The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2021 season lineup includes two new performances streaming on its website, as well as five others that actors will perform in front of an audience.
The live performances are scheduled to launch this fall, but they’re contingent on state guidelines for large gatherings.
“Our goal is to be as responsive as we can, so that if we get the word in June that it looks like we’ll be able to perform in September, then we’ll actually be able to do that,” says Executive Director David Schmitz.
Actors will have to practice their potential live performances in close proximity. An actors union has outlined a series of measures for OSF to follow to protect their health, including twice-weekly coronavirus testing and keeping actors in isolated working groups. If one performer in a group gets sick, then the rest have to quarantine.
The OSF season usually spans March to October, but this year’s lineup is scheduled to run until January. It includes OSF’s first-ever holiday performance — “It’s Christmas, Carol!” — a comedy featuring a theater producer who travels to a potential future filled with pandemic zombies.
OSF winter performances might become a permanent feature. Administrators are considering expanding its usual season because of wildfire smoke, which in the past has caused OSF to cancel numerous performances, resulting in millions of dollars in lost revenue.
“Smoke is becoming more and more prevalent in our summers and it’s a huge issue for us, especially in our outdoor space,” Schmitz says. “So we’re trying to be thoughtful about how we might shift our programming season to deemphasize those smoke months.”
Wildfire smoke hit OSF hard in 2018 and 2019, but the organization began 2020 with a full season lineup. That was suddenly interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. The agency had to cancel all live performances in March, just a few weeks after they launched. It subsequently laid off 85% of its staff.
OSF received a federal business loan of about $5.5 million through the Paycheck Protection Program in April. Spokesman CJ Martinez says that money went toward payroll. The organization doesn’t have plans to apply for another PPP loan; however, “given the passing of [the] Shuttered Venue Operators grant program, that is essentially the next and nearest possibility for additional funding possibly available from the federal government.”
OSF is also receiving financial support through individual donations from its Dare to Dream fundraising campaign. Its goal is to exceed $5 million in donations.
Since the onset of the pandemic, OSF has launched a digital platform called O!, where audiences can stream performances and interviews with performers. Schmitz says 65,000 people have engaged with that platform.
OSF’s 2021 season includes streaming past performances on its website between specific dates, including “Julius Caesar,” “Manahatta,” and “Snow In Midsummer.” It also includes two new performances for streaming and a series of other digital projects.
In addition to five live performances, OSF’s 2021 onstage season includes outdoor shows near the Ashland Plaza — known as “The Green Show” — which are free to the public.