Threats to an Oregon theater are reported by NPR, prompting regional and international reactions.

Nataki Garrett, the artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, is seated inside Ashland, Oregon’s Thomas Theatre. hidden caption Michael Sullivan for NPR

switch to caption Nataki Garrett, artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, is seated at the Thomas Theatre in Ashland, Oregon. Photo by Michael Sullivan for NPR.

NPR’s Michael Sullivan Early this year, Nataki Garrett claimed she started getting death threats, and her initial reaction was to hide.

The artistic director of Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) acknowledged this in an interview with NPR, saying, “When this initially happened, I genuinely sought to isolate myself.” It is intended for the act of threatening to make you feel alone. Indeed, it does.

But when you’re in charge of one of the largest and oldest nonprofit theater organizations in the nation, seclusion is not an option.

As a result, OSF engaged a private security detail a few months ago to safeguard Garrett’s safety in Ashland, Oregon, when he was out in public. Since she accepted the high-profile position in 2019, Garrett has made that location her home. OSF was created there. Garrett remarked, “I can’t go for a walk unless I notify my security team and I arrange a route.” “It has really turned my life upside down.”

The business claimed that it was unable to disclose specifics regarding the death threats due to security concerns. However, what was occurring to Garrett was known to everyone in Ashland for months. The artistic director claimed that since joining OSF, she had endured frequent professional critiques and personal attacks. In the first three months, Garrett claimed, I was called a “Black bitch” and followed home. “I had to move my housing,” the person said.

The artistic director’s choice to tell her tale to NPR was what sparked a cascade of responses and initiatives on a local and national scale.

Ashland reacts. Ashland A few weeks prior to the Sept. 28 release of the NPR report, Mayor Julie Akins said she was made aware of the threats against Garrett during one of her routine meetings with OSF Executive Director David Schmitz. (Schmitz claimed he thought they first spoke about it at their meeting on August 26.) Akins first claimed she did nothing after hearing the news.

I really didn’t want to imagine that something like that could happen, that someone would threaten to kill a fearless, smart lady who contributes so much to our community, said Akins. “I reacted a little slowly,” I said.

She gave out a statement at a city council meeting on October 4 condemning the attacks and pledging to try to make Ashland, a community of about 21,000 people, about 90% of whom are white, a safer and more equal place, spurred by the media attention following NPR’s coverage and after speaking with OSF.

She stated that she is stepping up her attempts to diversify the municipal administration, which is largely made up of white people, and that she is now hiring a manager for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Simply stating that we oppose racism is insufficient, according to Akins. “To get the job done, you have to actually aggressively combat racism.”

Akins also worked with the neighborhood police. Tighe O’Meara, the police chief, claimed that he was unaware of the threats until hearing about them on NPR. In order to increase the safety of both company personnel and the general public, he claimed that representatives from the police department and the theatrical company now want to hold frequent meetings.

The Ashland Police Department “takes very seriously” any threats made against members of the community, especially when a prejudice crime is involved, according to O’Meara. Going forward, “We want to have a closer cooperation.”

The relationship between OSF and the Ashland police has occasionally been tense, particularly when it comes to racial issues. In response to Juan (Tony) Sancho, an actor, being detained without a warrant, The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oregon filed a $2 million lawsuit against the City of Ashland last year. The Latino actor was stopped while returning home from a night of drinking in a downtown pub in 2019, the Oregonian reported, and “wound up tied to the floor of a cell in the county jail.”

This event left Garrett shaken. When the death threats against her first started, she mentioned it as one of the reasons she didn’t call the police. She admitted, “I didn’t feel confident interacting with law enforcement.” I’m unable to claim that I do right now.

COMING IN STRONG FROM SUPPORTERS ALL OVER THE U.S. The overwhelming support the artistic director has received from cultural institutions all throughout the country since NPR’s article went online is what most inspires her confidence. Garrett added, “What I am most grateful for is the reminder that I’m not doing this work alone.”

Playbill , Broadway World , the Oregonian , and the Hollywood Reporter were among the news organizations to cover the story. PEN America , in an Nataki Garrett 0, The Dramatists Guild, Theater Communications Group, and the Shakespeare Theatre Association all issued statements condemning the threats.

The joint statement included the following declaration: “We urge the industry to treat writers properly and to abolish gatekeeping structures that limit the expansion of the theatrical canon, impacting whose tales get told, how they get told, and by whom.” The only way to bring about systemic change is for “everyone of good conscience to come together to reject hate and to embrace empathy.”

THREATS OF DEATH NOT NEW Despite being the most well-known, Garrett is not the only person in OSF’s lengthy history to experience similar assaults in a state built on exclusionary laws that barred Black people from entering for decades. Actress Christiana Clark, for instance, posted an Nataki Garrett 1 in 2016 after a passing bike allegedly told her, “It’s still an Oregon statute.” If I killed a Black person, I could get out of jail in just one and a half days. Check it out. The KKK is still active in this area.

Garrett, though, may currently be the only theater director in the nation to have a private security detail. According to Theatre Communications Group spokesperson Corinna Schulenberg, “there just haven’t been a lot of Black women in positions of leadership in larger, primarily-white organizations that have the kind of resources that OSF does.”

Garrett’s friend Nataki Garrett 2, one of the very few other Black woman artistic directors of significant theater companies in the United States, acknowledged that since taking over the Nataki Garrett 3 a few years ago, she has also endured her fair share of verbal abuse. Sharif, however, asserted that she cannot envision facing threats to her personal safety in St. Louis, a city with a far greater diversity of racial groups and where roughly half the population is Black. Sharif remarked, “For me, it’s not the same as Nataki.” “There is no one outside my house. I’m not being followed as I drop off my child at school.

Garrett continues to work hard, and Sharif is proud of her for speaking up about the dangers to her safety.

The police are now required to publicly address this threat. The mayor must now openly address this,’ Sharif said. It is now a part of history and the record, and nobody will be able to change or take away that, which is incredibly significant.

Garrett, for her part, hopes that the public attention from NPR and the escalating response from the larger community will result in improvement.

For future generations of theater artists, she added, “I am a part of a continuity, a practice that will build vibrant, secure environments for them.” “That is my objective, and I need people to join me on this journey.”

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