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OSF Executive Director David Schmitz steps down amid restructuring

OSF Executive Director David Schmitz
OSF Executive Director David Schmitz

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival announced a slew of staffing changes this week as part of a "restructuring strategy aimed at aligning its business model with its vision and realities of the post-pandemic market."

In addition to Schmitz, OSF Director of Development Amanda Brandes is stepping down in mid-February. OSF also laid off 19 staff members on Tuesday and will stop hiring for 20 open positions, according to Artistic Director Nataki Garrett.

Garrett said in an interview that both Schmitz and Brandes stepped down voluntarily for personal reasons, but she "wouldn't characterize [their departure] as completely independent" from OSF's current financial difficulties. She did not add further detail.

OSF was hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic and never fully recovered. The 89-year-old theater is the primary cultural attraction in Southern Oregon, and in March 2020, as the reality of the pandemic became apparent, the company shuttered its productions and laid off 400 staff, about 80% of its total workforce.

OSF is one of a group of cultural companies in Oregon that is asking the state legislature for $70 million in funding during the 2023 legislative session, which begins on Jan. 17. The Shakespeare company is specifically asking for over $5 million in grants through House Bill 2459.

These companies argue that the industry has still not recovered from the toll of the pandemic. In 2020, state lawmakers gave theater companies $50 million in relief funding.

OSF is also launching an $80 million fundraising campaign in the first quarter of the year in order to help fund operations.

OSF has recently been trying to offset deficits from the pandemic's impact, including reducing its number of shows each season, shortening its calendar for performances and diversifying the shows it offers. Still, according to a press release, "OSF realizes it must invest in a strategy that will impact the long-term success of the organization."

Schmitz joined OSF as its fourth executive director in fall 2020. His resignation is effective immediately.

“These past two and a half years have been among the most challenging times in OSF’s history—from COVID, to the Almeda Fire, to the ongoing racism and threats to members of our community, to inflationary challenges, to rebuilding the company coming into 2022,” Schmitz said in the press release. He declined to comment further.

During the transition period, Garrett will be Interim Executive Artistic Director. Managing Director of IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility) People, Culture & Operations Anyania Muse will be Interim Chief Operating Officer.

“We are grateful for David’s contributions to OSF and his leadership under very challenging times at OSF,” Board Chair Diane Yu said in the press release. “I have no doubt that [Garrett], along with other members of the leadership team, will lead this organization through this transition period and into a place of stability and success.”

OSF received over $5 million in Paycheck Protection Program loan money during the pandemic, nearly all of which was forgiven. In November, it received a $10 million grant from The Hitz Foundation, and in December, the OSF Board decided to release $4.25 million from its endowment to help support operating expenses.

According to tax filings obtained by ProPublica, total revenue for the OSF Association plummeted from approximately $45 million in fiscal year 2019 to approximately $25 million in fiscal year 2020.

Garrett said the restructuring is about recalibrating, given that audiences are coming back to OSF at approximately half the numbers that used to show up pre-pandemic.

Schmitz and Brandes' departure "is actually not necessarily connected" to OSF's financial difficulties, she said. Rather, "the restructuring is really about, are we a $44 million organization, like what I inherited? Or are we actually a $38 million organization? And how do we get to the right number?"

Jane Vaughan is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. Jane began her journalism career as a reporter for a community newspaper in Portland, Maine. She's been a producer at New Hampshire Public Radio and worked on WNYC's On The Media.