Oregon Ballet Theatre Has A Record Season At The Box Office


Oregon Ballet Theatre saw 92,000 people attend its performances this year. The Portland dance company has never had that many people go to its shows.

Shane Jewell is the executive director of Oregon Ballet Theatre.

Courtesy OBT

Executive Director Shane Jewell says a big reason is the well-loved classics they put on this season.

“Post-pandemic audiences have been really attracted to going to shows that are recognizable,” Jewell said. “So we leaned into that with our three major shows at the Keller being ‘Swan Lake,’ ‘Nutcracker’ and ‘Peter Pan,’ and saw an incredible response.”

Jewell also sees OBT’s successful runs at Keller Auditorium and the Newmark Theater this season as evidence that the effort to breathe life back into downtown Portland is working.

“We really want to lean into being seen as part of downtown,” Jewell says. “So we’re looking at what we can do besides just performances to really interweave arts and culture into the revitalization of downtown.”

Oregon Ballet Theatre will close out its record-breaking season with the show “Made In Portland” this weekend.

Jewell spoke with “All Things Considered” host Geoff Norcross.

This conversation has been edited for clarity.


Geoff Norcross: Do you have an idea of what led to that success this season?

Shane Jewell: I think there are several things that have happened that have led to the success. I think that we have adjusted some of our programmatic models. You know, some of the data had been showing us that post-pandemic audiences have been really attracted to going to shows that are recognizable, that they know, that are the classics. And so we leaned into that with our three major shows at the Keller in the season being ‘Swan Lake,’ ‘Nutcracker’ and ‘Peter Pan,’ and saw an incredible response. We’ve also changed how we market the ballet. Additionally, I think that having a full-time executive and artistic director in place after a few years of transition for the ballet also gave a renewed sense of excitement and people wanting to see what the new vision for the company is.

Oregon Ballet Theatre dancers Brian Simcoe and Carly Wheaton perform in "Swan Lake" at Portland's Keller Auditorium in 2023.

Oregon Ballet Theatre dancers Brian Simcoe and Carly Wheaton perform in “Swan Lake” at Portland’s Keller Auditorium in 2023.

Yin Yi / Provided by Oregon Ballet Theatre

Norcross: I just read an article about Ballet West in Salt Lake City, which also had a blockbuster season, and also did ‘Swan Lake’ and ‘The Nutcracker.’ So is the lesson here that it’s really important to trot out the favorites?

Jewell: I think that we always need to be responsive to what our audiences want. I would say ‘Nutcracker’ nationally broke records at many ballet companies, not just OBT. So I do think that it speaks to audiences feeling finally comfortable to be out and wanting to experience live theater and live dance again, but also going to shows that they know are part of a tradition. I think it’s a wonderful time, in the midst of all these arts organizations that are still really trying to figure out what post-pandemic life is. I’m not saying that OBT is out of the woods. But it is certainly important that we celebrate the wins that we have, not only for this organization but what it means for downtown Portland.

Norcross: Yeah, downtown Portland, specifically the Keller Auditorium and Newmark Theater. That’s where your performances were. What does that say about how downtown is doing?

Jewell: I’ve only been at OBT a little over a year and I’ve already seen a difference in downtown. I think what it shows is, despite the perception that’s out there, the reality is that people are still willing and excited to come back downtown. I read an article just a couple of weeks ago saying that the numbers in downtown are increasing, but it’s not Monday through Friday, 9 to 5. It’s Thursday night, it’s Friday night, it’s Saturday night. So people are still wanting to experience the entertainment that there is in downtown Portland and that’s what we need to focus on right now.

Norcross: I’m wondering what lessons you take from this season that you might apply to the next one or the next one.

Jewell: I think we’re going to continue with the programmatic model that we found.

Dancers with Oregon Ballet Theatre perform in "George Balanchine's The Nutcracker" at Portland's Keller Auditorium in 2023.

Dancers with Oregon Ballet Theatre perform in “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker” at Portland’s Keller Auditorium in 2023.

James McGrew / Provided by Oregon Ballet Theatre

Norcross: ‘Nutcracker’ every year?

Jewell: Well, I think we’ll be doing ‘Nutcracker’ for as long as I’ll be here, sure. But I also think that we really want to lean into being seen as part of downtown. So we’re looking at what we can do besides just performances to really interweave arts and culture into the revitalization of downtown. That is such a focus from the state government to city government to obviously the businesses. It’s now time that we take all of that support and harness it to create a new vision for arts and culture in Portland.

Norcross: What advice would you give to other arts organizations that are struggling to regain their footing right now?

Jewell: I think that one of the things that we are all struggling with is post-pandemic audience data, because the audiences are different than they were pre-pandemic. They’re different in the types of shows they want to see. They’re different in their price sensitivity. They’re different in when they buy tickets. So really leaning into as much of the early data as we can and utilizing that data to help drive our decisions for the future.

Click on the audio player above to hear the whole conversation.



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