan’s “All the Way,” with “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston as Lyndon Johnson is headed for Broadway with OSF artistic director Bill Rauch in the director’s chair; Naomi Wallace’s “The Liquid Plain” is headed for Baltimore’s CenterStage; “American Night: The Ballad of Juan José,” by Richard Montoya and Culture Clash, has played lots of places including California Shakespeare Theatre, Center Theatre Group, Denver Center Theatre Company, La Jolla Playhouse and Yale Repertory Theatre; Director Mary Zimmerman’s 2012 world-premiere adaptation of “The White Snake” finished at the McCarter Theatre and moves toChicago’s Goodman Theatre, all with the original OSF cast.
  5. Construction on new production shop in nearby Talent was begun, and once it’s done a new rehearsal hall will fill that space on the campus, the Hay Patton Rehearsal Center.
  6. A $200,000 NEH grant for “Digitizing and Creating Access to the Audiovisual Collection in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival Archives” will help preserve and make public the work of OSF’s founders, artists and innovators, an audiovisual collection now mostly unusable because of preservation and technological issues. One digitization is complete 2,655 at-risk tapes, films and videos will be preserved and made available for the first time.
  7. Contributed income is up from last season, led by a $3 million Allen Foundation renaming gift and $1 million from Ashland residents Judy Shih and Joel Axelrod to support new works ($250,000), education ($250,000), and the redesign of the Festival courtyard ($500,000).

This all sounds like what a major American theater company, which Oregon Shakespeare Festival is, SHOULD be doing, though the remoteness of Ashland has made it a lot harder to project nationwide the way other big theaters can. At this moment, theater in Oregon and Portland have reached a point they’ve never attained before, spinning off world premieres, sharing productions, reaching bigger audiences than ever.

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PYPtruck 2

Mayor Charlie Hales has issued a mayoral proclamation establishing November 9 as “Portland Youth Philharmonic Day” to mark the opening night of the orchestra’s 90th concert season. It’s the oldest youth orchestra in the country. Mary V. Dodge’s Irvington School Orchestra was the nucleus of the first Junior Symphony in 1924, and the association hired Russian émigré Jacques Gershkovitch as conductor, and he served for 30 years, handing the baton to the great Jacob Avshalomov, himself an alumnus of the orchestra, who led the orchestra for 40 years. Huw Edwards was Music Director followed for seven years, and now the orchestra is led by David Hattner.

I go into this history just a bit because it’s remarkable. When we consider the history of the city, PYP is a central player, more than we can know. And it makes me imagine the days when an Irvington School Orchestra was a very fine thing indeed (I live very close to the school), before testing took over school curricula. But mostly I marvel at the commitment of so many people over so many years to create something they believed in, something they thought had great intrinsic value, both to them personally and to their community.

The concert is 7:30 pm Thursday in Schnitzer Hall. On the program, work by Portland composer Kenji Bunch, Grieg (Piano Concerto played by Hannah Moon, PYP Piano Competition Winner), Hanson, and Dvorak. You can read Moon’s blog post on the Grieg, and don’t forget to click on the video prompt. You can celebrate with the Mayor!

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No, thanks for asking, but Carlos Kalmar did not call me back nor instruct his minions to release his salary extension details to the public, speaking of stories I’m working on. The more I think about it, the worse this seems to me, especially given the $310,000 the symphony board took back from its musicians at the end of the fiscal year in June to balance the books.

2 Responses.

  1. blogdog says:

    OSF numbers fantastic! Numbers which confirm one Oregon Cultural Trust panelist’s comment at the close of an open panel a few years back (BTW OCT panels are open [as per Oregon Opem Meetings Law])

    Panelist (unnamed): “We just awarded $50k to Oregon Shakespeare Festival. A literal drop in their annual budget bucket. To make way for that in our budget, we just dismissed about 10 artistically engaging and genuinely worthy proposals from small arts organizations — proposal requests in the $5k range, significant amounts to those small organizations. Seems we need to examine what we’re doing here.”

    Behind the OCT/OAC fracas vis-a-vis the Director’s recent dismissal (putsch), time may be right for an open examination of what these organizations are doing with Oregonians’ money in service to Oregon’s arts community.

    • Barry Johnson says:

      It’s ALWAYS time to think about what the best and highest use of public money is, in my opinion at least.

      Usually, government granters like to try to do both: support the larger groups AND provide project money for smaller ones. I understand that impulse: Even OSF is dwarfed by the smallest, crappiest network TV show in budget, marketing muscle, and reach. And they are an excellent entryway to the arts for a lot of people. There’s a clear public interest in helping it succeed, one way or another.

      I’m a big fan of the Warhol Foundation’s attempt to seed difficult-to-fund artists and artist-run groups with small grants, the Precipice Fund, administered by PICA. In Round One, the fund will award 15 to 20 grants between $500 and $5,000 each. Various grants at OAC and RACC try to get at that group, too. In general, the more money that gets into the hands of artists, the better, and administrative rules sometimes make that difficult.

      Personally, I think we should be funding the arts in such a way that we don’t face either/or choices like the one the panelist described so often. The $50k OAC was about to give OSF pays for what, six months of incarceration for one prisoner at the Oregon prison nearest you?

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