After losses from smoky air, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is making dramatic changes in case wildfires once again threaten outdoor performances. The steps are prudent, because it’s impossible to predict whether smoke will be a factor.
The outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre is the festival’s flagship venue, and having to cancel or move performances cuts into revenue, not to mention damaging OSF’s relationship with its patrons. Smoke first canceled a performance in 2013. There were no cancellations in 2016, nine in 2017. Then came last summer.
Smoke forced OSF to move or cancel 26 performances at the Elizabethan in 2018, costing $2 million in lost revenue and higher expenses. That led to layoffs.
This season, the festival is meeting the risk head-on, starting the outdoor theater a week early and selling all 1,200 seats for six performances a week through July 12, hoping to accommodate as many playgoers as possible.
From July 13-29, a decision will be made daily whether to move the performance to the Mountain Avenue Theatre at Ashland High School. After July 29, if performances move to AHS, they will stay there, and only 400 tickets will be sold for each.
Festival officials haven’t neglected the indoor theaters, adding new air filtration equipment and planning to change filters frequently.
In the long run, the festival must decide whether to cover the Elizabethan Theatre and possibly expand it. That means major fundraising, but we have confidence that OSF and its supporters will rise to the challenge.