The curtain comes down for Enlightened Theatrics

Salem’s only professional theater company won’t put on a season in 2024.

Board members aren’t sure Enlightened Theatrics has a future in Salem at all.

Tiffany Carstensen, board president, said the theater has struggled financially since the Covid pandemic. Board members reached a decision over the course of several months that the company couldn’t sustain its operations or afford to continue putting on plays.

“We all just kind of came to the realization,” she said. “It wasn’t like one day we woke up and said, ‘Where’d all the money go?’”

Enlightened Theatrics now has no paid employees after laying off its executive director, Jessica Peterson, effective Jan. 19.

The organization was founded in 2013.

Peterson took over as executive director in September 2022 after founding artistic director Vincenzo Meduri stepped back. She led the theater through its 2023 season, which ended with a December production of “James and the Giant Peach.”

Carstensen praised her leadership, saying Peterson worked tirelessly with the board to explore funding avenues and possible grants to keep Enlightened afloat.

The company staged professional shows, paying actors, and put on an annual Broadway Dreams intensive summer workshop where students of all ages could learn from professional thespians.

It typically puts on three to four shows in a year, starting in February or March, at the Grand Theatre in downtown Salem.

It also put on theater education programs for students, which expanded during Covid.

The board announced the organization would “go dark for the time being” in a message on its website.

Cartensen said running a nonprofit theater has always been an economic challenge.

“Nobody got rich putting together a small theater in Salem, Oregon,” she said.

Before Covid, theater companies could stay afloat with a combination of ticket sales, donations and grants.

When people stopped attending live events during shutdowns, revenue cratered. For a time, government and other grants helped bridge the gap for struggling arts organizations.

Carstensen said that money dried up, and audiences still didn’t return to pre-pandemic levels.

Enlightened Theatrics’ tax returns show revenue from ticket sales, camp registrations and other services in 2022 was $60,000 — half the pre-pandemic level.

The board continues to meet and see if there might be a path forward for the organization, Carstensen said they’ve discussed options including shutting down entirely, trying to partner with other organizations and seeking other grants.

She said the board hopes to make a decision in the spring.

“We don’t want to leave people hanging. We have a lot of supporters,” she said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.