March 31st, 2009 | by BEN WATERHOUSE News | Posted In: Multnomah County

Portland Center Stage Announces Layoffs, Eliminates Literary Department

Guys & Dolls
Portland Center Stage announced layoffs yesterday, including an unknown number of 1.5 positions in the box office, one in IT and, most notably, the entire two-person literary management department. Literary Manager Mead Hunter and his assistant, Megan Kate Ward, are both out the door. This is bad news for a company that prides itself as an incubator for new work through the annual JAW playwrights festival and its support of this year's first-ever Fertile Ground New Works Festival.

Hunter is a nationally respected dramaturg, editor, playwright, writer and promoter of new work. He commissioned several new plays for the company, including Naomi Iizuka's 36 Views, still one of the finest productions I've seen on a Portland stage.

Ward, a 25-year-old director and dramaturg, has served several roles with the company, from assistant director to dramaturg to casting coordinator.

In a press release yesterday, PCS PR Manager Trisha Pancio wrote, "Our current situation is not dire- it is in fact better than most of our colleagues across the country. But Chris and Greg are absolutely determined to make sure that we can make the hard cuts now so that we do not end up having to make truly damaging cuts later if the economy takes longer to recover than we all hope."

Portland Center Stage isn't alone in suffering—Artists Repertory Theatre eliminated at least one position last summer, Oregon Shakespeare Festival cut its budget by $1 million in October and Blue Monkey Theater's Artistic Director, John Monteverde, has been working without a salary. Other cultural nonprofits, from museums to libraries, have seen even more severe cuts.

The company still has nearly $9 million left to raise to pay for the Gerding Theater at the Armory.

On his blog, Hunter attributed the elimination of his job to "a series of disastrous budgeting miscalculations paired with the moribund global economy," and wrote that he plans to stay in Portland and work as an editor. I hope so—he's a treasure, beloved by many in the community, and the sadness and anger at his dismissal is evident on blogs like Followspot. Ben Plont, a local actor and director, is calling for a boycott.

I've asked PCS for more details, and will update when they respond.

UPDATE: Pancio writes, "Over the course of this season there's been at least one staff position eliminated through attrition or layoff from nearly every department.

It's incredibly serious, and it just shows that we are dealing with the exact same issues of how to survive the downturn with core functions intact as other arts institutions locally and nationally. Ironically, we are dealing with this in spite of this season being the 2nd best season for single ticket sales on record (the first best being the Cabaret season)."

She adds, "JAW is funded and will happen this year no matter what." Good news, amidst a lot of bad.
 
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