Artistic Director Bill Rauch, right, director Alison Carey (far left) and Associate Producer Claudia Alick (left) listen to Executive Director Paul Nicholson speak Monday.

Deficit worst ever for Shakespeare festival, chief says

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the rest of Ashland will be impacted by a recession that could last beyond 2009, OSF Executive Director Paul Nicholson warned more than 150 people who attended a town hall meeting hosted by the festival on Monday night.

"This really is an immensely severe recession," said Nicholson, adding that he has heard predictions that it could take two to three years for the national economy to recover.

The economic downturn may be the most severe situation that people in today's workforce have ever experienced, he said.

Despite the second-highest attendance rate in its history, OSF faces a $750,000 deficit for this year. People are buying cheaper tickets and returns on the nonprofit organization's investments and endowment fund are down because of the stock market slide, Nicholson said.

"That's far and away the worst deficit we've ever seen," he said.

Nicholson said OSF went through two recessions in the 1980s relatively unscathed, but this time is different.

OSF will cover the 2008 deficit with its reserves. The last plays of the season are scheduled for Sunday.

OSF officials announced last week that they will cut $1 million from the 2009 budget, leaving a remaining budget of $25.5 million. No staff will be laid off at this time, but vacant positions will go unfilled and OSF is making other cuts as well.

OSF is raising the base price on tickets for 2009 by 3 to 4 percent, but will keep offering $20 seats in C Sections of its theaters. It also plans a host of specials, especially for local residents, Nicholson said.

OSF is already selling tickets for next season and will have an idea of how sales may go for the year by the end of November. Historically, pre-sold tickets make up 65 percent of total ticket sales, he said.

Artistic Director Bill Rauch said audiences won't see a difference in the quality of the play sets and costumes. Only 2.5 percent of the budget is devoted to materials, with the bulk — 70 percent — going to pay people's salaries.

OSF will stage 11 plays in 2009, including four works by William Shakespeare, a play by Nobel Prize-winner Wole Soyinka set in Africa and Meredith Willson's musical "The Music Man."

— Ashland Daily Tidings

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