PDX Decline Report 5.5.23: Festering Festivities

What Dreams Did Come

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland was created in 1935 by Angus L Bowmer. Its annual festival has long been a tourist draw. In recent years attendance has declined as, news accounts typically say, the theatre-going audience has “shifted”, which is a euphemism for the dying off of cultured white people interested in Shakespeare. The Covid scare and lockdowns devastated attendance further in early 2020 and, as everywhere else in Oregon, the George Floyd riots of that summer unleashed intensified pressure on the festival to “commit” to diversity and equity.

Of course that pressure had already been increasing. A diversity-hire was brought in to remedy the unbearable whiteness of the organization in 2019, introducing modern woke productions, of course, and, appropriately enough, casting her detractors as the heavies in her own empowered Black! woman drama:

Nataki Garrett joined the Oregon Shakespeare Festival as its artistic director in 2019, taking the helm of one of the country’s largest arts organizations as a pandemic waited in the wings.

But it wasn’t just a world-altering virus Garrett would have to contend with – there would be weeks where the air was too smoky to breathe, fires bearing down on the small city of Ashland and waning theater attendance.

She’s also had to deal with a small group of naysayers who question her every move and the kind of harassment that requires her to travel with security.

About this last challenge, Garrett is clear-eyed.

“I’m a Black woman,” she said Thursday. “I’m Black-identified. I like being a Black woman. I don’t think that there was a mistake in my birth.”

“I don’t spend any time apologizing for it or making up for it in these ways that allow for white comfort. We live in a society in which it’s normal to consider me to be a kind of threat. And so of course my presence is threatening because it upsets the status quo just through my existence.”

Garrett reportedly had high hopes for raising 19 million dollars in public and private funding when she came in, and I think the OSF hired her in large part because they thought a Black! face might be more likely to succeed in that.

Then there is the question of staging new plays.

It was in the 1950s, Garrett said, when Angus Bowmer, the then-artistic director and founder of the festival, started doing new plays [“Green Shows” before plays, featuring Elizabethan song and dance].

“So this idea that Shakespeare should be at the center,” she said, “it’s not what I inherited.”

Why would you assume Shakespeare should be at the center of a Shakespeare festival anyway? So Garrett’s first full season in 2022 featured a slate of woke fare no one asked for.

Yet Garrett is moving forward. The current season is designed for “collective impact,” Garrett said. Besides The TempestKing John and Confederates, there is also a production of the Tony Award-winning musical Once On This Island, here set in Haiti, and a raucous queer musical called Revenge Song by Qui Nguyen. Next season, Garrett will direct the company’s flagship Shakespeare production, which will be a Romeo and Juliet that’s inspired by the making — and the failings — of the American West.

Garrett’s own directorial contribution Confederates sounds like a Black! lesbian bodice-ripper that I’m sure has nothing to do with the vanity of either writer or director:

An enslaved woman turned Union spy and a brilliant professor in a modern-day private university are facing similar struggles, though they live over a century apart. This play by MacArthur genius award–winner Dominique Morisseau leaps through time to trace the identities of two brilliant Black women and explores the reins that racial and gender bias still hold on American systems today.

Prospero and Caliban; Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2022 production of The Tempest
Revenge Song: A Vampire Cowboys Creation

Marginalizing Shakespeare for being neither Black! nor a woman wasn’t quite enough to afflict the comfortable whites of Ashland, so, when the shut-down festival was offering digital fare, Garrett introduced a film called “Ash Land” that is–what else–“a meditation on race, history and identity as reflected in the life of a Black woman coming to terms with the past”, wherein the magnanimous protagonist learns to forgive the town for being neither Black! nor a woman.

From the festival’s website:

In ASH LAND, we offer a portrait of a Black woman who has turned her back on herself, afflicted by a quiet, insidious malaise. Her once-beloved refuge is now a den for survival, and rituals that were once joyous have become militaristic attempts at de-stressing. Compounded by the pandemic, she can no longer outrun the internal torment. When an enigmatic spirit finally catches up to her, she cultivates an understanding of true restoration and rebirth that reignites her love of Ashland, Oregon.

In this film, our proposal to humanity is simple: We are the ones we have been waiting for. We must heal us. We must cultivate our own joy. We must inhabit spaces in the fullness of our truth. We must love ourselves inclusive of and not in spite of our mortal wounds.

We Black. We in Oregon. Look at us.

Now the third act of our tragedy has arrived, and the bodies littering the stage include the festival’s reputation and finances.

Nataki Garrett, artistic director for Oregon Shakespeare Festival, has resigned.

Garrett, who took over the festival in 2019, was the festival’s first Black female artistic director and only the sixth artistic director in its 88-year history. She faced wildfires, a pandemic, criticism over choice of plays and casting, and racist harassment during her time in the most visible job at the Ashland theater company.

