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Oregon Shakespeare Festival Will Stay Shut Down Until Sept.; 80% Of Staff Laid Off

A production in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's elizabethan theater.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival announced Friday morning that the Ashland-based regional theater company's 2020 season will be further postponed until early September due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. They also laid off the majority of their staff.

According to Nataki Garrett, OSF’s artistic director, the theater season will remain closed until September 8th.  The world-famous theater company was also forced to lay off 400 employees, approximately 80% of its staff.

OSF had previously shut down all performances, events and programs after Gov. Kate Brown's March 12 order banning large gatherings to slow the spread of COVID-19. The company had planned at that time to re-open soon. 

But, Garret said, as the pandemic has deepened, that became untenable.

“It just didn’t seem like we were going to be able to build enough of the work in order to get us open by June. So the next effective date is September,” Garrett said during an interview on JPR’s Jefferson Exchange.

Five preplanned plays for the 2020 season will be cancelled outright. They plan to perform the remaining six productions.

OSF is arguably the biggest attraction for Ashland’s heavily tourism-dependent economy. The delay will surely add financial strain to the region’s restaurant and hospitality industry, already reeling from Oregon’s stay at home order.  

The theater organization will begin a $5 million emergency funding campaign to raise funds for costs including paying artists in the company, Garrett said. She said it was unlikely the season would be able to open any earlier than the fall.  “We’re hopeful but we’re being pragmatic about what the possibilities are.”

This story will be updated

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.