How issues facing OSF have changed its financial model post-pandemic

ASHLAND, Ore. – The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is less than one week away from opening its 2023 season.

OSF board chair Diane Yu said compared to last year, ticket sales are up, but are not what they were in 2019.

In the hopes of luring in more locals, it even dropped ticket prices this year.

“We do want our art to be affordable and some of the ticket prices people were starting to notice were getting a bit on the high side,” Yu said. “It’s hard to know where you should price something in a dynamic market.”

Yu said 85% of people who buy a ticket are not local.

Before the pandemic, the Ashland Chamber of Commerce said its numbers show one third of the 350,000 people who visited the city, went to an OSF event.

But visitor numbers since, have plummeted. 

Now, an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 people visited Ashland, each of the last two years, according to the chamber.

Yu said OSF went from a 50-50 split in ticket revenue and contributions through donations for funding to just 20% of their revenue coming from ticket sales.

That’s led to cuts in both the amount of shows it produces, but also the number of people it employs.

She doesn’t see that split changing anytime soon.

Yu: “It’s hard for me right now to imagine in the very near future we would be offering as many as 10 or 11 plays,”  I do think that would require a much larger influx of money now in order to do it.”

Artistic director Nataki Garrett told NBC5 last fall that some in the community have objected to OSF‘s more inclusive and modern programming in her tenure.

She’s claimed to have received what she calls credible death threats and at least for a time has traveled with personal security.

“What I‘m trying to do is create a space where everyone can come to OSF and rub elbows with other people,” Garrett said.

Next week, OSF will begin a new season.

In, are modern hits like ‘Rent’ and also a return to the classics.

‘“Romeo & Juliet”, which I‘m directing and it will be my very first Shakespeare,” Garrett said. “It was, “Romeo & Juliet” introduced me to dramatic literature and to Shakespeare, so I‘m really excited to invite our longtime audiences and new audiences and young people to see.”

According to its emergency announcement, if OSF does not receive $1.5 million in fundraising by June, the rest of the season could be canceled.

An OSF employee told the state’s biggest newspaper it’s sorting out some major accounting issues going back years.

The employee, who does not want to be named because they’re not authorized to speak publicly, told the Oregonian, there was a staff meeting on Tuesday.

That’s when the paper writes…

The organization’s leaders say they need to correct more than 15,000 incorrect entries in its financial ledger.

The result of antiquated systems. that were not properly maintained.

The leaders told employees they’re still trying to precisely determine cash flow numbers, bills owed and overall expenses of the organization.

The paper said the source also said the festival is leaving some bills unpaid to cover expenses.

OSF responded to our request for comment on the report with a statement.

“These statements were shared by interim COO Anyania Muse and made in the context of a much larger conversation with the staff to describe the current challenges OSF faces, as well as the actions being taken to correct them. As the statements imply, the company is dealing with years of outdated systems that have performed poorly during the multiple crises OSF has experienced. OSF is determined to correct these issues, prevent a recurrence of these errors, and position the company to get through the season and beyond.”

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NBC5 News reporter Zachary Larsen grew up in Surprise, Arizona. He graduated from Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. At ASU, Zack interned at Arizona Sports 98.7FM and Softball America. During his Junior year, Zack joined the ASU Sports Bureau. He covered the Fiesta Bowl, the Phoenix Open and major basketball tournaments. Zack enjoys working out, creative writing, music, and rooting for his ASU Sun Devils.
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