ashland.news
July 23, 2024

OSF announces Artistic Director Nataki Garrett’s resignation

Oregon Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Nataki Garrett will step down at the end of May, OSF announced Friday, May 5. Christopher Briscoe photo
May 5, 2023

Last day May 31; board member to step in during transitional period as storied company seeks to save this season and secure its future

By Lee Juillerat for Ashland.news 

Nataki Garrett, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s artistic director, is resigning effective May 31, OSF announced Friday.

A news release announcing Garrett’s resignation said board member Octavio Solis will “help oversee and support the artistic leadership team during this transitional phase.“

“I am leaving with gratitude and great respect for the many talented people I have come to know and work with here at OSF, who work tirelessly to make sure the show must go on,” Garrett said in a statement. “I am grateful for the opportunity to lead this organization for the past four years as we collectively navigated one of the most challenging times in the Festival’s history. “

Garrett, OSF’s sixth artistic director, joined the company in 2019. Shortly afterwards, OSF faced financial challenges because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the company to shut down just weeks after the opening of the 2020 season. The festival faced other challenges, including dense smoke and air quality problems that forced the cancellation of performances in the outdoor Elizabethan Theater.

Earlier this year it was announced the festival is facing a financial crisis that threatens its future. Declining attendance, partly blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic and series of fires that devastated neighboring communities and created polluted skies, resulted in the cancellation of some productions and laying off 400 staff early in the pandemic, about 89 percent of its employees. Another 19 employees were laid off and hiring for 20 open positions was canceled earlier this year.

“The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has been profoundly affected by Nataki Garrett during her tenure as its sixth world-renowned artistic director to helm the organization,” Solis said in the statement released Friday. “Without her selfless commitment, we would not have weathered the brutal hits caused by the pandemic shutdown and the devastating fires of the last four years. During this time, she brought new faces, new blood and new perspectives, which served our company well and kept faith with its mission and core values. We are actively conducting a search for an interim artistic director to ferry the company through the season, to which we are unwaveringly committed. In the meantime, we, the board, along with the staff, artists, and audiences, offer our steadfast guidance and support to the company as the 2023 season opens.” 

Solis is a playwright, director and author with numerous plays performed by a wide array of prominent theater companies, including OSF.

In addition to Solis, other members of OSF’s Board of Directors’ Executive Committee will provide support during the leadership transition, serving as special liaisons and advisors for various teams, including development, marketing and community relations, finance and audit. Board chair Diane Yu and board member Tony Drummond will serve as management transition co-leaders and, according to the release, meet “with senior team leaders on a regular basis and helping to oversee general transition matters. This is a temporary management structure that the board anticipates will last three to four months.”

Garrett explained her goals at OSF in the release, stating, “I have always centered the work on our stages both live and digital, as cultural justice and I remain committed to ensuring the work of the theater expands our capacity for empathy and our world view. This season is a reflection of what I set out to do when I came to OSF: center the artists as thought leaders who transform culture. This version of OSF centers Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access (IDEA) work. We are a company of artists who know we are valued, are engaged with the work with ownership, and who value the company because they know the company values them. They deserve, and OSF deserves, the community’s ongoing support. 

“I remain hopeful that, despite the challenges still ahead for OSF and our industry as a whole, that the festival will become a container for the future so that generations who come can continue OSF’s legacy of groundbreaking art making.” 

A fundraising campaign, “The Show Must Go On: Save Our Season, Save OSF,” was launched April 11 with a goal of $2.5 million “to help complete the 2023 Season successfully.” As of late April, a million dollars has been raised. Because of the financial uncertainty, planning for the 2024 season is on hold pending results of the fundraising efforts.

Garrett was named interim executive director of the company in January when David Schmitz departed, a position transferred to a committee of OSF board members when the “Save Our Season” campaign launched.

The board expressed their support and gratitude for Garrett, noting in the release, “During the shutdown, she raised $19 million after fundraising and successfully galvanizing a cohort of Oregon arts leaders to secure funding for the state’s performing arts organizations from the federal relief fund package. She started a nationwide advocacy coalition for non-profit theaters, the Professional Non-Profit Theater Coalition (PNTC), in 2020 that provided access to $15B in SVOG (Shuttered Venues Operator Grants) relief funding. A champion for the arts, artists, and the industry, Garrett has testified twice before Congress on the need to support the creative economy.  Artistically, Garrett conceived and launched an interactive and immersive digital platform, O!, which became all the more vital in live theater’s absence as a source of groundbreaking performance, art, and discussion.”

During her tenure, Garrett’s OSF directing credits include: “How to Catch Creation” (2019); “Confederates” (2022); “The Cymbeline Project, Episode 4” (2022); and this year’s “Romeo & Juliet.” In addition, The Cymbeline Project, a multi-episode, digital production of Shakespeare’s play, was conceived by Garrett. She also served as executive producer for the Sundance award-winning short film, “You Go Girl!,” and “made OSF the epicenter of the intersection between XR and theater through her conception of Quills Fest, a public platform that sits at the intersection of immersive technology and live performance.”

“OSF has greatly benefited from the incredible talent and passion that Nataki brought to her roles as artistic director and later, as interim executive artistic director,” said Yu.  “She joined OSF in 2019, just seven months before the pandemic closures and the Almeda Fire. Under her leadership, OSF survived the pandemic as she successfully brought people in the industry together to obtain public funding to carry us through. The board appreciates Nataki for her willingness and ability to apply her unique skills during these past four years, and for bringing her vision for American theater.”

According to the release, the board will play an active role in helping the company during the ongoing “The Show Must Go On: Save Our Season, Save OSF fundraising campaign, with a $2.5 million goal to continue and complete the current season. The campaign raised $1 million in its first week.

“By honoring and building from Garrett’s work and carrying the legacy of Angus Bowmer and other past leaders of OSF, the board will support staff in ensuring the Festival celebrates its 90-year anniversary and beyond.”

For more on Nataki Garrett’s thinking leading up to the resignation, click here to see a followup article.

Email freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net. Email Ashland.news Executive Editor Bert Etling at betling@ashland.news or call or text him at 541-631-1313.

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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