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Smoke losses force OSF layoffs

Citing “significant financial losses” from this summer’s wildfire smoke, Oregon Shakespeare Festival said Wednesday it had laid off 16 employees and reduced hours for another. None were from the acting company and none from unions, which include both actors and stagehands and other behind-the-scenes workers, the festival said.

That would be about 12 percent of the administrative employees, which number about 125, according to Wikipedia, which says about 450 are employed by OSF overall.

OSF declined to name any of the jobs or people that were let go, but issued a statement saying “This summer’s smoke and air quality issues (led) to significant financial losses ... These events renewed and reinvigorated our continual efforts to analyze our systems and sustainability ... We have committed ourselves to updating our processes and realigning our organization, ensuring we identify every way possible to place OSF on a stable path that will empower us to continue to serve the community.”

Because of smoke that often registered at unhealthy levels after a July 15 lightning storm moved through the region, igniting numerous fires, OSF moved or canceled 26 shows scheduled for the open-air Allen Elizabethan Theatre. Shows that were moved were performed at Ashland High School’s Mountain Avenue Theater, which has a much smaller seating capacity.

The Green Show season was also cut short to reduce expenses.

OSF has previously said the cancellations and changes of venue resulted in nearly $2 million in lost revenue and added expenses.

The statement said OSF recognizes the difficulties for laid-off workers, adding, “We take great pride in being an economic engine upon which so many in this region rely. We also realize that, with that status, comes an important responsibility to ensure that this vital institution continues to thrive.”

OSF has said it’s looking at making changes for next season and ensuing years, including updates to ticket refund and exchange policies and exploring alternatives to performing in an open-roof theater.

The festival recently launched “OSF Rising” which is “an emergency fundraising campaign to help offset these losses in the near term.”

On its website, osfashland.org, it suggests ways to help:

Make a donation to the OSF Rising Fund (www.osfashland.org/en/osf-rising.aspx);

Attend “Virgins to Villains,” a one-night one-woman show written and performed by Robin Goodrin Nordli, on Oct. 15;

Become an OSF member or upgrade membership level (www.osfashland.org/en/support/membership.aspx);

Plan a visit for the final month of the 2018 season; or

Start making plans to experience the 2019 season.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Smoke obscures hillsides usually visible from the Allen Elizabethan Theatre in August this year. (OSF photo by Kim Budd)