Oregon Shakespeare Festival Launches Emergency Funding Drive

Festival leaders say they need to raise $1.5M by June or cancel its 2023 season.

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The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has launched an emergency fundraising campaign, saying it needs to raise $1.5 million by June or will be forced to cancel the season.

On Tuesday, the Ashland-based theater company announced the launch of The Show Must Go On: Save Our Season, Save OSF. According to the website, the organization needs to raise $2.5 million total — $1.5 million by June — in order to continue performances this year.

The press release says OSF’s financial losses from the COVID-19 pandemic and recent Southern Oregon wildfires created a gap in OSF’s funding between May and July of this year, and needs to raise additional funds to prevent closures and layoffs.

“OSF is launching several efforts to save the season and ensure that the company reaches its 90-year anniversary in 2025, and beyond,” says the press release.

In January the festival announced the departures of its executive director David Schmitz and director of development Amanda Brandes, plus 12 staff separations, seven furloughs — and a hiring freeze for positions that had previously been open.

At that time The Oregonian/Oregonlive reported that the organization had been struggling for several years to adapt to a combination of environmental problems and changing audiences and had ended the 2018 season with 26 shows either canceled or moved indoors, with $2.3 million in losses and 16 layoffs. Departing executive director David Schmitz said attendance for the 2022 season was 46% lower than for the 2019 season.  

Following last week’s announcement, the newspaper reported that the board of directors, which has taken on administrative duties for the organization, is working to sort through accounting issues that date back several years.

The organization says it is leaning heavily on donors to ensure its survival amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including a $10 million multiyear gift from the Hitz Foundation, $2 million from The Mellon Foundation has given $2 million. OSF has already secured $5 million in individual pledges towards stabilization, and the OSF Endowment Board released $4.5 million Endowment Funds in December.

“Through these campaigns, OSF is calling on benefactors—past, present and future—to help secure the company’s legacy by investing in its future,” said artistic director Nataki Garrett in the release.

OSF’s board of directors has also pledged $170,000, with  $50,000 coming from board chair Diane Yu.  

“OSF is a national treasure, and the Board is hopeful that this campaign will produce the needed funds to enable us to keep offering world class art to our audiences,” Yu said in the press release. “We are facing difficult scenarios based on a post-pandemic reality, but we are doing everything we can to prevent these scenarios from happening. Our hope is that everyone whose lives have been touched by OSF and values powerful theatre-making will help ensure its survival.”

“OSF has existed for almost nine decades for a reason,” interim director of development Kamilah Long stated in the press release. “This is an economic anchor for the Rogue Valley, a beloved theatre throughout the industry, and a beacon for innovative theatre-making. The Show Must Go On: Save Our Season, Save OSF campaign is just that: A way for everyone who loves OSF to come together, save this theatre that we all love so much, and make sure that OSF shows can go on.”

In addition to The Show Must Go On grassroots campaign, OSF is also launching a transformational gift campaign, aimed at securing large gifts that can help secure and sustain OSF’s future.

The company also announced it would scale back its productions. That includes the cancellation of It’s Christmas, Carol! so OSF can focus on  the 2023 repertory season.

Planning for the 2024 season is on hold, pending the results of the fundraising efforts.

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