Oregon Shakespeare Festival announces layoffs, furloughs, departure of executive director

A packed house enjoys a play in Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Allen Elizabethan Theatre. Kim Budd photo
January 11, 2023

Nataki Garrett to serve as interim executive artistic director as OSF adopts ‘Restructure, Reframe, Revitalize Strategy’

Oregon Shakespeare Festival is starting the new year by announcing a shift in management, a dozen layoffs, seven employee furloughs, and halting or delay of filling 18 open positions.

As part of a restructuring strategy aimed at “aligning its business model with its vision and realities of the post-pandemic market,” OSF announced Tuesday changes in leadership, staff, and programs, as first reported by KOBI-5. David Schmitz announced his decision to step down as executive director, effective immediately, as part of OSF’s restructuring to ensure that the artistic and business sides of the organization can be brought into further alignment with OSF’s mission. 

Nataki Garrett. OSF photo

Amanda Brandes will step down as director of development in mid-February, OSF announced. During this transition, Artistic Director Nataki Garrett will step into a dual role as interim executive artistic director, overseeing development and marketing in addition to artistic direction. Anyania Muse, currently managing director of IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access) will step in as interim chief operating officer, taking on finance, audience experiences and education. She will report to Garrett.

Anyania Muse. OSF photo

Schmitz, who came to OSF after 15 years at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, oversaw all administrative functions, including development, marketing, facilities and operations, according to an OSF announcement of his hiring in May 2020. He started that fall, succeeding interim executive director Paul Christy, who served in 2019 and 2020, and Cynthia Rider, who was executive director from 2013 through 2018.

David Schmitz. OSF photo

“We are grateful for David’s contributions to OSF and his leadership under very challenging times at OSF,” says Diane Yu, OSF board chair, in Tuesday’s news release. “We have experienced Nataki’s leadership through crisis many times before, but most notably during the pandemic when she took on the responsibilities across the organization to help OSF survive. I have no doubt that she, along with other members of the leadership team, will lead this organization through this transition period and into a place of stability and success.”

“These past two and a half years have been among the most challenging times in OSF’s history — from COVID, to the Almeda Fire, to the ongoing racism and threats to members of our community, to inflationary challenges, to rebuilding the company coming into 2022,” Schmitz said in a statement. “These years have also been rewarding because of the opportunity I had to get to know and witness the incredibly talented people who dedicate their lives to this company. It has been my great privilege to work alongside Nataki and with such an exceptionally talented and dedicated staff and Board. I also treasured the opportunity to get to know and work with members of OSF’s incredible donor base as well as Ashland’s business community.”

Garrett expressed admiration for Schmitz and his contributions to the organization.

“I am very grateful to David for all the work he’s done,” said Garrett. “I will be forever thankful that David was fearlessly optimistic from his very first day working to bring OSF forward to vitality while celebrating its glorious past. I was privileged to witness David’s expert work in advocating for federal funding, while stewarding numerous connections and relationships within Ashland and working to ensure that OSF remained a collaborative and supportive partner in this interdependent community. We have been lucky to have him here for a time and I look forward to witnessing all of the ways he will impact the theater field.”

These decisions come after OSF took several bold actions throughout the 2022 season and in advance of the 2023 season to offset inherited structural deficits and the pandemic’s impact on operational costs, investments, ticket sales, and donations, according to the announcement, including reducing the number of shows per season, decreasing the number of weeks it offers performances, and diversifying its offerings. While these efforts provided short-term solutions, OSF said it realizes it must invest in a strategy that will impact the long-term success of the organization.

In November, OSF secured a $10 million multi-year gift from The Hitz Foundation, at $2 million per year for five years. In addition, OSF has received $1.5 million in pledges. In December, the OSF Board made the decision to release $4.25 million from its endowment to help support operating expenses. These pledges of support set up the next step in OSF’s Restructure, Reframe, Revitalize (3Rs) Strategy, which will focus the next 12-24 months on shifting and modernizing administrative systems that have existed since the inception of the OSF’s charter that are no longer serving the organization, OSF announced.

The goal, OSF said, is to recommit to centering artists and their work so that they can continue to deliver the best theater in the nation, and to continue investing in Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access (IDEA) as OSF has for 87 years.

Regarding the revitalization strategy, Garrett acknowledges that OSF has launched similar strategies in the past and emphasizes the difference and unique urgency in this case. 

“This idea of revitalization is not new to OSF, but the extended pandemic recovery is forcing us to look at it in a different way,” she says. “We spent part of the pandemic focused on restructuring artistic and production practices. We now have an opportunity to turn our eye to parts of our organization that support our artistic efforts and invest in systems that will uplift our Finance, Information Technology, Human Resources, Marketing and Development departments. We must shift our business model in a way that works successfully in this post-pandemic paradigm.”

OSF leadership worked with its Board of Directors on the creation of a strategic plan, which is part of its efforts to implement systemic change. That plan includes several pillars and a restating of OSF’s vision, values and purpose to be in alignment with its IDEA-centered approach to theater and its systems.

Through its strategy, OSF seeks to thoughtfully diversify its artistic offerings, manage resources to offset pandemic losses, generate new resource opportunities both in earned and contributed revenue, and shift its operations to be in fiscal alignment. 

Included in this strategy will be the launch of an $80 million campaign during the first quarter of 2023 to build capacity and help fund operations at OSF.

“We are revitalizing our business model so we can provide a strong foundation that supports our purpose,” says Muse. “And that purpose is clear: To expand access to the transformational power of art and performance.”

Source: Oregon Shakespeare Festival news releases. Reach Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at hollyd@ashland.news.

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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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