ashland.news
June 21, 2024

Tyler Hokama’s next big role is at OSF

Tyler Hokama, interim executive director, Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Bob Palermini photo
June 13, 2023

Former Silicon Valley executive talks business model, fundraising, and OSF’s past, present & future

By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news

Meet Tyler Hokama.

The 52-year-old Silicon Valley retiree recently emerged from retirement to lead business operations as interim executive director of Oregon Shakespeare Festival, effective June 1. 

After working at Adobe and Hewlett-Packard, Hokama retired in 2016 and moved with his family — a wife and teen son — to Ashland. Like many Ashland parents, he and his wife had been juggling the wrap-up of the school year for his son, a junior at Ashland High School. Now, after being tapped by the OSF board of directors, Tyler Hokama also oversees business operations for a world-class theater organization.

He had already been playing a supportive role on the Ashland theater scene for several years when he got the call to fill his next big role.

“OSF is such a treasure of the community and it needs help,” Hokama, seated June 8 in his new office space, told Ashland.news. “So when they asked me, can you consider doing this, I had to think long and hard: Did I want to come out of retirement?”

And at the end of the day, he couldn’t say no.

“If I had the opportunity to help it and I didn’t do that, and it failed, I would feel responsible for that,” he said.

Hokama sees himself as a “problem-solver” and someone previous companies — Adobe and Hewlett Packard — have relied upon to navigate complex scenarios.

“It’s the way I’m wired,” he said. “It’s kind of how I made a name for myself, and a career for myself. The more complicated, intricate, challenging problems, those are the ones I like to solve.”

Enter stage right — he has stepped into a role where that’s exactly what’s expected of him.

The organization is currently tasked with raising more than $7 million, in addition to $2.5 million already raised, to ensure a complete 2023 season. 

“Nonprofit theater as an industry is always fundraising,” Hokama said. “It’s one of the two revenue engines that typically nonprofits have. And so, that is not uncommon and we always are doing it.”

Hokama said $7 million is still a big number for fundraising, but not as “startling” as it sounds.

“It is a challenging number in these times;  it’s the road ahead that we’ve got to traverse,” he said. 

Asked if the current 2023 season will finish as planned, Hokama shared optimism, if not certainty.

“I sure hope so,” he said. “That’s definitely our goal.”

Hokama said ticket sales are “going well” and shows are filling up in the meantime.

“We’re pretty excited about what we’ve been seeing, so we’re very optimistic that theater’s really starting to come back,” he said.

Tyler Hokama, interim executive director, Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Bob Palermini photo

Looking ahead to the 2024 season, Hokama declined to talk specifics at this time.

“That’s something that we’re working on internally, and I don’t think we have anything more to share beyond that,” Hokama said.

Asked a different way later on in the interview, Hokama added, “What I do know is, we have some really good, creative thinking going on that gives me a lot of hope.”

Hokama is used to challenges of all kinds — he likes to run on hilly Ashland trails for fun.

“I wouldn’t have joined if I didn’t feel we could do it,” he said of the OSF challenge.

Hokama is quick to delineate that his role as interim executive director at OSF doesn’t include 

the artistic elements of creating and planning artistic programming, as the board is looking for a replacement for Artistic Director Nataki Garrett, who resigned effective May 31. 

“My responsibility for OSF is on the business operations side, and if you look at the majority of my career, pretty much all of it … it’s been on the business operations side, whether that be business or marketing or IT or the integration work that I did for Adobe,” Hokama said.

He emphasized that he, as interim executive director, will work cooperatively with a new artistic director.  

“It will have to be a partnership between the executive director and artistic director positions,” Hokama said. “The business side does not do anything from the creativity standpoint, but rather, work towards a business model in tandem that says, this is the cost and value parameters around which we need to build a season and put on shows and the (artistic director) role has all the creativity in the world within that parameter to do what puts on world-class theater.”  

Hokama said, for a time, it’ll be difficult without a “dance partner” — artistic director — to take on that role in the interim, so he favors finding a replacement as soon as possible. The selection will be up to the board of directors.           

Asked about specifics of things he would like to implement as interim executive director, Hokama said, “One thing I want to do is tune and utilize systems that we already have. I actually believe that there are tools in place, processes that just have to be enabled, and we just really haven’t done the training to optimize how things should work … we have a lot of people that run processes that could be automated, and they can be repurposed as knowledge workers to move the organization forward. These are things that technology or tools can automate, and have our humans focus on the knowledge work.”

