Attendance at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival was up slightly this year over last, with a total attendance of 392,430, or 87 percent of the capacity of the festival's three theaters for 790 performances.
That compares with 390,347 for the 2011 season — when a cracked beam in the Angus Bowmer Theatre forced summer performances into an outdoor tent for six weeks — and an all-time record of 414,783 set in 2010.
OSF wrapped up its 77th season Nov. 4 with the final performance of "Romeo and Juliet." Ticket revenue for the season totaled $18.3 million.
On Nov. 5, OSF celebrated the official renaming of the New Theatre to the Thomas Theatre at an invitation/member event. The theater is named after longtime OSF Development Director Peter D. Thomas, who died in March 2010. A group of donors made a $4.5 million contribution in his honor.
As the year draws to a close, OSF will bid farewell to several key, longtime company members, including Executive Director Paul Nicholson, who is retiring after 33 years. OSF announced Aug. 10 that Cynthia Rider, managing director at Missouri's Kansas City Repertory Theatre, will succeed Nicholson.
The Henry Wishcamper adaptation of "Animal Crackers," the Marx Brothers classic by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, proved to be the most popular play of the season. Directed by Allison Narver and staged in the Angus Bowmer Theatre, it played to 99 percent of capacity.
Close behind was "The White Snake," a classic Chinese fable about a snake spirit disguised as a beautiful young woman, adapted and directed by Mary Zimmerman, which sold 98 percent of its available tickets. The production is now on the road at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, where it opened Friday and will run through Dec. 23.
Weakest performers of the season were the three Shakespeare plays in the outdoor Elizabethan Stage, where it all started 77 years ago. "Henry V" did 73 percent, "The Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa," 72 percent, and "As You Like It," 83 percent.
"We don't know what to make of that," said OSF Media Relations Director Amy Richard. "Is there Shakespeare fatigue?"
In part, the festival may have been its own toughest competition. "Henry V" often ran opposite the popular "All the Way" and "Party People." "Merry Wives" competed with the blockbuster "Animal Crackers," and "As You Like It" often found itself head-to-head with "Troilus and Cressida."
There's also the mystery of what makes a comedy popular.
"Often you either love it or you hate it," Richard said.
Also doing 98 percent of capacity in the Bowmer was Robert Schenkkan's world premiere production about Lyndon Baines Johnson's seminal first year in the presidency, "All the Way," directed by OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch. The play was commissioned by the OSF's American Revolutions series of plays about history. It centered on Johnson's effort to pass a landmark civil rights law while keeping an eye on the upcoming 1964 elections.
The other 2012 commission in that series, "Party People," by UNIVERSES, also proved popular, at 92 percent of capacity in the New Theatre. The play examined the turmoil of the 1960s and 1970s through a postmodern, hip-hop lens, as well as the collective memory of veterans of the Black Panthers and the Young Lords radical movements. Members of both groups attended shows.
Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," directed with a fresh take by Laird Williamson, played to 86 percent of capacity, and the latest production of Rauch's original mashup "Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella" did 85 percent, both in the Bowmer.
The other two New Theatre productions, "Seagull" and "Troilus and Cressida," came in just behind "Party People" at 89 percent of capacity each. "Seagull" was Libby Appel's lucid adaptation of the famous Chekhov play. "Troilus and Cressida," directed by Rob Melrose of San Francisco's Cuttingball Theatre, imagined Shakespeare's take on Homer's story through a lens of Iraq and Afghanistan.
On the Elizabethan Stage, audiences saw Joseph Haj's dynamic production of "Henry V," took a wild ride in Alison Carey's humorous adaptation of Shakespeare "Falstaff in love" story in "The Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa," and basked in the poetry of Shakespeare's "As You Like It," directed by Jessica Thebus.
Rauch in a statement called the season "memorable." Nicholson called in "gratifying." Rauch said an unprecedented number of leaders from other theaters visited OSF, "attesting to the keen national interest in what is happening theatrically in Ashland, Oregon."
The OSF's Daedalus Project raised $110,347 for AIDS/HIV groups, including $58,597 from the afternoon play reading and evening variety show, and $21,260 from the underwear parade.
In addition to Nicholson, OSF is saying farewell to resident composer Todd Barton, resident costume designer Deborah M. Dryden and production manager Tom Knapp.
The 2013 season will open Feb. 22 in the Bowmer with Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew." The member pre-sale is under way, and general ticket sales will begin Nov. 26. Visit www.osfashland.org or call 541-482-4331.
Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. Reach him at email@example.com.