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OSF to take over Tudor Guild gift shop

Tudor Guild gift shop cashier Char Hersh assists customers. The store is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, but will extend hours to 8 p.m. on show days when the OSF season opens July 1.
The move in 2022 will consolidate operations, reduce expenses

Beginning with the 2022 season, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival will take over full management of the gift shop and merchandising operation currently operated by the Tudor Guild.

The intention is to move the store to a new location that OSF controls and explore new ways to partner with Tudor Guild in support of OSF’s mission.

It is expected that the Guild will continue to run the store through the end of 2021.

Under the new plan, the store’s paid staff will be OSF employees, operating under OSF’s supervision, and OSF will hold responsibility for all product choices, merchandising and store operations.

OSF also will take over running the online store and gradually transition it to be a component of or directly linked to OSF’s main website.

In a letter to Guild members, OSF Executive Director David Schmitz said the change was not undertaken lightly and should not be construed as a criticism of the Guild’s stewardship.

“Rather, it is time for us to have full responsibility for our brand image, our patrons’ on-campus experience, and our trademarks,” he said. “This kind of control is exercised by most, if not all, of our peer cultural institutions across the world.”

In a message to Tudor Guild members, store general manager Eileen Polk acknowledged the message was a tough one to receive.

“It’s going to be very hard for Tudor Guild members to hear about and accept, but it’s something that has been coming for several years,” she said. “It’s not a new idea.”

Polk said she fully supports the change. She noted that when she attended conferences for people who run stores for museums, theater companies and the like, she was the only person from an organization that was separate from the main institution.

“We’re going to be meeting with the festival administration to explore Tudor Guild’s future support in other ways,” Polk said. “There’s every possibility we can transition to a new and very productive relationship.”

There has been much to reconsider inside OSF because of the effects of the pandemic.

“We are living the mantra, ‘never let a good crisis go to waste,’” Schmitz said. “We are working to address systemic issues inside the festival’s operations, including cash flow issues, adjusting our schedule based on wildfire smoke, right-sizing our operation, and matching the anticipated post-pandemic demand to our supply of performances.”

To that end, the Tudor Guild store move will address a rent expense that Schmitz says is unsustainable at its current location. OSF has begun the process of either re-leasing or subleasing the space to a noncompeting tenant. That may result in a move to a temporary location before a permanent location is ready. There are a few on-campus sites under consideration.

By taking the store and website operations under its wing, OSF also will achieve an efficiency that becomes available with singular accounting and a merger of activities such as human resources and information technology infrastructure.

Schmitz anticipates that volunteer opportunities, though more limited, will be available to Tudor Guild members in the reconstituted store under OSF management.

“The history of gracious and generous giving from the Tudor Guild cannot and will not be ignored or forgotten,” Schmitz said in a letter to Guild members. “I know that your work over the years has been solely dedicated to the success of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and for that we thank you.”

Schmitz said the move to incorporate the store into the OSF organization was discussed as far back as 2017.

“The decision was made more recently, a couple of months ago, and fully within the current context of COVID and the challenges of reopening,” he said.

OSF and the Guild leadership have been in discussion for some time about their strained financial situation due to the pandemic. Schmitz characterized those conversations as “generative, supportive and at times emotional.”

“But everybody has the same mission at heart,” he said, “which is the ongoing success of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.”

Allan Anderson, president of the Tudor Guild and chair of the nonprofit’s 12-member board of directors, said the response was mixed among Guild members.

“The reactions have ranged from anger to disappointment to reluctant acceptance,” Anderson said. “And we have received a few positive reactions to the news.”

He believes members are still processing the news, but eventually will come to terms with the festival’s decision. He described the future relationship of the Guild and OSF as “a work in progress.”

“I hope that we can work out something that allows Tudor Guild to be a useful and significant partner to OSF,” Anderson said.

MarLyn Barrick has been a Tudor Guild member for 14 years and a store volunteer. She is understanding yet a little sad about the news.

“I will miss the way it was,” she said. “But frankly, I have been finding it harder to stand for a three-hour shift. I do know that it has been an important part of my life since I started.”

Susan Sullivan has volunteered for Tudor Guild since she moved to Ashland in 2014, has served on the board twice, and chaired the committee for prospective members for three years.

“Of all my volunteer jobs, Tudor Guild gives me the greatest pleasure and gratitude for living in Ashland,” she said.

She described her first reaction at hearing the news about the store as “grief.”

“It isn’t just a volunteer job,” she said. “Tudor Guild is a very special community. Greeting people as a cashier provides so many opportunities to be involved with OSF. Talking to locals and out-of-town people gives us a chance to discuss plays and direct customers to explore other aspects of OSF and Ashland.”

Schmitz said he recognizes the news was an emotionally difficult message to receive by email. The change, however, could be regarded as a new beginning rather than an end.

“The history of the Guild with OSF has not been limited to running a gift shop,” he wrote to the members, “and it should not be limited to that scope in the future.”

The Guild has supported the festival for decades in many ways — from hosting company dinners, providing scholarships, transporting actors, providing furnishings for company housing, providing child care for OSF employees, and raising more than $5 million for the festival over the years.

“It is our hope that the Tudor Guild will use the same tenacity and creativity that is the Guild’s legacy to discover new and equally important activities to support OSF’s mission,” Schmitz said.

The store, located on The Bricks near the Bowmer Theatre, is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. The hours will be extended to 8 p.m. on performance days when the festival opens July 1. The store will remain open through the run of the OSF holiday show, “It’s Christmas, Carol.”

Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

A Brief History of the Tudor Guild

1952: The Tudor Guild is formed to offer financial and other assistance to actors, and sponsor activities to promote the Shakespeare Festival. A makeshift collapsible booth constructed of scrap lumber was set up outside festival walls at which handmade articles and donations from local businesses were sold. Eventually the booth was moved inside the walls to a spot in the back of the Elizabethan Theatre.

1963: OSF recognizes the Tudor Guild as the donor of the greatest number of scholarships awarded to actors and technical personnel in lieu of salaries.

1977: Tudor Guild opens its first four-walled room as a gift shop in the basement of Carpenter Hall.

1979: Tudor Guild is invited to move its shop to the mezzanine area of the building in which the OSF administrative operation now functions. Along the way, the Guild changed its focus almost exclusively to gift sales, with membership expanded to more than 150 volunteers.

1997: In November, a new, significantly larger gift shop was built next door to the previous shop, the space in which it operates today.

For more information about the Tudor Guild, go to tudorguild.org.