Your Weekend Reader for May 6-7

by | May 6, 2023 | Weekend Reader | 0 comments

When the Oregon Shakespeare Festival announced earlier this year that it needed to raise $2.5 million in a hurry in order to save its 2023 season, I didn’t have a sense that the organization, a longtime mainstay in the state’s art scene, faced existential issues — just that, like so many arts organizations, it had yet to recover from a variety of big bumps, starting with the pandemic.

But Friday’s bombshell announcement that Nataki Garrett, the festival’s artistic director, plans to resign at the end of the month boosted my worries about the festival’s future. The trade publication American Theatre first reported on the resignation with this sympathetic story, and The Oregonian/OregonLive followed up with this story.

From the start of her tenure in 2019, Garrett faced what must have seemed like a never-ending series of crises: The pandemic forced the cancellation of almost the entire 2020 season. Wildfires filled Southern Oregon with smoke and kept audiences away. The festival has struggled, as The Oregonian has reported, with accounting issues that go back a number of years.

And Garrett, a Black woman with a child, endured criticism and death threats. Was racism a factor in some of the criticism? Consider this: Some of the criticism of Garrett focused on the fact that she programmed just two Shakespeare plays out of eight in the 2022 season. In 2019, her predecessor, Bill Rauch, programmed just three Shakespeare plays in an 11-play season. It seems unlikely that Rauch faced the kind of bitter (and hateful) criticism that Garrett confronted. I wonder what could have made the difference.

Look: In some ways, I sympathize with “the old white guard” that wishes the festival would program more Shakespeare works so that I can complete my canon. But the next time you’re at an arts event, take a closer look at the audience: Chances are good that it skews old. You might start to sense a bit of the urgency that arts leaders like Garrett feel as they try to build organizations that will be sustainable for generations to come.

From the first, the festival has faced uncertainty: As its website notes, when Angus Bowmer scheduled what became its first official productions in 1935, the city of Ashland came up with some money to help cover costs — but city officials, certain that the plays would lose money, hedged their bets by scheduling boxing matches on the same site. The boxing matches tanked. But the plays made enough money to cover those losses. Then, as now, the festival has found ways to carry on and triumph. It would be a shame if longtime supporters of the festival were unwilling to give its next leaders the room they need to carve out a path to an inclusive and sustainable future.

And that ends today’s Weekend Reader editorial. Let’s move on:

I expect that most Oregonians reacted to the scandal enveloping Secretary of State Shemia Fagan the same way I did: What on Earth was Fagan thinking when she agreed to moonlight on behalf of a legal cannabis company? Fagan resigned this week over the scandal, almost certainly putting an end to what had been a promising political career. Tim Nesbitt, writing for the Oregon Capital Chronicle, asked the same question.

I somehow missed this story from The Poynter Institute when it ran a couple of weeks ago, but readers who are worried about Lee Enterprises, the owner of the Gazette-Times and the Democrat-Herald, may still be interested: Poynter’s Angela Fu reports on what happened when Lee took over The Buffalo News, the longtime jewel in the crown of Warren Buffett’s newspaper empire. I am sad to report that it’s just about exactly what you would expect.

It’s possible that you forgot to celebrate World Press Freedom Day, which fell this year on May 3. (I know; you were busy getting ready for Star Wars Day and Cinco de Mayo, but mark your calendars now for the 2024 edition, which also falls on May 3, the anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration.) To mark the occasion, the Pew Research Center issued a report saying some 57% of U.S. journalists are extremely or very concerned about new restrictions on journalists in the country. It’s worth noting that the organization Reporters Without Borders says the United States ranks 45th in the world in press freedom, just behind Tonga.

Those of you who got up early Saturday morning to watch the coronation of England’s King Charles may be amused (or outraged) by this piece from The Atlantic’s Helen Lewis, who has a somewhat jaded view of the whole affair. “The overall vibe,” she writes, “was Disney on acid.” I can’t to hear what John Oliver might say about the coronation on Sunday’s “Last Week Tonight” — but now that I think about it, the writers’ strike probably means there will be no new episode of “Last Week Tonight” this weekend. (Like all Atlantic pieces, this one is available to subscribers only.)

Need a little something that will make your problems seem insignificant by contrast? Then check out this Associated Press story from science writer Marcia Dunn: For the first time, astronomers caught a star in the act of eating a planet, and not just a tiny planet like poor Pluto, either: This was a planet the size of Jupiter. The planet’s sun had been expanding for eons and finally got to the point where it engulfed the close-orbiting planet. Here’s the “insignificant” part of the story: The same thing will happen to Earth. Not for another 5 billion years, to be sure, but still.

Also from the Associated Press is this dispatch about the “freaky-looking fanged fishes” that have been washing up along a 300-mile stretch of Oregon coastline. Scientists say they’re lancetfish, which usually prefer tropical or subtropical waters. Scientists add, however, that it’s not completely unheard-of for lancetfish to turn up on Oregon beaches — but it is possible that word about incidents like these spread faster now due to social media. Perhaps the lancetfish would think twice about washing ashore in Oregon if they knew of the state’s grand tradition of blowing up beached sea creatures.

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