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Artists Repertory Theatre. (Photo by Jeff Hayes)

Artists Repertory Theatre Suspends Production on 2023-24 Season

The upcoming season was the first planned by artistic director Jeanette Harrison, who was appointed in 2022.

PORTLAND, ORE.: Artists Repertory Theatre (ART) has announced the suspension of its 2023-24 season, citing financial difficulties. The announcement comes as ART was set to begin rehearsals for its first fall production.

“The decision to suspend our season comes as the aftermath of the global pandemic continues to impact regional theatres across the country,” said incoming managing director Aiyana Cunningham and artistic director Jeanette Harrison in a joint statement. “ART, like many of our peers, has encountered several challenges, including escalating operational costs, decline in ticket sales, and reduced staffing capacity.”

Board chair Pancho Savery added that the “ongoing national crisis among regional theatres has presented us with significant obstacles that require careful consideration and action. To navigate these challenges successfully, we believe it is crucial to take this strategic pause in order to focus on key areas that will shape the future of ART and ensure its sustainability.”

ART posted the statement on its website less than a week after playwright Dillon Christopher Chitto announced on his Facebook page that the theatre had canceled the upcoming production of his play Pueblo Revolt 12 days before the scheduled first rehearsal.

“ART’s cancellation of Pueblo Revolt has not only resulted in future financial losses which I was counting on, but has also squandered career opportunities I had sacrificed for their benefit,” Chitto, who is Native American, wrote. He further stated that the theatre’s “decision to cancel a Native play following the Mark Taper Forum’s cancellation of Larissa FastHorse’s play leaves me utterly disappointed and disillusioned with American theatre.”

Chitto was referring to the Mark Taper Forum’s suspension of their 2023-24 season, which included the cancelation the premiere of Native playwright Larissa FastHorse’s Fake It Until You Make It. Harrison, who is also Native American, was celebrating her first full season as artistic director at ART.

In their statement, ART cited the Oregon State Legislature’s failure to pass House Bill 2459, a proposed recovery fund for the arts and culture sector, as a factor in their decision. The passage of the bill would have designated $250,00 in recovery funds to the Portland theatre, according to their statement. ART provided written testimony in support of the recovery fund.

The $50 million bill, which was sponsored by Representative Rob Nosse of Portland, lists a number of venues that were to receive grants. It would have allocated over $5.1 million to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which embarked on a Save Our Season emergency fundraising campaign last spring; $949,375 to Portland Center Stage; and thousands more to other theatres, museums, and performing arts companies. The listed venues account for approximately half of the bill’s total, with the rest of the funds set to go to organizations such as the Oregon Arts Commission, which could have then distributed those funds to theatres like ART.

Going forward, ART is “actively working to address the stunning reality of this moment,” according to the theatre’s statement. Staff members are “evaluating all of our options for a path forward, including the potential to present work later in the planned season.”

ART was founded in 1982 and claims to be the oldest professional theatre company in Portland. Their mission is to produce intimate, provocative theatre and to provide a home for a diverse community of artists and audiences to take creative risks. As of 2022, the theatre had a budget of approximately $2.4 million.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that ART cancelled its full 2023-24 season. ART has suspended the season pending further examination of their financial situation.

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