“I like to think that you’re taking people that are moving bits from machine to machine as performing analysis on how we can improve OSF,” he added. “I think we want people focused on problem solving and not just moving things from place to place manually.”

Tyler Hokama, interim executive director, Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Bob Palermini photo

Hokama acknowledges that the business model for OSF is quite different than at his previous employers.

The industry of nonprofit theater, he said, brings in revenue from plays, tickets and concession sales, but what’s less straightforward is a large part of overall revenue that is contributed income, donations from those who support the art.

“That aspect is different than a typical for-profit business,” Hokama said. “We are heavily dependent on donors. Donors have shown so much support for OSF. My faith is that they will 

see that we’re on a path to turnaround and will continue to want to fund our art.”

Asked about the future of ticket pricing, currently between $35 and $75 per ticket, he said he would like to analyze previous changes made, including lower ticket prices, and whether changes made achieve the objectives of the changes.

“That’s work that hasn’t yet been done, but something that I want the team to do,” Hokama said. “It is something we will analyze.”

He said any decisions will be made according to what analysis tells him.

Asked about a decline in donor giving to the organization in recent years, Hokama said, “We need to work with our development team to come up with a strategy on the best method of outreach for that. So that’s something I still need to fully plug into what we have here to chart that path.”

Hokama has started attending donor events such as a recent coffee hour. He’s also reaching out to the community on NextDoor, a social media app widely used in Ashland.

“Hello everyone!” Hokama posted on June 5. “I wanted to quickly post that I have been reviewing our comments here; listening to our local community is important to me. While I won’t be posting actively here in this forum, I did want you to know I’m here, and that I know how OSF is so central to our Ashland (and Southern Oregon) economy and our social fabric beyond just the theater experience itself. And, while I’m here, @Leslie – we love the beef rendang at Blue Toba! @Kerri – Our family has had fun at *all* of your Escape rooms (and it’s great that you have hired actors from AHS!). @Angela – Thank you for your ongoing facilitation of the OSF conversation in the community.  Lastly, @All – You have my sincere appreciation for supporting OSF, and helping me fight for its future.”

He’s also supportive of educational outreach efforts by OSF.

“I’m interested in seeing what else we can do,” Hokama said. “I’m a proponent of education in general. My mom was a teacher. I think the most exciting thing is seeing kids see live theater for the first time and that being the spark that might set a lifelong love of the arts, so for me it’s very important, but in terms of what specifically we do in the future, I don’t know yet.

“I have to see what we’re already doing,” he added. “I haven’t gone through that part of my investigation yet.”

Hokama has asked the board of directors to provide clarity on OSF’s mission statement, which currently begins “OSF expands access to the transformational power of art and art-making” and ends “By centering and nurturing artists and multimodal, multidisciplinary work, OSF attracts and retains diverse talent from around the globe and is a welcoming space, both in person and online, for all audiences.”

“It’s not something that I define,” Hokama said. “That’s the approach that we’re taking there.”

Hokama declined to address security threats to Garrett and other employees at OSF and whether a security detail would continue.

“One thing to know about security is, we’re a pretty major travel destination venue,” Hokama said. “And if you go to major cities for major events, whether they be sporting events or whether they be theater events,  they have security and so we want patrons to feel safe.”

As to whether he will have his own security detail, as Garrett did, Hokama said, “I’m hoping I won’t need it, but if it’s needed, it’s needed.”

Tyler Hokama, interim executive director, Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Bob Palermini photo

Hokama emphasized that having been part of the local theater community the past several years, he’s aware of the many perspectives held by those who hold it most dear.

“There’s probably (about) 20,000 people living in Ashland so there’s probably 20,000 opinions about OSF — you know, good, bad, or indifferent,” Hokama said.

He noted there are even more opinions about the organization outside of the Rogue Valley and that he’s willing to listen to those as well.

 “But what I will say is, our community is passionate about what we do, right?” he added. “They absolutely are, and so — I am of the community and I have been listening and will continue to listen, and from that, try to come up with the best collective answer for where we need to be. I think a lot of people just want OSF to be stable and successful and they have a lot of ideas how to do that, but that’s the most important thing, is the result, and so I hope that by me listening to them and based on my experience, I’m hoping that we can get to that goal.”

