ASHLAND — Ticket sales at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival have increased 1 percent compared with last year's sales, despite the economic slump.

ASHLAND — Ticket sales at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival have increased 1 percent compared with last year's sales, despite the economic slump.

OSF managers initially feared ticket sales might plunge by as much as 7 percent this season as people put vacations on hold and scaled back their entertainment budgets.

"This puts us significantly better than we had ever anticipated being," said Paul Nicholson, the festival's executive director. "It's awfully busy, and there are a lot of very happy people around."

Through April, ticket sales were down 3.5 percent, but as soon as summer set in, the tickets started selling, and fast, Nicholson said.

If the trend continues, this could be the festival's best season ever, he said.

For 2008, the festival sold 400,851 tickets, its second-best total ever. During the record year of 2007, OSF sold 404,735 tickets.

If sales continue at the current pace, the festival should sell between 400,000 and 404,000 tickets, Nicholson said.

"That would place it as one of the top three seasons in festival history," he said. "We just don't know exactly where it's going to land."

Nicholson said OSF is playing at 89 percent of capacity, and some of the most popular shows are close to sold out for the entire season, which ends Nov. 1.

Several of the festival's more provocative or atypical plays, such as "Equivocation" and "Paradise Lost," have been popular with visitors, much to the relief of OSF managers, he added.

"I think the thing that was interesting was that we had really a significant number of risks in the season this year," he said.

"At a time when we might have anticipated everybody grimly hanging on, people are feeling pretty good."

Hannah Guzik is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach her at 482-3456 ext. 226, or hguzik@dailytidings.com.