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Getting the scoop on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Only about 15 percent of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's membership base lives in Southern Oregon, and local fans of the Ashland-based theater company could help expand that number.

"Pull your acquaintances into the cultural life of the valley ... post to social media, let others know, spread the word. Extend the experience, and bring us to new audiences," said Paul Christy, acting executive director at OSF, when asked how people can help the festival grow. Christy and Torrie Allen, OSF director of development, took time out to answer membership questions Friday during a jam-packed community conversation in the Historic Ashland Armory.

It was a chance for members to get to know Christy a little better and to hear the inside scoop about what's going on at OSF.

Earlier in March, OSF asked members what they wanted to know from a conversation with leadership, and they invited members to submit questions by way of a survey.

Some questions asked about Christy's management style and leadership inspiration, others were more pointed, asking about finances, budgets and reorganization.

Christy credits government experience and good mentors for his ability to work readily with others who are smarter than he, admitting there are many capable people on staff at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

“Washington, D.C., can bring a lot of strange experiences -- as you can imagine,” Christy said. “What I got a lot of satisfaction from was project management — building your team, figuring out the steps and seeing it done.”

Torrie and Christy responded to questions about OSF finances, remarking that the festival’s annual reports are published on the web, and a recent interview on Jefferson Public Radio addressed those issues, as well. A recent gift campaign, called OSF Rising, raised $1.3 million in response to deficits caused in part by last summer’s wildfire smoke.

As acting director, Christy said he feels a responsibility to match operational excellence with artistic excellence, stressing that it’s extremely expensive to run a repertory company with four to five shows in three theaters at one time. He added that OSF is looking at some expensive overhauls down the line to retrofit the Elizabethan Theatre and renovate the Pioneer Building, a warren of offices in an 1880s bank.

“We owe the festival financial strength and sustainability so we’re here 50 to 60 years from now,” Christy said, perhaps foretelling major capital campaigns in the future.

Several questions related to how OSF is preparing for the 2019 fire season. Christy said outdoor performances will be shifted to the Mountain Theatre at Ashland High School in a systematic, weather-scheduled manner, and matinee performances will begin there Aug. 1. OSF set designer Richard Hay has crafted a portable set that will work well at both locations.

There’s a renewed local focus for the festival, with a clearly defined strategy to better engage Southern Oregon communities. Six new members joined the OSF board March 4, four of whom are local.

The new board members are Dee Anne Everson, executive director of United Way of Jackson County; Lynn Katherine Thompson, lawyer and former president of the Rotary Club of Ashland, who also sits on the city of Ashland’s planning and budget committees; Don Kania of Ashland, who works in biotechnology and health sciences engineering; Michelle Cummings, chief academic officer of the Medford School District; David Penilton, president at America’s Hub World Tours of Portland; and David Hitz of Los Altos, California, who supported OSF’s Play On! project and recently announced his retirement from NetApp, a company he founded in 1992.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

Paul Christy, right, acting executive director at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and Torrie Allen, director of development, took time out to answer membership questions Friday during a jam-packed community conversation in the Historic Ashland Armory. Photo by Bob Palermini