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OSF theaters might not reopen until next fall

It all depends on the course of the pandemic and when a COVID-19 vaccine will be available, but it appears the earliest the Oregon Shakespeare Festival will reopen is the fall of 2021.

During a virtual OSF tea for premier members, Artistic Director Nataki Garrett and Executive Director David Schmitz talked about festival finances, the future of OSF, the recent fires and new digital offerings.

The hour-long online conversation, moderated by Associate Artistic Director Evren Odcikin, was recently placed on the OSF website for public view.

Halfway into the program, Odcikin asked about the reemergence of the festival.

“Do we dare to dream of any future?” he asked. “What does the future look like?”

“Now we are scenario-building,” Garrett said. “We’re focusing on whether we can perform in 2021 ... and, if so, when.”

What brought that to the forefront, she says, is the discussion about vaccines and hearing Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, say that people probably won’t be going back into theaters until late 2021.

“The blessing of that information for me is that I now have a horizon line we can shoot for,” Garrett says. “So, if we’re going to do this in fall of 2021, what will people need?

“After we’ve been out of the theater business for so long, what will our company need, our community, our donors and our newly found audiences?”

Garrett believes one of the things that must be done over the coming months is to reach out beyond OSF’s current audience.

“When we open back up, we need to make sure we have more people, more connections, greater connections, that we look for ways to make a greater impact,” she says. “We’re having conversations with people in 40 different countries. So when we open our doors again, there are more people to welcome, more stories to share. We have to go back to the basics.”

Garrett says the future of OSF depends on the seeds planted now.

“It’s not how we can just survive,” she says. “It’s not just how can we use the resource, but how can we leave something behind for another generation.”

Schmitz came on board Sept. 1, although he arrived in Ashland around the first of August.

He says for a long time he has taken for granted being able to share creatively through the arts. The pandemic, social unrest and wildfires all have had an impact on communities and the arts, adding a new dynamic.

“We can get mired in the tragedies of the moment,” he says, “but I think we have to lift up our heads and look to the future as we deal with the crises before us.”

OSF has played a role in helping its employees deal with the pandemic, and most recently in aiding people who have been affected by the Almeda fire.

Furloughs due to COVID-19 have unexpectedly resulted in OSF’s being able to offer shelter for victims.

“One aspect of the pandemic is that we don’t have 150 artists housed,” Schmitz says. “Virtually all those spaces are filled by refugees of the fire. Twenty-two OSF employees lost everything.”

Carpenter Hall became a center for distribution of supplies to fire victims. Initially a resource center for furloughed OSF employees, Carpenter Hall morphed into a dual role almost by accident.

While the fire was still active, a truck loaded with supplies was heading from Ashland to an evacuation center. The truck was forced to turn around, and OSF gave permission for the supplies to be offloaded at Carpenter Hall.

Now the Thomas Theatre is filled to the brim with supplies that are used to restock Carpenter Hall. Crews of OSF technicians and volunteers help move supplies almost daily.

Schmitz says he is impressed by how generous the community has been in its support.

During the OSF tea conversation, Garrett and Schmitz noted how the O! digital platform has allowed patrons to stay connected to the festival while providing OSF with needed income.

In addition to online classes, workshops, documentaries, and behind-the-scenes footage, O! has offered films of some 2020 plays and a number of archived productions.

Discussions are underway to offer additional OSF productions online.

“We need to learn which plays are possible and what we can afford,” Garrett says.

“We do have a couple of surprises coming our way,” she says.

One of those surprises was revealed by the marketing department this week: “Women of Broadway,” a livestream concert series scheduled for this fall.

The September livestreamed concert with Christopher Jackson of “Hamilton” was such a success, OSF is partnering with Dallas Summer Musicals to present Broadway legend Patti LuPone Oct. 24, Tony Award winner Laura Benanti Nov. 14, and actor and singer Vanessa Williams Dec. 4.

All shows start at 5 p.m., transmitted live in HD with professional sound mixing. Each concert will feature a mix of Broadway show tunes, pop songs and personal stories from each headliner, broadcast from The Shubert Virtual Studios on Manhattan’s West Side.

Viewers will be invited to participate in a live email Q&A during the show. Tickets cost $30 per show or $75 for all three, and all proceeds from ticket sales will support OSF. Only one ticket is required per household.

After purchasing tickets, buyers will receive a link, log-in instructions and a password by email the day before each performance. Ticket holders get an additional 72 hours of on-demand viewing after the show airs.

The shows can be watched on any device that can access the internet, including laptop and desktop computers, iPads, smartphones and smart TVs.

For more information about the performers and answers to frequently asked questions, see osfashland.org and click on the “Women of Broadway” link.

Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival opened a donation center at Carpenter Hall to serve anyone impacted by the Rogue Valley fires. OSF photo.