'New' no more

After a 10-year wait, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has secured a proper name for its New Theatre.

The festival's board of directors announced Friday that a group of donors has dedicated $4.5 million in funding to earn the naming rights for the New Theatre.

Next year the theater will be rechristened the Thomas Theatre, in honor of the late OSF Development Director Peter D. Thomas.

Thomas died in March 2010, after a long battle with cancer. In his 28-year career at OSF, he worked his way up from usher to development director, where he raised millions of dollars in funding for the festival.

The $4.5 million donation was made by members of The Goatie Foundation and Roberta and David Elliott and Helen and Peter Bing. The Goatie Foundation has been a source of funding for the festival for several years, according to Mallory Pierce, the festival's marketing and communications director.

"The mood around here has been very, very positive after we heard that the New Theatre was going to be named after Peter," Pierce said.

The money will also support the OSF Artistic Opportunity Fund and the creation of a new rehearsal space that will be built inside the current production building on Second Street in Ashland.

The naming effort began 10 years ago when Jo Lynn Allen of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation raised the majority of the money for the construction of what would be called the New Theatre.

The foundation decided not to lend its name to the building, instead issuing a challenge to the festival to secure a large donation in the future to secure the naming rights.

"It was great what they did," Pierce said. "They gave us the opportunity to get a donation like this."

Pierce said members of the Goatie Foundation wish to remain anonymous, but certain members did have a close connection with Thomas.

Pierce worked alongside Thomas and described him as a tireless worker who gave his all for the festival year in and year out.

A renaming ceremony in Thomas' honor is tentatively planned for next season, perhaps in January, Pierce said.

In the meantime, the festival will begin work on refurbishing the space on Second Street into a rehearsal facility. The festival is looking to relocate the production center, perhaps into the soon-to-be-vacant Walmart in Talent or into a new building the festival builds elsewhere, Pierce said.

"We are considering options," Pierce said.

The new rehearsal space will be named the Hay Patton Rehearsal Center in honor of Richard L. Hay, OSF's 55-year veteran scenic designer who created the plans for the Bowmer, Black Swan and New Theatre, and William Patton, the festival's first general manager and executive director who led the festival from 1953 until his retirement in 1995. Patton died at the age of 83 in January 2011.

The New Theatre is the festival's newest playhouse and sits along Pioneer Street. It seats between 270 and 360.

Chris Conrad is a reporter for the Mail Tribune Reach him at 541-776-4471; or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.

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