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Artistic Director Nataki Garrett resigns from Oregon Shakespeare Festival

OSF Artistic Director Nataki Garrett
Christopher Briscoe
Oregon Shakespeare Festival
OSF Artistic Director Nataki Garrett

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Artistic Director Nataki Garrett resigned from the organization on Friday.

Garrett is leaving the Oregon Shakespeare Festival after four years leading the organization.

According to the festival, OSF Board Member Octavio Solis will step in to help support the artistic leadership team and find a replacement artistic director during the transition. Solis is a playwright and director based in Medford.

OSF Endowment Board President Paul Christy said Solis will help the organization continue forward without disruption to the current season.

“Having Octavio here is like the best possible situation, because he’s been on stage, he’s been behind the scenes, he’s hired directors,” Christy said. “He knows all the logistics and the machinations that go into the performances.”

Garrett’s resignation comes during a fundraising campaign to save the current theater season and the organization itself as they struggle amidst a financial crisis.

In a prepared statement, Garrett didn’t provide a specific reason for leaving the organization.

“We are at an inflection point in our industry, where outdated business models must evolve in order for our theaters to survive,” Garrett said. “But these challenges also pose great opportunities—to rebuild in a way that reflects where we are today and where we want to be in the future—with actors, staff, audiences, and artistic leaders who reflect the richness of our country’s diversity. This is what excites me. This is the work I came to do.”

OSF is trying to raise $2.5 million in order to prevent layoffs and complete the 2023 season. The organization has already suspended planning for the 2024 season pending the fundraising campaign, and is expected to provide next steps for this season by the end of the month.

First reported by The Oregonian this week, the theater said it had already received over $1.4 million in gifts, and hoped to raise the $2.5 million total by mid-July.

OSF was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and Garrett led the organization through layoffs, restructurings and fundraisers to keep the 88-year-old theater alive.

Garrett was the first Black female artist director in the theater’s history. Last year, she also revealed that she’s been the target of death threats and racist remarks while living in Ashland. She was forced to travel with a security detail because of the threats.

The theater is a major cultural attraction in Southern Oregon. In a statement, OSF Board Chair Diane Yu applauded Garrett’s work to advocate for performance venues and encourage equity and diversity at the organization.

“The Board is grateful for the contributions Nataki has made to the advancement of theater and for extending OSF’s leadership within the theater community around the nation,” said Yu.

Garrett’s departure gives the festival an opportunity to look at their core offerings and values, according to Endowment Board President Christy.

“There’s been a lot of ideas that Nataki has put forward that are things that we weren't able to realize and that we want to,” he said. “Should we have year-round performances? Should we have holiday performances?”

Christy said Garrett focused on attracting new and younger audiences to the theater, something he thinks they should continue to focus on.

Both Yu and Garrett declined requests for an interview.

Roman Battaglia is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the JPR newsroom.