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OSF has record season

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival's 2009 season set records for both attendance and revenue, with more than 410,000 people attending shows at the Ashland theaters.

For the season that ended Sunday, the OSF reported attendance of 410,034 and revenues of nearly $17.1 million. It filled 89 percent of its seats during the season.

"To have a record season in this economic environment is astonishing," OSF Executive Director Paul Nicholson said in a written statement.

A year ago, facing the financial uncertainties of a major recession, OSF trimmed $1 million from its budget. In December, after lagging early ticket-sales numbers, the festival projected attendance of 375,000, or 81 percent of capacity, and cut another $650,000 from the budget.

By season's end Sunday, ticket sales and revenues not only exceeded the cut-back numbers, they surpassed the original estimates that were discarded as too optimistic.

"We've known since the summer it could be a record year," Marketing Manager Bog Hackett says.

He said the numbers got a boost from strong member attendance after Labor Day.

"We think it was prudent to plan to be down," he says.

The state of Oregon has a campaign this year to encourage Oregonians to travel within the state.

That's in a climate that has seen theaters in nearby San Francisco and Santa Cruz and elsewhere face shortfalls and seek bailouts or undertake emergency fundraising efforts. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, the total audience for live theater in America has declined by 16 percent over the last six years.

Not at OSF. Attendance was up nearly 9,000, from 400,851 last year. The previous attendance record was 403,000 in 2007. Revenues were up about $1.3 million from 2008.

OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch in a statement credited the strong showing on "the intelligence, passion and loyalty of our audience."

Rauch's second season as artistic director featured his take on the classic American musical "The Music Man," which sold 96 percent of its seats, and the critically acclaimed world premiere of Bill Cain's "Equivocation," which hit 92 percent. "Equivocation" will now travel to Seattle Repertory Theatre in Washington for a run from Nov. 18 to Dec. 13.

Other hits were Oded Gross and Tracy Young's adaptation of "The Servant of Two Masters" (98 percent of capacity), Shakespeare's "All's Well That Ends Well" (98 percent), Sarah Ruhl's quirky "Dead Man's Cell Phone" (95 percent) and Octavio Solis' new adaptation of "Don Quixote," with human actors and puppets (90 percent).

The "Macbeth" that opened the OSF's season in February and ran all season in the Angus Bowmer Theatre played to 87 percent of capacity. "Much Ado about Nothing" did 89 percent. Clifford Odets' seldom-revived "Paradise Lost" 81 percent, the rarely produced "Henry VIII" 79 percent and Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka's "Death and the King's Horseman" sold 71 percent of its seats.

The OSF will celebrate its 75th year in 2010. In a nod to the productions in Ashland's "First Annual Shakespearean Festival," the festival will present both "Twelfth Night" and "The Merchant of Venice" on the Elizabethan Stage, both of which were staged by Angus Bowmer in Ashland 75 years ago.

Previews will begin on Feb. 19. Presale for members begins Nov. 5, and general ticket sales begin Nov. 23. For more information, see www.osfashland.org.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail bvarble@mailtribune.com.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2009 season included the premiere of Bill Cain’s “Equivocation,” which filled 92 percent of its seats, helping the festival to a record-setting year. - Jenny Graham