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OSF cancels season due to COVID-19 restrictions

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival announced Friday afternoon that it will not present a fall schedule — officially ending the 2020 season at what is one of Ashland’s premier tourist attractions, and exacerbating the economic situation for both the theater organization and the community.

In a press release, OSF cited Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s announcement Thursday that “large gatherings,” including concerts, festivals, conventions and sporting events, would not be able to return until September at the earliest because of the continuing threat of the pandemic.

In ending its hopes of presenting even a truncated season, OSF took action a day after the Britt Music & Arts Festival in Jacksonville canceled its 2020 season.

“The health and safety of our entire Ashland community, including artists, staff, volunteers, patrons and festival partners, is our highest priority,” Nataki Garrett, who is in her first season as the festival’s artistic director, said in the press release.

“My primary goal is to protect the future of this celebrated 85-year-old organization and to bring great theater back to our stages in 2021,” she added.

OSF’s season began Feb. 26 with preview performances, before the traditional opening March 6, before closing down March 12 because of restrictions on public events.

In an Ashland Tidings story at the time of the closure, it was noted that except for the years 1941-46 — when OSF founder Angus Bowmer served in World War II, the festival had continued uninterrupted since its 1935 debut.

Later in March, OSF announced it would attempt a reduced season of six shows beginning in September, as well as begin a $5 million emergency funding campaign, dubbed “Dare to Dream,” to address financial issues caused by lost revenue.

The loss of the 2020 season follows an announced loss of $5.4 million due to the effects of wildfires across the Rogue Valley in the 2017 and 2018 seasons. The festival rebounded in 2019, generating nearly $21 million in income.

Despite the closure, OSF officials expressed the desire to come back strong in 2021.

“Throughout these difficult circumstances, and for seasons and years to come,” acting Executive Director Paul Christy said in the press release, “we are committed to working with all of our partners, community and member organizations to revive, grow and preserve the prominence of this region that is so dear to the OSF family.”

OSF recently launched O! — a digital platform that features readings and podcasts about the festival.

Festival leaders directed ticketholders to a website devoted to the pandemic, osfashland.org/COVID19, and said that the box office would be reachable by email at boxoffice@osfashland.org for questions and information.

Daily Tidings / Jamie LuschAll events are canceled at the Ashland Shakespeare Festival.