Oregon Shakespeare Festival says it needs $2.5 million to save the theater’s future

By Jane Vaughan (JPR)
April 11, 2023 7:16 p.m.

Ashland’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival on Tuesday announced a $2.5 million emergency fundraising campaign to “Save Our Season, Save OSF” in the midst of a financial crisis. OSF will also suspend its planning for the 2024 season.

The grassroots campaign, called “The Show Must Go On,” aims to raise funds in order to prevent layoffs and complete the 2023 season, which is set to begin on April 18. According to a press release sent out Tuesday, there is “a gap in OSF’s funding between May and July of this year.”

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Allen Elizabethan Theatre, featuring a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Allen Elizabethan Theatre, featuring a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Courtesy of Oregon Shakespeare Festival

“We know it is a heavy lift, and a big ask of our supporters, but we have seen what we can do when we all come together in times of need,” the campaign’s webpage reads. “Whatever you can afford to give, we need you to give now.”

OSF’s board of directors has also relieved Artistic Director Nataki Garrett of her role as executive director, which she took over in January after the departure of David Schmitz. The board will take over administrative duties itself.


The festival will also cancel this year’s production of “It’s Christmas, Carol!”

According to the press release, the fundraising campaign must raise $1.5 million by June for the 2023 season to continue. Next steps will be determined in May.

The press release states that the Mellon Foundation has given $2 million. Other donations include $5 million in individual pledges, and $170,000 pledged by the OSF Board of Directors, including a $50,000 gift from the board chair.

OSF was hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic and never fully recovered. The 89-year-old theater is the primary cultural attraction in Southern Oregon, and in March 2020, as the reality of the pandemic became apparent, the company shuttered its productions and laid off 400 staff, about 80% of its total workforce.

Then in January, the theater company announced another slew of staffing changes, including the departure of their executive director and director of development, in what they called a “restructuring strategy aimed at aligning its business model with its vision and realities of the post-pandemic market.” OSF also laid off 19 staff members, stopped hiring for 20 open positions and announced the launch of an $80 million fundraising campaign to help fund long-term operations.

OSF had tried to offset its deficits from the pandemic’s impact, including reducing its number of shows each season, shortening its calendar for performances and diversifying the shows it offers.

The theater company is one of a group of cultural companies in Oregon that is asking the state legislature for $70 million in funding during the 2023 legislative session. OSF is specifically asking for over $5 million in grants through House Bill 2459. The Shakespeare company received over $5 million in Paycheck Protection Program loan money during the pandemic, nearly all of which was forgiven. In November, it received a $10 million grant from The Hitz Foundation, and in December, the OSF Board decided to release $4.25 million from its endowment to help support operating expenses.

According to tax filings obtained by ProPublica, total revenue for the OSF Association plummeted from approximately $45 million in fiscal year 2019 to approximately $25 million in fiscal year 2020.


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