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Shakespeare is back at OSF

Full season includes 8 live shows and 2 digital offerings

After two years of uncertainty and its stages dark for most of that period, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival announces a return to a full-season schedule of repertory programming in 2022.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival will be back to a full season of productions in 2022 with eight plays in three theaters, including an encore production of this year's holiday show. OSF will offer new lower ticket prices, simplified seating zones, and a new member donor program in 2022. Allen Elizabethan Theatre photo courtesy OSF.

OSF is back and so is Shakespeare.

Several changes are in store for theater-goers in 2022. The number of plays will be reduced to eight, including a reprise of the holiday show. Tickets will cost less, with top prices cut by more than 50% — ranging from $35 to $80. The dynamic pricing model based on demand will be abandoned. Seating zones will be simplified. And the member donor program will be simplified.

“This is a moment to take bold action to make theater accessible by lowering barriers for entry,” said David Schmitz, OSF executive director.

“We hope this move inspires people who have been coming to OSF for years and people who have never come.”

The old OSF model was complicated and focused on maximizing revenue.

“Our new donor model and ticket pricing allow our existing fans to get involved more deeply and more often,” Schmitz said, “and invites a whole new generation of art lovers into the mix.”

From 2015 to 2020, OSF adopted the industry practice of dynamic pricing, which spikes prices correlated to scarcity and popularity. This resulted in significant increases in ticket prices year after year, rising 200% more than inflation. OSF’s new model breaks from this practice in an attempt offer more affordability and attract new fans.

Reducing the number of plays from the traditional 11 to 7 in the “summer” season is a way of addressing past financial deficits and recognizing the realities of audience attendance patterns.

“OSF has been running at a significant financial deficit for the five years prior to the pandemic,” Schmitz said. “Nataki (Garrett, artistic director) and I were hired with the understanding that this must be solved.”

The pause of the pandemic afforded them the time to do some intense analysis around audience trends.

“We discovered that 88% of our audience sees five plays or fewer each year,” he said. “And the majority of our audience comes once a year.”

There is a loyal following of audience members who historically see all of the plays over the course of a season, many of whom are locals in Ashland and the Rogue Valley.

“Unfortunately for all of us, those few who see it all cannot carry the weight of the additional productions,” Schmitz said. “The financial reality is that we must reduce the number of plays to match our audience demand, which is what we have attempted to do in this new season architecture.”

The season will open April 12, later than in previous years. School groups historically made up most of the attendance in March and April. Given the uncertainty of how COVID-19 will impact schools’ ability to make field trips, a later start seemed prudent.

Adding the holiday show in November and December results in a season only two weeks shorter overall.

The 2022 holiday show will be an encore presentation of this year’s holiday production of “It’s Christmas, Carol!”

“We are hopeful that the production will become a holiday tradition for people living in the Rogue Valley and beyond,” Schmitz said. “We hope to attract audiences from around the country to experience a holiday show that is unique to Ashland.”

Many regional theaters mount repeat productions for the holidays, such as “The Nutcracker” or “A Christmas Carol.”

OSF also announced new productions for its O! digital stage.

“The digital work will come in many forms, but when the mode of creation includes a camera, you can expect a dynamic and high-quality experience,” Schmitz said. “We are working on ensuring that the digital work can be viewed on any device.”

For more information about the plays and digital offerings, go to osfashland.org.

“I’m excited to grow OSF’s community in Ashland, around the country, and around the globe,” Schmitz said.

Following is the OSF lineup for 2022:

Angus Bowmer Theatre

April 12 – Oct. 30 (opening night April 16): “Once on This Island, A Musical.” Book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, music by Stephen Flaherty, based on the novel “My Love, My Love” by Rosa Guy, directed by Lilli-Anne Brown. This coming-of-age, one-act musical, set in the French Antilles archipelago, is about a peasant girl who uses the power of love to bring people of different social classes together. It opened on Broadway in 1990, won the 1995 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical as a West End production, and won the 2018 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical.

May 3 – July 30 (opening night May 7): “August Wilson’s How I Learned What I Learned.” Co-conceived by Todd Kreidler and directed by Tim Bond. Originally performed by American playwright Wilson himself, the autobiographical tour de force is a theatrical memoir, charting one man’s journey of self-discovery through adversity, and what it means to be a Black artist in America.

Aug. 17 – Oct. 29 (opening day Aug. 28): “King John” by William Shakespeare. Directed by Rosa Joshi and presented in association with upstart crow collective, whose mission is to produce classical plays with diverse casts of women and non-binary people, reimagining those works for a contemporary audience.

Nov. – Dec.: “It’s Christmas, Carol!” by Mark Bedard, Brent Hinkley, and John Tufts. Music by the playwrights and directed by Pirronne Yousefzadeh. An encore production of OSF’s first holiday show (debuting Nov. 23, 2021), it is a song-filled show that skewers Dickens, the holidays and Shakespeare, with a dose of the Marx Brothers, fractured carols and more.

Thomas Theatre

April 12 – July 31 (opening day April 16): “Unseen” by Mona Mansour. A West Coast premiere, directed by Evren Odcikin. A conflict photographer wakes up in the Istanbul apartment of her on-again, off-again girlfriend after being found unconscious at the scene of a massacre. Her Californian mother arrives from the U.S. to try to help unravel what happened. A mystery, a political exploration, a romance, and a psychological portrait.

Aug. 23 – Oct. 29 (opening day Aug. 27): “Confederates” by Dominique Morisseau. An American Revolutions commission and West Coast premiere, directed by Nataki Garrett. The play, leaping back and forth between the struggles of two Black women living 160 years apart, is about an enslaved woman who plots her path to freedom, and a modern-day professor who navigates hostility at work and tumult at home.

Allen Elizabethan Theatre

June 1 – Oct. 15 (opening night June 15): “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare, directed by Nicholas C. Avila. A crew of men are shipwrecked on an island somewhere near Italy where Prospero and his beautiful daughter live with a sprite called Ariel and a strange wild man called Caliban. It’s a story of magic, betrayal, love and forgiveness.

June 2 – Oct. 14 (opening night June 16): “Revenge Song” by Qui Nguyen. A Vampire Cowboys creation, directed by Robert Ross Parker. Vampire Cowboys creates new works of theatre based on action, adventure, and dark comedy with a comic book aesthetic. Based on the true-life story of a 17th century French woman who disguises herself as a boy to work in the stables and learns to fence and fight.

Digital Offerings
O! Digital Stage

“The Cymbeline Project” by William Shakespeare, conceived by Nataki Garrett, and created by Scarlett Kim. The rarely performed exploration of power and jealousy will come to life in a multi-episode digital production by award-winning immersive artist Kim.

“Films for the People.” Two short films presented by Black Lives, Black Words, in association with OSF. Led by Simeilia Hodge Dallaway and Reginal Edmund, the one-person short films celebrate the talent, resilience, and presence of Black artists, leaders and communities across America.

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