By Jacq Lacy
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has closed its 75th Anniversary year with record attendance and revenue numbers. Despite the rainy Oregon summer and the weak economy, the OSF sold 414,783 tickets (94% of capacity) and earned $18.5 million, an increase of 8% over 2009.
“These numbers are immensely gratifying, especially in light of the ongoing economic challenges facing our country and our audiences,” Executive Director Paul Nicholson said in a statement.
Amy Richard, media and communications manager for the OSF attributed the record sales to “a schedule of 11 plays that received incredible word of mouth, and very positive notices from critics,” as well as quality production values and acting, a strong marketing campaign and loyal audiences.
“We have a lot of anecdotes from visitors stating, ‘We have to give up something this year because of the poor economy, but we’re not giving up this,’” Nicholson said, referring to the effort the OSF has made over the past five years to build strong ties between patrons and OSF staff and actors. This marketing strategy Nicholson says has kept theatergoers coming back year after year.
Artistic Director Bill Rauch produced on the Elizabethan Stage productions of “Twelfth Night,” which sold at 98% of capacity, and “The Merchant of Venice,” closing at 92% of capacity.
The Elizabethan outdoor stage brought in approximately $5.3 million this summer. Despite wet outdoor conditions, the OSF has not had to cancel any shows over the past two years due to rain or weather. Although rain appeared during many of the days, by night the skies had usually cleared and the OSF provided patrons with paper towels to dry off their seats.
This year’s festival, sponsored by U.S. Bank, also showcased a world premiere commission: “American Night: The Ballad of Juan José,” the first production of the “American Revolutions: the United States History Cycle,” which sold at 99% of capacity.
Shows in the Angus Bowmer Theatre did not fall below 95% of capacity and both performances in the New Theatre showed ticket sales of 93% and 94%.
OSF also strengthened its audience development this year through local incentive programs and online ticket sales. More than half (52%) of the year’s revenues came from online ticket sales.
Traditionally 85% of OSF’s audiences journey from outside the Rogue Valley. But due to new discount programs, the number of local patrons has grown by approximately 4%. The 19.35 Program, catering to audience members between 19 and 35 years of age, has increased ten-fold in the past three years.
The OSF also put together an annual Open House and CultureFest to increase marketing to new audiences, especially to Latino families in the region with five Spanish performances. An e-newsletter allows all patrons to stay connected and to receive special programming offers.
The successful season gave a sizable boost to the Southern Oregon economy.
Diarnuid McGuire, owner of Green Springs Inn in the Siskiyou Forest, had one of the best summers ever due to new cabins and an influx of tourists, many who visit the festival despite a 17-mile drive.
“I talked to people and they might have gone to Hawaii or Tahiti, but I think the bad economy effects them psychologically," said McGuire. "Coming to Ashland doesn’t involve a lot of travel expense... They don’t like to think they are spending a lot of money in a difficult economy.”
The Holiday Inn Express Ashland, the Ashland Springs Hotel, Columbia Hotel and the Econo Lodge, all within closer proximity to the festival, witnessed an extremely busy summer and recorded increases in reservations.
The 2011 season officially opens on February 25 and 26 with Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” and the new adaptation of Molière’s “The Imaginary Invalid.”
Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance” will open the outdoor Elizabethan Stage the weekend of June 10-12. That performance will mark the first time the OSF has performed a classic musical with a 14-piece band outdoors.
Jacq Lacy is an associate writer with Oregon Business.