Oregon Shakespeare Festival May Change Theater

Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Due to the wildfires of 2017 and 2018, this annual summer theater is forced to seek a new and more permanent solution.

In 2018, the wildfire smoke forced canceling over 26 performances and resulted in the loss of nearly $2 million in revenues. However, thanks to multiple donations after the incident, the festival will be able to ensure that their event is no longer affected by weather conditions. 

Paul Christy, the festival’s executive director, stated that the Oregon Shakespeare Festival was finally in a stable financial condition and that they were happy to be able to deal with more pressing matters. 

Torrie Allen, the director of the festival’s development, was happy to announce the festival’s annual report and their hopes for the future. She added that she was looking forward to hosting over 400 people at the Angus Bowmer Theatre.

She continued explaining that projections for 2019 were not promising since lower ticket sales were anticipated. The predictions are entirely understandable since the fear of a smoky theater could reduce attendance. However, the situation changed for the better, and when it comes to July and August — the ticket sale exceeded all their expectations. 

The interesting part is that there is no fire or smoke in sight, and the staff announced that they planned on releasing a new financial report as soon as the season ended. 

Christy added that the staff behind the festival had been desperate in the past two years since the organization suffered a dramatic drop in ticket sales which affected every member of the team and the future of the festival. She added that they were forced to draw funding from their personal savings at one moment. 

Luckily, many understand the importance of this annual festival, and the financial injection of 3.9% of the organization’s $40 million endowment fund solved their financial troubles. 

If it weren’t for generous donations, the organization would be forced to lay off some employees and reduce other employees’ hours. Apart from that, they would be forced to cancel the festival’s free outdoor Green Show. Thanks to the financial boost they received, the shows will happen; however, the number of nights is reduced from six to four. 

Torrie Allen said that one generous donor was mainly responsible for the existence of the organization since the anonymous donor gave over $4.5 million, which were used to fund certain programs in the course of seven years. She added that they planned on utilizing this financial boost by raising matching funds, and they planned to do so by hosting many charitable events.

Christy stated that the air quality changes posed the most significant challenge, and it was something they struggled with. To be able to meet those challenges, the staff decided to host this year’s outdoors show at Ashland High School’s Mountain Avenue Theater. 

The only issue with this venue is that the school theater can host a third of the audience of the festival’s traditional outdoor show; that is usually just over 400 seats.

Christy said that these conditions affected more than the festival’s organization since their limitation of available seats had a massive impact on local businesses as well. For instance, restaurants, hotels, and retailers reported bookings that looked more like data they usually get in March.

So far, the weather has been serving the organization well, and there are no smoky skies in sight. If this clear sky trend continues, they might be able to hod the show at their traditional venue — Allen Elizabethan Theatre.

Lastly, Christy’s conclusion is that the festival would have more success and more visitors if they only staged popular musicals and well-known plays. However, the festival persists in staging and rotating all Shakespeare’s plays, even the ones that the audience is not familiar with.

She said that since the organization refused to change its ways, it was entirely understandable to see empty seats. But her stance is that they are an organization that has a strong commitment to performing Shakespeare plays, featuring other prominent playwrights and producing successful productions nationwide. She hopes that this provides the right mix, and if this commitment means that there will be a few empty seats — the organization will gladly face that challenge too.  

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