Citing “significant financial losses” from this summer’s wildfire smoke, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival said Wednesday it had laid off 16 employees and reduced hours for another. None were from the acting company or from unions, which include both actors and stagehands and other behind-the-scenes workers, the festival said.
OSF declined to name any of the jobs or people who were let go, but issued a statement saying, “This summer’s smoke and air quality issues (led) to significant financial losses ... These events renewed and reinvigorated our continual efforts to analyze our systems and sustainability ... We have committed ourselves to updating our processes and realigning our organization, ensuring we identify every way possible to place OSF on a stable path that will empower us to continue to serve the community.”
In early 2017, the festival employed about 575 theater professionals, but it underwent a round of layoffs in October that year, also because of losses from wildfire smoke. A dozen people were let go.
Because of smoke this summer that often registered at unhealthy levels after a July 15 lightning storm moved through the region, igniting numerous fires, OSF moved or canceled 26 shows scheduled for the open-air Allen Elizabethan Theatre. Shows that were moved were performed at Ashland High School’s Mountain Avenue Theater, which has a much smaller seating capacity.
The Green Show season was also cut short to reduce expenses.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival previously has said the cancellations and changes of venue resulted in nearly $2 million in lost revenue and added expenses.
The statement said OSF recognizes the difficulties for laid-off workers, adding, “We take great pride in being an economic engine upon which so many in this region rely. We also realize that, with that status, comes an important responsibility to ensure that this vital institution continues to thrive.”
OSF has said it’s looking at making changes for next season and ensuing years, including updates to ticket refund and exchange policies and exploring alternatives to performing in an open-roof theater.
The festival recently launched “OSF Rising,” which is “an emergency fundraising campaign to help offset these losses in the near term.” For more information, visit www.osfashland.org/en/osf-rising.aspx.
A fundraising performance of “Virgins to Villains,” a one-night, one-woman show written and performed by Robin Goodrin Nordli, is planned for Oct. 15.
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.