He is supportive of transparency of the organization, inviting media into the organization and open to community input, but is also aware of the nuance therein.

“We can’t be micro-managed on the detail of things,” Hokama said. “I think people will see changes that we make going forward as demonstrating that we have been listening.”

With so much at stake for OSF, Hokama’s affinity for theater helped make the decision to take 

on the role all the more easier.

Hokama grew up in Vancouver, Washington, with parents who took him to see his first musical — “Annie” — at age 10 or 11. His interest in the arts only grew from there, and he eventually also sang in college.

“I’ve always enjoyed musical theater as well as theater, so it’s (been) pretty much lifelong,” he 

said, seated in his office in the OSF administrative building. 

Hokama’s family has been attending OSF plays for the better part of two decades, starting in 2004, when he and his wife spent their “mini” honeymoon in Ashland, seeing a play called “The Royal Family.” 

At the time, Hokama said he didn’t know about the entirety of the Ashland experience.

Growing up in a Portland suburb, he had heard about OSF, but didn’t know anything more 

beyond that it was located in Ashland.

“During that ‘mini-(honey)moon,’ which was a four-day weekend, it was fun to see that there was a lot to actually do here,” he said. “It was a great travel destination for us. It was the first adventure as a married couple.”

Their son arrived in 2006 and grew to love theater at a young age.

“My son is a thespian,” Hokama said. “He’s been acting since he was very small.” 

Hokama’s son had the lead role in the Camelot Theater as “Oliver & Co.,” the musical, and played The Jester in the high school’s production of “Once Upon A Mattress” earlier this year.

Being a parent of a child interested in theater inspires his own theater appreciation even more, Tyler Hokama said. 

Hokama has been supportive of his son’s involvement in theater, serving as vice president of the Camelot Theater and has served on the advisory council for Rogue Theater Company and has helped executive director Jessica Sage with some of the company’s business-related 

details. 

“Sometimes, you fill in wherever the need is, and in that case, I did some graphic design for her as well,” Hokama said.

He’s also served in a volunteer role at Ashland High Theater.

“I’ve done everything from concessions and ticket-taking to striking the set,” he said.

Hokama has worked with Rogue Theater Company since 2019, lending his experience in 

graphic design, business solutions, and marketing strategies, Sage said, and serving several 

years on RTC’s Advisory Council, along with helping increase RTC’s visibility in the region.

“Tyler has been an integral team member at Rogue Theater Company since our inaugural year in 2019,” Sage said, in an email to Ashland.news.“Our audience base has doubled over the last few years.”

Sage describes Hokama as an active and thoughtful listener, even-tempered, and analytical, 

and believes he genuinely cares about the community.

“He sees the value and importance theater has in our community, and wants it to flourish,” Sage said.

Sage said worked closely with Tyler for nearly four years has been “an absolute pleasure.” 

“He has helped put Rogue Theater Company on the map,” she said. “RTC’s loss is OSF’s gain. Looking at the big picture, Tyler is needed most at OSF right now. We all want OSF to thrive, and I can’t think of a better person than Tyler to do just that.”

Hokama, now in more of a leading role than a supportive one, believes his resume lends him 

to help where it’s needed at OSF, too.

“I think I have the background such that I know how things ought to be,” Hokama said. “I’ve seen a lot of patterns and processes in the corporate world that, to me, are just how things should operate, and so putting those in place will take time, but it’s not super difficult.”

“I believe there’s a lot of opportunity,” he added. “There are a lot of things that are very straight forward that I think we can implement, it’ll just take a little bit of time to do that and then we’ll get back to the way it needs to be.”

He emphasized he’s a listener to the community, which is where OSF began.

“I care so much about what OSF is and what it could be and a large part of what OSF is is of the community,” Hokama said. 

Hokama mentioned that Angus Bowmer started OSF as an instructor at what would later become Southern Oregon University.

“Our origins are from this community,” he said. “The people around it believed in this idea.

And since that, for 88 years, people have been very passionate about what we do, and I want 

to channel that passion into forward momentum for our organization, and I’m a strong believer 

that our embracing of the community and listening to the community is the path forward for us.”

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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