ashland.news
July 23, 2024

Oregon Shakespeare Festival: The shows will go on in 2023

Elizabethan Theatre OSF
A full house at Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Allen Elizabethan Theatre. Kim Budd photo
August 3, 2023

OSF secures funding to finish current season, adjusts mission statement, looks ahead to planning for 2024 season

By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news

After starting the season uncertain of its financial future, Oregon Shakespeare Festival announced this week that funding — approximately $10 million — is in place to make it through to the end of the 2023 season.

The theater company posted on their website Tuesday that the season has been “saved,” following a multimillion-dollar shortfall announced shortly after the beginning of the season. Earlier this year, OSF launched two fundraising campaigns, the first on April 11, dubbed “The Show Must Go On: Save Our Season, Save OSF,” for $2.5 million, and the second on June 1 for an additional $7.3 million for a total of $9.8 million, which it has now done. 

“We are thrilled to announce that with a collective effort that included the success of our Save Our Season campaign, robust ticket sales, cost improvements, and support from our Board of Directors and our broader community, OSF’s 2023 Season is SAVED!” the statement reads. “On behalf of the entire Festival, THANK YOU to everyone who helped ensure a full season of unparalleled theatre at OSF. Our beloved theatre has been around for nearly nine decades because of the support of its community in Ashland and beyond. And we look forward to creating a strong foundation for our 90th anniversary in 2025 and for future generations of creatives and audiences. Please join us on our Journey to 90 Years by making a donation and becoming a member.”

In a Zoom interview with Ashland.news on Wednesday, Interim Executive Director Tyler Hokama expressed optimism about the outlook for OSF moving toward its 2024 season and beyond.

“We’re excited because now we feel really secure with this season,” Hokama said, “and now all of our attention and planning and fundraising is focused on next year.”

Hokama declined to give specifics regarding fundraising for next season, explaining that there’s a lot of nuance in determining the exact fundraising amount that will be needed.

“It’s not that I’m hiding that number,” he said. “We literally have not finalized on our 2024 season and so, knowing that, it’s hard to know the exact cash flow.”

The Hollywood Reporter stated in a July 24 article that OSF is looking to raise “at least $12 million to $13 million for its 2024 season.” The fundraising goal for 2024 will likely be more of a moving target, though, according to Hokama, with various factors involved in the final goal amount.

“It’s hard to get into those details, but what I think is important is not just fundraising, although that’s a critical element,” Hokama said. “Obviously donors have responded to our campaign and I think they like what they’re seeing with the latest project that we’ve made.”

“Sales have been up over last year, so above forecasts as well … we’ve seen good ticket sales; with that comes greater concessions, and with that comes more sales in our gift shop that’s been open now for a couple of months,” Hokama said.

“When you pair that on the revenue side, combine it with everything else, it’s a combination that has gotten us there,” he added.

Tyler Hokama in OSF’s Allen Elizabethan Theatre. Joe Sofranko photo

Hokama said, in addition to the newest additions to OSF leadership, the organization intends to become more efficient wherever possible. That doesn’t mean layoffs, either, which the organization announced earlier this year under the administration of former Artistic Director and interim Executive Director Nataki Garrett, who left at the end of May.

Hokama said the leadership team is continuing to look at ways to reduce costs.

“As we grow back, I’m hoping we can become nimbler and more effective so we don’t have to hire back at the same levels as what we were,” Hokama said.

Hokama said the organization does need to build back certain departments, including in finance, IT, and development, which oversees fundraising.

“We have a small but mighty team that are in the process of building back,” Hokama said.

“It’s definitely a journey … But I’m feeling the positive trajectory and I think our audiences and donors and the people that know OSF will feel that, too.”

While the 2024 season isn’t finalized, Hokama expressed optimism about the process moving towards it.

“Our attention is on next year and beyond, what we call our ‘journey to 90,’ 

which is our 90th season, which will be in 2025,” Hokama said.

“Our team needs to make sure that what we program is something (where) the math works out in terms of the financials,” he said. “That’s why it’s hard for me to give a specific number because ,until that’s locked in, until we do that analysis, it’s hard to come up with the exact expense levels and, from that, calculate what the cash needs to be.”

On top of that, Hokama said the organization is late in the process of planning for next season.

“That does create some constraints we normally wouldn’t have but we have to manage through,” Hokama said.

Hokama isn’t currently planning for a fundraising gala for this fall, as the development team at OSF is understaffed, plus timing and other constraints.

“Getting anything together for that, given where we’re at, it doesn’t seem very logistically possible,” he said.

Clarifying the nonprofit mission

In other OSF news, Hokama said changes have been made to clarify what OSF is all about — its statement of purpose on the organization’s website. (A prior version of the statement appears in the next-to-last paragraph of this letter to the editor.)

“Before I took this role, it was a question for me … how can we clarify what our purpose is?” Hokama said. 

“What I wanted to do is, add clarity and cleanly separate our purpose, which is what we strive to deliver as an organization … what we’re trying to be, from our values, which is how we operate,” he said. “We have done that now — we’ve made that clean separation, so now, people who know OSF or people who are brand new to OSF, when they click into that section about OSF, now it’s very clearly conveyed that we’re a theater company, we do new and classic plays, we value education and engagement to make sure that our legacy of live theater exists intergenerationally, so that people that see us now … that we preserve that legacy because it’s just so important.”

Hokama also acknowledged smoke from regional wildfires and said it has had a “minor” impact on the season so far.

“The thing we worry about most is canceling shows,” Hokama said. “We’re happy that so far, things have been OK — can’t predict what’s going to happen the rest of August and into September, and so we’re knocking on wood that clean air prevails through the next couple of months.”

Incoming Artistic Director Tim Bond visited Ashland recently and will start in his new role Sept. 1.

“We’re really excited for the trajectory and we can plan for the future and we’re doing so,” Hokama said.

Reach Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at hollyd@ashland.news.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

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

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