The Oregon Shakespeare Festival Emphasizes Growth, But It Is Not Without Criticism

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has resumed its audience attendance after two years of pandemic closures. It is one of the largest and oldest non-profit theatres in the nation and was founded in 1935.

However, things aren’t the same as they were in the 2019 season prior to the epidemic. Even during outdoor concerts, the crowd now dons masks, and immunizations are compulsory. Less than 50% of people have visited OSF’s reopened stages, which is lower than the average for theatres across the nation.

Due to COVID-19 outbreaks and smoke from Oregon’s wildfires, some concerts at various venues have been postponed throughout this season. Most importantly, the first full season of the new creative director Nataki Garrett’s programming has been completed.

Shakespeare classics like The Tempest, but with a diverse cast, and King John, which in this production is an all-female and nonbinary cast portraying a tale about male authority in imperial Europe, are all part of the “recovery season,” as Garrett describes it.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival Emphasizes Growth
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival Emphasizes Growth

Confederates, a brand-new play by MacArthur Award-winning playwright Dominique Morisseau, was also added to the season thanks to a cooperation between OSF and St. Paul’s Penumbra Theater. It tells the parallel stories of two Black women who live 100 years apartβ€”one in a slave cabin during the Civil War and the other on a modern college campusβ€”about how American history continues to haunt their lives.

Shakespeare expert Daniel Pollack-Plzner told NPR, “I guess I was expecting a theatre troupe on crutches.” He has frequented the Ashland, Oregon, theatre for 30 years. What I actually saw was a theatre troupe on wings.

That kind of attitude is encouraging for OSF since, in order to survive, theatres must try to increase their audiences due to shifting demographics. But like many smaller, non-profit American theatres across the nation, this one has had to deal with an aging, primarily white subscription and donor base.

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