The Oregon Shakespeare Festival cancelled four shows last week in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre due to poor air quality. One of those shows, "The Odyssey," was cancelled 50 minutes into the performance due to deteriorating conditions.
According to Eddie Wallace, OSF associate director of communications, OSF bases their closures off of a wide array of information. One helpful piece of data is the department of environmental air quality site that tells you how much smoke is in the air. Air quality is divided into standards: good, moderate, unhealthy for sensitive groups, unhealthy, very unhealthy and hazardous. The website can be found at www.deq.state.or.us/aqi/.
Ashland’s air quality is monitored from the downtown fire station.
OSF also heavily relies on the Medford Weather Center.
“They can look at the forecasting models for the wind,” Wallace said. “It’s not so much where the fires are located, as what the wind direction is. On any given day, we sort of live and die by the direction of the wind and the amount of smoke its blowing into the valley.”
A daily meeting is held at 6:15 p.m. in the Elizabethan theater. Attendees include a small smoke team, the stage manager, and a couple of actors from the show to decide if the show needs to be cancelled or if adjustments can be made, such as starting later than normal if the smoke is forecast to clear.
“If we are edging into unhealthy territory we will not put our audience, our actors or our crew at risk,” Wallace said. “It’s one thing to sit and watch it, but if you’re up there, the breath and the volume required to reach the top row is pretty grueling, and probably unhealthy too.”
Theater-goers have four options when a show is cancelled. Within seven days they may have their ticket refunded, exchanged for another show, or choose to receive a voucher for a ticket of the same price for the following season. Many people have opted to donate the money from their cancelled tickets back to OSF, which is a not-for-profit.
Cancelled performances are a huge hit on OSF’s finances. The Elizabethan theater has 1,200 seats and tickets range from $30 to $100, according to Wallace. Hypothetically, if the theater was completely full and everyone was charged $50 per ticket, a cancelled show would lose $60,000 dollars. Wallace said the total loss so far is not yet known because of the seven-day grace period.
A blue banner across the home page of the OSF website serves as an update to any cancelled shows.
A handful of Green Shows have been cancelled as well.
There was a total of 11 cancellations from 2013-2015, but none in 2016.
“We are always desperate to perform,” Wallace said. “If we do cancel, it’s been a very carefully thought out decision and one we know that causes a lot of disappointment.”
There’s no real way to determine air quality conditions while the fires persist, said Chris Chambers, forest division chief of the Ashland fire and rescue department.
“Depending on the weather pattern, we might be getting smoke from the Chetco Bar fire,” Chambers said. “There’s a big shift happening right now where we’re going to start getting smoke from the Crater Lake area, and so we’re just surrounded by fire right now.”
Some of the fires are estimated to not be fully contained until October, Chambers confirmed. However, none of the fires are affecting Ashland directly.
“This is going to go on probably for as long as it takes for the fall rains to come,” Chambers said.
The smoke has affected some other events in town, such as possible rearrangement of schools’ sports games.
“It’s a hard thing to think about for most people, the predictions with global warming are a 300-400 percent increase in wildfires, bigger fires, longer fire seasons,” Chambers said. “I hate to say, but this is probably something that is going to be more and more common.”
For more information on air quality and tips on protection from wildfire smoke, visit www.ashland.or.us/smoke.
— Email Ashland freelance writer Caitlin Fowlkes at Caitlin.firstname.lastname@example.org.