Oregon Children’s Theatre Needs $150K to Survive Until Fall

The company served half as many children and families as usual last year.

"Goodnight Moon" at Oregon Children's Theatre ( Lee McNeely)

For those paying attention, the financial situation at Oregon Children’s Theatre has been shaky for a while.

Historically, the nearly 40-year-old company announces its upcoming season in mid-April, but that date has come and gone without a peep. OCT has had two condensed seasons in a row, in which it put up three productions instead of its pre-pandemic norm of five. Last year, the theater delayed its season’s start until January.

This week, patrons received an SOS email from the company, saying it needed to raise $150,000 or more as soon as possible.

“OCT is facing an insurmountable challenge,” said Jenn Hartmann Luck, producing artistic director of OCT, in a video for the fundraising campaign. “Due to ongoing financial hardships, such as the ever-rising cost of producing work, limited funding resources, and the very real strain on a family’s budget to attend live theater, we must raise $150,000 or more as soon as possible. Without this support, the future of Oregon Children’s Theatre is uncertain.”

Just how uncertain? OCT marketing and communications manager Courtney Powell says the $150K is just enough to get the theater through the summer. Unless it hits its fundraising goal, the company will not return to the stage this fall.

To accompany the campaign, OCT compiled a timeline of its challenges, starting with shutting down in March 2020 due to the COVID pandemic. Other markers: It lost its building on Northeast Sandy Boulevard, its educational theater program dissolved due to the loss of regional funding, there have been staff reductions, and the January 2024 ice storm canceled nine performances and resulted in $30,000 in losses.

“It’s been one hit after another, in addition to inflation and funding not being secured and all the other things that are happening in the world,” Powell says. “We’ve held out for as long as we could and we just want to keep doing our work that’s so important to the families that we serve.”

Each season, OCT used to reach more than 120,000 youths and families in the region through performances, field trips, classes and summer camps. This year, it hit about half that number, Powell says.

OCT’s 2023-24 season closed in May with She Persisted the Musical, a time-travel adventure in which a fourth grader gets to meet trailblazers Harriet Tubman, Virginia Apgar, Ruby Bridges, Sally Ride, Florence Griffith Joyner, and Sonia Sotomayor. The company previously staged Goodnight Moon, based on the Margaret Wise Brown classic, and The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical this season.

OCT participates in the Arts for All program, which provides $5 tickets to families who otherwise could not afford to see shows. It’s at the heart of OCT’s mission, Powell says.

“To be able to do that philanthropic work we need to have the financials to back it up, and we just haven’t,” she says.

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