The announcement that Garrett will leave comes as Oregon Shakespeare Festival is in the midst of a fundraising campaign to save the season

According to an Oregon Shakespeare Festival employee who attended, and who asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak for the festival, leaders said at the time that they needed to correct more than 15,000 incorrect entries in its financial ledger, the result of antiquated systems that were not properly maintained. The leaders also told employees they’re still trying to precisely determine cash flow numbers, bills owed and overall expenses of the organization.

When OSF had to drastically downsize for the 2023 season it was left in the hands of its diversity hire boss Garrett and her diversity/HR officer.

That left Garrett as interim executive artistic director and Anyania Muse — who was the festival’s manager for diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility as well as its human resources manager — became its interim chief operating officer as well.

Fittingly, this artist’s Muse is a DEI consultant. In addition to using public money for security to protect her from theater critics and letter-writers, Garrett was said to be very generous in paying staff such as Muse–which only makes me more suspicious.

And flights of queer Black! indigenous angels sing thee to thy rest, Nataki.

Poison Parade

In 1905 as the city celebrated the centennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition, Portland luminaries created the annual Rose Festival (settlers introduced rose bushes into the region and Portland eventually became “the Rose City”). One of its features is the nighttime Starlight Parade, introduced to celebrate the new technology of electric light. It’s considered a “family friendly” event.

This year’s Grand Marshal is a drag queen who calls himself Poison Waters.

Poison Waters, a Portland drag artist who performs at Darcelle XV Showplace, has been named the Grand Marshal of the Rose Festival’s 2023 Starlight Parade.

Poison Waters is the stage name of Kevin Cook, one of Portland’s most well-known drag performers and a long-time friend of Walter Cole, also known as Darcelle XV, who died in March at 92. Poison Waters led the ceremony at Darcelle’s memorial at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall last month.

The city went into mourning when its oldest living drag queen, Darcelle XV, passed away, giving him the city’s equivalent of a state funeral. Poison looks as if he might be the current oldest drag queen in Portland.

“Of all the exciting things that have happened to me in my 35 years of being Poison Waters, this has GOT to be the topper!” Cook said Friday. “At a time where drag queens are under attack in other parts of our country, choosing me as the Grand Marshal for the CareOregon Starlight Parade is such an important moment for me and the community I represent, the Portland Rose Festival, our city and state! This is such an honor and very surreal!”


The Starlight Parade takes place after the Starlight Run, a costumed family-friendly 5K that starts at 6 p.m.

Poison Waters


The Portland Police Bureau is learning pronouns and obscurity from its Equity and Inclusion Office:

This is per the Bureau’s Directive 0640.38 Interacting with Members of the LGBTQIA2S+ / Queer Community:


  • Deadnaming: Using the birth or other former name (i.e. a name that is “dead”) of a transgender person without their consent.
  • Gender Expression: External presentation of one’s gender identity, usually expressed through one’s name, pronouns, behavior, clothing, haircut, or voice.
  • Gender Identity: A person’s gender-related identity, appearance, expression, or behavior, regardless of whether the identity, appearance, expression, or behavior differs from that associated with the gender assigned to the person at birth. 
  • Gender non-conforming: A broad term referring to persons whose gender identity or gender expression does not match societal expectations that traditionally correspond to their assigned sex at birth.   
  • Intersex: A term  used to describe people born with chromosomes, external genitalia, and/or a reproductive system that do not conform to a binary categorization of male and female anatomy.  
  • LGBTQIA2S+:  An acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and/or Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Two-Spirit, and the countless affirmative ways in which people choose to self-identify.  The acronym is increasingly being replaced with the term “Queer community.”  In some spaces, the abbreviation LGBTQIA2S+ and the term “Queer community” encompass sexual minorities such as people who identify as polyamorous, sex workers, or part of the kink community.

Can’t leave out the just plain old kinky.

2.1.   Acknowledging a Person’s Gender Identity.

2.1.1.      Members may need to ask a person what their gender identity is to complete a police report, evaluate a bias crime, or for another official purpose.

2.1.2.      When a member needs to determine a person’s gender identity, they shall respectfully ask the person how they identify in terms of gender.  For example, “I identify as female and use she/her pronouns.  For this report, what should I put for your gender?”

Some of it appears to contravene federal requirements:

3.3.   Some government-issued identification cards (including Oregon’s) have sex identifier options such as X for non-binary, in addition to female and male options.

3.3.1.      X is not a recognized sex identifier under federal reporting requirements.  Accordingly, for some forms the only options are female, male, and unknown.  For federal reporting, the “X” sex identifier will be reported as “unknown.”

More on that training video here.

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