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OSF delivers the ‘unkindest cut of all’

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Thirteen years after Angus Bowmer began the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, his wife Gertrude and a few of her friends organized a group to support the fledgling theater company by, among other things, selling local goods to the theatergoers and giving the profits to OSF.

Gertrude Bowmer and her friends called this support group the “Tudor Guild.” As their activities expanded to include items from local artisans, the group set up kiosks outside the Elizabethan Theatre to market their goods.

In 1976, after Tudor Guild’s successful efforts had outrun the capacity of the kiosks, OSF invited Gertrude Bowmer’s group to set up and run the first ever permanent festival gift shop. This was realized in 1979 with the opening of the Tudor Guild Gift Shop in the basement of Carpenter Hall.

Over the next 40 years, the Tudor Guild Gift Shop and related theater concessions have been a spectacular success. Gross receipts were frequently well over $1 million, and the organization’s annual gift to OSF has frequently been over $200,000. Indeed, over the 34-year span from 1986 through 2019, Tudor Guild has been listed 27 times in OSF’s top category of organizations making annual donations to general operations, and seven times in the next-to-top category.

Total donations from Tudor Guild to OSF are substantially in excess of $5 million. Moreover, every Tudor Guild volunteer is required to be an OSF member (not a requirement for ordinary OSF volunteers) and, at least for the first decade of service, perform 60 hours of volunteer work each year (as opposed to 30 hours for regular OSF volunteers.) Many Tudor Guild volunteers fulfilled these obligations by working well over 100 hours a year, and becoming OSF members at premium levels.

In light of this history with roots going back to the very founding of OSF itself, Tudor Guild members were shocked to find out just two weeks ago that OSF intended to kick them out and take over the shop as of the 2022 season.

The email from OSF Executive Director David Schmitz (copied in large part in the Mail Tribune story of June 24) also contained condescending language that many members found insulting and inaccurate. The mention of “inefficiencies” listed primarily a ruinous rent negotiated solely by OSF, but also supposed savings in such areas as bookkeeping and employee benefits, including health care, which are at most minor adjustments, and mainly the result from having two separate corporate entities.

Schmitz was also apparently upset that OSF was nearly unique in having a separate corporation running the gift shop, despite the fact that OSF has never run it, and has no experience in doing so. None of Schmitz’ rationales demonstrated any failing whatsoever in Tudor Guild’s management of the shop.

Moreover, Schmitz failed to note that since its creation in 1948, Tudor Guild has continually operated at a profit, whereas OSF has had some notable years of losses. It was only in 2020 with the onset of the pandemic and the shutting of theaters everywhere that the shop was forced to close its doors and operate with virtually no income.

Although Tudor Guild members now realize that OSF’s decision to take over the gift shop is irrevocable, many are appalled at the cavalier way that this was done. Despite the supposedly “robust and productive dialogue” that Schmitz mentions in his email to the members, there was never any discussion as to alternatives to taking over the shop, and no real offer of any other meaningful role for Tudor Guild.

Perhaps the most jarring note of Schmitz’s remarks to the Tudor Guild Board and later in the newspaper story was his comment that one should “never let a good crisis go to waste.” Aside from the flippant attitude toward the massive human tragedy of the pandemic, this remark showed an almost gleeful attitude toward the likely demise of a 73-year-old institution whose members devoted years, and frequently decades of service supporting OSF.

As Marc Antony observed regarding the ingratitude of Brutus’ act in stabbing his friend and commanding officer Julius Caesar, “this was the most unkindest cut of all.”

Larraine Anderson is a past president of Tudor Guild, and Bryce Anderson is the current data manager for Tudor Guild. Their opinions are their own, and do not necessarily represent those of Tudor Guild as a whole.