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OSF attendance down slightly because of wildfire smoke

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival wrapped up its 80th season Sunday night with total attendance of 390,387, filling 87 percent of the seats it had available. Ticket revenue was $21 million, about the same as 2014. The results were almost identical with last year’s, when attendance was 398,289, or 88 percent of capacity.

“It would have been almost exactly the same,” said OFS media relations director Amy Richard, “but we had some cancellations due to smoke.”

Five performances in the outdoor, 1,200-seat Allen Elizabethan Theatre had to be scratched when smoke from forest fires in Northern California and Douglas County made the air unhealthy to breathe. Another outdoor performance was lost because of flooding when a flash rainstorm poured water into the Allen.

The season included 11 productions with a total of 786 performances, versus 794 shows last year. Student attendance was nearly 60,000, and about 23,000 tickets were processed for educational events, generating about $400,000 in revenue.

Artistic Director Bill Rauch hailed the season as offering up “some of our most memorable productions ever,” while noting that the festival lost longtime OSF actor Catherine Coulson.

Leading the pack was a much heralded production of Shakespeare’s “Pericles,” directed by Joseph Haj, which filled 98 percent of its seats in the nearly 300-seat Thomas Theatre. Close behind were Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” directed by Christopher Liam Moore in the Thomas, which did 96 percent of capacity, and the revival of the 1950 Broadway musical classic “Guys and Dolls.” That show, directed by Mary Zimmerman, played to 96 percent of capacity in the 600-seat Angus Bowmer Theatre.

Close behind were “Fingersmith,” a world premiere Victorian crime thriller by Alexa Junge based on Sarah Waters’ novel and directed by Bill Rauch in the Bowmer (95 percent), and “The Happiest Song Plays Last,” a continuation of Quiara Alegria Hudes’ story of Iraq War vet Elliot Ortiz directed by Shishir Kurup in the Thomas (95 percent).

Lynn Nottage’s “Sweat,” a world premiere directed by Kate Whoriskey in the Bowmer, did 92 percent. Charles Fletcher’s adaptation of “The Count of Monte Cristo,” directed by Marcela Lorca, filled 80 percent of available Elizabethan seats. The world premiere of Jeff Whitty’s “Head Over Heels,” directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar, with music and lyrics by The Go-Go’s, did 77 percent.

Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra,” directed by Rauch, came in at 75 percent, and Stan Lai’s “Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land,” which mixed a beloved Chinese fable with the story of a couple parted by politics, finished the season at 72 percent.

“I think they hoped it would do better,” Richard said of “Antony and Cleopatra.” But the history play often found itself running against the ultra-popular “Guys and Dolls.”

The season also saw the launch of several new OSF programs. “Living Ideas: Art and Community Dialogue Series” offered programs inspired by “Sweat.”

OSF’s 37-play commissioning program, American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle, has announced three more commissions this year, bringing the long-term project’s total to 24 new plays so far.

The festival recently announced Play On! 36 Playwrights Translate Shakespeare, a project to enlist playwrights and dramaturgs to produce versions of the plays in contemporary English.

This season also marked the first year of OSF’s Canon in a Decade project, which is to see OSF complete all 37 plays of the Shakespeare canon (in their Elizabethan and Jacobean versions, not the Play On! translations).

The 2016 season will open Feb. 26 in the Bowmer with Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” and run through Oct. 30. The membership pre-sale will begin Friday, and general ticket sales begin Dec. 1.

Reach Medford freelance writer Bill Varble at varble.bill@gmail.com.