The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, a key Oregon cultural institution since it was founded in Ashland in 1935, has put out an extraordinary call for $2.5 million to stabilize its budget and keep its 2023 season alive. “The Show Must Go On,” an email sent late Tuesday morning to the company’s mailing list was headlined. “Save Our Season. Save OSF.”
The dire call to action came only a week before the current season is about to begin with opening nights of Romeo and Juliet on April 18 and the musical Rent on April 19. The company is seeking to raise an extra $2.5 million in donations in the next four months.
“Right now, OSF is in crisis, and we are not alone,” the email appeal, signed by board chair Diane Yu and board member Bob Speltz, said. “All across the theatre industry, attendance and donations are down significantly. Because we are a destination theatre where people often have to spend thousands of dollars to reach our stages, we have been especially hard hit by the twin impacts of COVID and inflation.”
A changing climate has also played a role in the company’s problems, with annual forest fires and smoke hitting southern Oregon during what traditionally had been the festival’s peak times in late summer and early fall.
A proposed bill in the Oregon Legislature to help boost the state’s cultural sector earmarks $5.1 million for the Shakespeare Festival out of a total $51 million. The bill awaits approval. In July 2020, as the Covid crisis was at its peak, the Legislature’s Joint Emergency Board approved a $50 million expenditure to support hard-hit arts and cultural organizations; OSF, which began that season with a $44 million budget, received $4.71 million of that.
The Oregonian/Oregon Live, in a story published Tuesday morning, reported that the festival board has taken over administrative duties directly. Artistic Director Nataki Garrett had added that role to her artistic leadership in January after Executive Director David Schmitz left the company. The story, by reporters Jeff Manning, Janet Eastman, and Lizzy Acker, also said the festival is “suspending its planning for 2024 as it seeks to stabilize its finances.”