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Huffington Post finds fulfillment at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Blogger Karen Kimsey-House, writing about the importance of long-term fulfillment over short-term happiness, points to the loyalty between OSF and its audiences.

angus-bowmer-theatre.JPGThe Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Angus Bowmer Theatre was closed from June 18 to August 2 of 2011 after the building’s main structural beam cracked.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival got some publicity in an unlikely place this week when a blogger for the Huffington Post recounted the response to last year’s disruptions to the Angus Bowmer Theatre, using it to help make a case for the importance of long-term fulfillment over more transitory feelings of happiness.
Karen Kimsey-House, who runs a business called the Coaches Training Institute has started a blog for the Huffington Post called “Disrupt Your Life in a Good Way.” Its second installment, published Tuesday, was headlined “Happiness is overrated…try fulfillment.”

Kimsey-House writes that taking care of her dying mother was an example of something that did not make her feel happy, but was very fulfilling in various ways. Then she moves on to a broader notion of how the distinction plays out in the world.

“Happiness gets slippery when it slides into its distorted version of taking shortcuts or indulging in what feels good now (easier, faster, more comfortable) over what nourishes us over the long-haul,” she writes. And her example of that is how OSF reacted last summer when a support beam in the Bowmer cracked and rendered the building temporarily unusable.

“The sensible thing to do would have been to cancel all shows in the Bowmer indefinitely and refund people’s money…But that’s not who OSF is,” she writes, and recounted how staff, actors and audiences made something special out of the makeshift shows staged in alternative venues.  

“Yes, it was an extraordinary time. And it was made possible by the relationships and good will that OSF had generated over many, many years. The “emergency” occurred within a long-standing context, a shared vision and a sense of connection to something much larger than the mundane day-to-day. When the big challenge came, the foundation, built with care from a thousand moments and a thousand decisions, held. OSF would have saved money by doing the easier thing and canceling the Bowmer shows. Instead, they chose the more challenging path of fulfillment.”

It’s an interesting anecdote, in part because it focuses on a business decision in the context of what’s more often seen as a matter of personal psychology and behavior. And it’s true that community relationships and audience good will certainly were important factors in OSF weathering the crisis so well.

Kimsey-House gets one part of the story wrong, however. Cancelling all the shows scheduled for the Bowmer would have been the simplest thing to do, logistically speaking. But losing such a significant chunk of revenue at the busiest time of the season, diminishing the company’s reputation for reliability, and leaving area hotels and retailers to deal with the fallout wouldn’t have been anyone’s idea of easy.

As for cancellations being the cheaper route? “The only way it would have saved money is if we’d cancelled not just the Bowmer shows but the shows in all the theaters and sent all the actors and crews home,” OSF executive director Paul Nicholson said Wednesday.

In any case, Nicholson says, the company never even considered cancelling any more performances than was absolutely necessary. As theater’s most famous adage has it, the show must go on.

Marty Hughley

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