At its year-end company call Friday, Oregon Shakespeare Festival announced that, mainly because of lost revenues from smoky air, it will trim seven positions from the acting company and five from non-acting posts in development, artistic and information technology areas from its 2018 budget. The cutbacks take effect immediately, and the 2018 OSF fiscal year starts Nov. 1.
The festival lost about $400,000 it gave out in refunds for outdoor performances canceled during the long smoke siege in August and September, said spokesman Eddie Wallace, following a gathering of 500 festival staff in the Bowmer Theatre. Taking that hit into account, OSF expects this year's budget to end up with a deficit of about $300,000.
“It definitely hurts,” he said. Ticket holders got four options: take a refund, exchange tickets for an indoor show that night or vouchers for next season, or donate the ticket value. A little over half requested refunds.
In the past, OSF would have drawn on emergency funds or endowments to cover the loss but, he said, “We’re not sure how this will be covered. We’ll say more in November, when we see if we have a deficit and what it is.”
Such season-end layoffs are not routine, but are contingent on ticket revenues, he said. For the acting company, they scanned through upcoming plays and identified where, perhaps, they could produce a certain play with, for example, 12 actors instead of 14. Wallace declined to reveal the names of those laid off.
“We’re still tallying just how this season is going to go,” says Wallace, "because of smoke and certain difficulties from that. There’s a chance (we will differently) manage our resources because we may have an operating deficit” because of a shortfall in ticket revenues.
A week after its season ends Oct. 29, OSF will release attendance figures. The exact size of the budget deficit won’t be determined till then.
The layoffs, he said, are a result of looking at the upcoming 2018 budget — which is 2 percent larger than this years — and “crafting a realistic and responsible budget to see what staffing the organization can support.”
The intention, he adds, is to do this “without compromising the quality of the art onstage or the patrons’ experience.”
The primary reason for the larger budget, Wallace says, is the cost of sets and costumes, which "rises every year." OSF will be "investing more in our marketing efforts to build the size of our audience, " he added.
A moving target in the process, he adds, is wildfire and its “significant” smoke, which have brought cancellations in four of the last five seasons. “Smoke seems to be becoming a reality and it affects ticket sales, so we need to be very thoughtful in crafting a budget next year."
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.