Many OSF plays canceled because of COVID-19 outbreak

James Ryen and Kevin Kenerly in "The Tempest." Jenny Graham photo
July 21, 2022

Long-planned ‘Theatre on Film’ initiative launches on Friday on the O! Digital Stage

By Lee Juillerat for Ashland.news

Several plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival have been canceled this week because of breakthrough COVID-19 cases and exposures.

Festival spokesmen said cancellations include this week’s performances of “The Tempest,” “Revenge Song,” “Dr. G’s Bingo Extravaganza!”, pre-play Green Shows and Wednesday’s performance of “Unseen.” Two plays, “Once on This Island” and “How I Learned What I Learned,” are being performed on schedule.

According to a festival news release, “Having discovered breakthrough cases of COVID-19 among its performing casts, crews, and extensive understudy pool, OSF has canceled this week’s performances” of the mentioned plays. In addition, also canceled or suspended are campus tours and education events.

“Given the fast-evolving nature of the current infection wave, OSF is monitoring the rest of the week’s performances closely and will update audiences as soon as possible if anything shifts. For up-to-date information, please visit www.osfashland.org/status,” the statement says.

OSF Artistic Director Nataki Garrett and Executive Director David Schmitz also explained the cancellations in a joint statement.

“Upon being alerted to this unprecedented number of COVID cases amongst our casts and crew, we immediately moved into action to ensure their health and safety through planning, re-planning, testing, and retesting for our artists and staff. The amazing OSF team has been prepared for this moment, but it doesn’t make it any less difficult as we rush to take care of so many amongst our amazing artists and crews who are sick,” they said.

Jackson County is currently experiencing a high level of community transmission of the coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website on Thursday afternoon.The CDC recommends people wear a mask indoors in public; stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines; get tested if they have symptoms; and advise that additional precautions may be needed for people at high risk for severe illness.

“We take the decision to cancel performances very seriously and understand the impact it has within both our theater community and audiences, as well as our larger community, including the businesses that we rely on to feed and house our community. We always knew coming back from the pandemic that we had to stay nimble — that anything, including closures, was possible. We have worked to create a model that is responsive to this reality and adaptable to future realities.”

Since beginning as the festival’s artistic director in 2019, Garrett said she and the OSF staff “have made it a central priority to expand the definition of theater and radically broaden access to its transformational power.”

Before the pandemic, Garrett conceived OSF’s fourth official programmatic venue, the O! Digital Stage, which draws audiences from more than 50 countries. A new O! initiative, “Theatre on Film,” offers online watch parties featuring cinematic film versions of select 2022 shows hosted live by directors, playwrights, actors, and community members on an interactive digital platform. The initiative launches Saturday, July 23, with a live watch party of unseen, hosted by MENA Theatre Makers Alliance, followed on Friday, July 29, with a second live watch party of “unseen” hosted by playwright Mona Mansour and director Evren Odcikin. They will be joined by the acting company — Nora el Samahy, Helen Sadler, and Caroline Shaffer — in the question-answer session. Theatre on Film continues in October with “The Tempest,” “Revenge Son” and “King John.”

In a statement Garrett and Schmitz said, “We have proven these past 2-1/2 years that OSF is resilient. We are committed and ready to bring you life-changing and mind-expanding performances in a variety of formats to ensure access, comfort, and safety. We’re deeply grateful for the support that has made this possible. We look forward to welcoming audiences back to these productions and events, with health and safety as our top priority.”

Email freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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