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StarBuzz Online - Toronto

Monday, March 27, 2017

Stratford Festival posts surplus, sizable increase in attendance

Stratford Festival posts surplus with sizable increase in attendanc

March 25, 2017… The Stratford Festival's 2016 season, designed around the theme After the Victory, proved victorious indeed, exceeding sales targets and breaking through the half-million attendance mark.

The Festival posted a surplus of $687,000 on revenue of $62.4 million, with attendance of 512,016.

This was the fourth season under the leadership of Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino and Executive Director Anita Gaffney, who, at the outset of their tenure, developed a strategic plan to ensure financial stability and foster creative innovation.

"Over the past four years we have rigorously pursued our strategic plan and I'm pleased to report we have made significant strides forward," said Ms Gaffney.

Chief among these accomplishments: four consecutive annual surpluses, offsetting 2012's $3.4-million deficit; and attendance in excess of 500,000, where the Festival begins to operate most effectively. 

"We also set out to broaden the audience and in 2016, we saw 80,000 people under the age of 18 enter our theatres either as part of a school trip or with their families," said Ms Gaffney. "We set out to celebrate the work of Shakespeare and in 2016 saw a 25% increase in attendance at our Shakespeare productions. We set out to make it easier to get to Stratford, introducing twice-daily bus service from Toronto, which has now generated almost $14 million in economic activity for the regional economy. We set out to increase our fundraising efforts, and in 2016 saw a 12% increase to almost $14 million. We set out to build up our Endowment fund, and in 2016 it topped $79 million, up from $54 million in 2012."

The Endowment Fund provides a steady investment in operating activities, particularly those that are designed to enrich the quality of the Festival's work but do not have an immediate source of earned revenue, such as education programs, the Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre and new play development projects.

Acknowledging the strides made financially, Mr. Cimolino reflected on other achievements in 2016. 

"Last season saw us take a bold step. We reconfigured our Tom Patterson Theatre, giving us a space tangibly different from all our others: a theatre in the round, a space where actors could test their abilities against a stage where there is no place of rest. We did this in part to support Breath of Kings, a sprawling, action-packed epic, but it also beautifully served the two quieter dramas, All My Sons and John Gabriel Borkman."

These productions also demonstrated the Festival's commitment to growing diversity and gender equity on stage, in creative teams and training programs, as well as in the work of the Laboratory, from which the 2016 play Bunny, by Hannah Moscovitch, emerged.

"Because the female experience isn't always central to classical repertoire, plays like Bunny – by women, about women – are very important to a company like ours, as is the work undertaken in Breath of Kings and As You Like It to broaden the casting opportunities for women within our classical repertoire."

The Festival was very fortunate in 2016 to receive a private donation to support the crucial work of the Laboratory. "This generosity allows us to expand our development of new work as we strive to be a centre of new creation for Canadian playwrights," said Mr. Cimolino. "At this moment, the Festival has about 20 playwrights under commission, working on projects of tremendous variety and scope – from musicals and children's plays to adaptations of classics from a number of cultures."

Increasingly, work generated by the Lab is being seen well beyond the Stratford stage. Bunny, for example, is going to be staged next season at Tarragon Theatre in Toronto, and Kate Hennig's play The Last Wife went on to productions at TimeLine Theater in Chicago and at Soulpepper in Toronto.

"Besides commissioning and premiering new scripts, the exploration of new and unconventional artistic practices is key to the artistic research and development being done in the Lab," said Mr. Cimolino. "Some of this work was showcased in Keira Loughran's imaginative staging of The Aeneid, a play about the shattered lives of refugees, which grew in importance as the season progressed."

Other achievements in the 2016 season included the cinema release of Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew and The Adventures of Pericles. In just two seasons, Stratford Festival HD has released six films, which have been seen by almost 340,000 people around the world and have garnered 15 nominations and three wins at the Canadian Screen Awards. With the release of Macbeth and Love's Labour's Lost in 2017, the project is almost a quarter of the way to its goal of capturing all of Shakespeare's plays on film over 10 years.

The season saw the Festival's first relaxed performance, a sold-out show of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Its success has led the Festival to schedule two relaxed performances in 2017.

Having spent several years improving accessibility for patrons, the Festival began to explore the accessibility of its performance spaces, hosting a workshop for disabled artists in partnership with the National Arts Centre.

Work with indigenous actors from Canada and other countries continued, with the Festival welcoming groups from New Zealand and Bolivia for workshops in the Lab. Canadian indigenous artists returned for a week-long workshop in the second year of a multi-year program.

The Forum presented almost 200 events during the season, with roughly 30,000 people attending and many sessions sold out. A continuing partnership with CBC's Ideas saw a dozen Forum events recorded live and broadcast on the national broadcaster's flagship radio program.

Fittingly, in the year marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's legacy, the Festival saw a 25% increase in attendance at Shakespeare productions, led by the highly acclaimed Macbeth – directed by Mr. Cimolino – one of the top-selling Shakespeare productions in the Festival's history.  Similarly there was a dramatic rise in student attendance at Shakespeare productions, with 25,000 students seeing a Shakespeare performance, up from 16,000 the previous year.

Government funding for the 2016 season totalled $3.7 million, almost 6% of revenue, including: an Ontario Arts Council grant of almost $1.8 million; a Canada Council grant of $970,000; a $300,000 grant from the Canadian Arts Training Fund to support the Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre and the Langham Workshop for Classical Direction; a Celebrate Ontario grant of $255,000 in support of As You Like It and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; and a grant from the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund of $250,000, in support of Shakespeare 400 activities.

The Festival also received funds from the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation to boost marketing efforts in the U.S. This $200,000 contribution was shared with the Shaw Festival and Mirvish Productions as part of the Tourism Industry Partners Program.

The Stratford Festival's 2017 season gets under way soon, with the first preview of Guys and Dolls on April 15. The season, which runs until October 29, also features Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, Timon of Athens, HMS Pinafore, Treasure Island, The School for Scandal, The Changeling, Bakkhai, Tartuffe, The Madwoman of Chaillot, The Komagata Maru Incident, The Virgin Trial and The Breathing Hole.

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