Stage Door News

Stratford: Stratford Festival celebrates record-setting season and announces a surplus of $1.9 million

Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Stratford Festival celebrated the artistic and financial successes of the 2018 season – its longest on record – at the Annual General Meeting today in Stratford. Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino and Executive Director Anita Gaffney announced a $1.9-million surplus, with a 10% increase in attendance to 502,605.

Total revenue for the 2018 season was $65.8 million, up 8% from $60.7 million in 2017, when the Festival posted a surplus of $232,765.

“During our tenure, Antoni and I have focused on establishing awareness of the Festival in new markets, generating interest in and demand for our work and encouraging loyalty amongst our valued patrons. This work has resulted in some of the best results we’ve had in years,” said Gaffney. “There’s lots to celebrate.”

Strong sales to all productions resulted in the highest ticket revenue in a decade – $33 million – the third-highest in the Festival’s history. Roughly 105,000 newcomers attended the Festival in 2018, up from 86,000 the previous year. Shakespeare attendance rose by 6% over 2017 and accounted for a quarter of ticket sales, speaking to the rich variety of productions offered, with Martha Henry starring as Prospero in The Tempest, Robert Lepage’s high-concept Coriolanus, the non-gendered casting of Julius Caesar and the gender-fluid, sold-out production of The Comedy of Errors. More than 70,000 young people visited, either with their schools or families, with the majority of that attendance being fairly equally divided among Shakespeare, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Music Man

“I was elated by the quality and variety of the work last season,” said Cimolino: “from new work like Paradise Lost and Brontë, to innovative productions of Shakespeare – with Robert Lepage’s Coriolanus, and the diversity in casting approaches of Julius Caesar, The Tempest and The Comedy of Errors. I felt there was real growth last season as we tried new things in our Laboratory, in the Forum, and most prominently on stage. Judging by audience response, our patrons loved coming on that ride with us. They enjoyed profoundly moving and heartbreaking material – like Long Day’s Journey Into Night, To Kill a Mockingbird and Napoli Milionaria! – right through to the madness and joy of The Rocky Horror Show.”

With The Rocky Horror Show extended to December 2, the Festival made history with its longest season ever. The production attracted more than 100,000 people, and helped broaden the Festival’s base. Almost 32,000 newcomers came to see the cult hit and these newcomers bought 10,000 tickets for other productions as well.

Rocky Horror was a huge triumph and a big part of our success in 2018,” said Cimolino. “Donna Feore gave us a real gift with this show, and it was only one of two outstanding productions she created for the 2018 season. The Music Man was also breathtaking, filled with a kinetic energy unseen on our stages before. She surprised us at every turn, enlivening the script, reimagining the dance influences and the orchestration. She created two productions vastly different in approach, both so well done and so well received. The Festival is extremely fortunate to have her and is much stronger because of her work.”

Rocky Horror was a massive hit, but successes came from every corner. Enthusiasm for the season resulted in a record number of extensions. Four titles in addition to The Rocky Horror Show were extended: Coriolanus, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Comedy of Errors and Paradise Lost.

Paradise Lost, a Festival commission from playwright Erin Shields, was virtually sold out, reaching a capacity of over 97% for its run, and it has already been picked up by two theatres for productions in the coming year.

It joins a number of Festival creations that have recently gone on to a life beyond Stratford. Coriolanus transferred to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, and a French version was presented at Théâtre du Nouveau Monde in Montreal. A new production of The Last Wife, a play developed at the Festival and premièred here in 2015, was mounted at Montreal’s Centaur Theatre. In Toronto, Soulpepper did a production of The Virgin Trial, which premièred in Stratford in 2017, and Canadian Stage remounted the Festival’s 2017 production of Tartuffe in collaboration with Crow’s Theatre and the Groundling Theatre Company.

“Attended by thousands of theatregoers, these productions in other cities have greatly reinforced our own efforts to increase awareness of the Festival,” said Gaffney.

The Stratford Direct bus was in great demand, with 20,000 bus tickets sold, the highest since the service began in 2013. Patrons who rode the bus bought $1.3 million worth of tickets and spent an estimated $6.7 million in the community. Prompted by this success, the Festival has expanded Stratford Direct to include service from Vaughan and Kitchener-Waterloo for the 2019 season.

The Forum continued strong with a 30% increase in attendance at paid Forum events and a 40% increase in revenue. There were a number of high attendance events, including In Conversation with Margaret Atwood, Steven Page and Art of Time, and the sold-out concert version of The Fantasticks with Eric McCormack. Other sold-out events included the Drag Cabaret, the iambic pentameter improv An Undiscovered Shakespeare, The Rocky Horror Show Song & Dance Workshops and the thought-provoking sessions Pursuit of Public Morality and Ideas: Freedom from Lies.

The season also held its own unique challenges. “In 2018, we carefully managed our expense budgets despite some ambitious projects that involved additional cost, including the compression of our work into three theatres, the extensive preparations required by the technical sophistication of Coriolanus, and the expansion of our research and development activities through the Laboratory,” said Gaffney.

In 2018, a special arrangement with Canadian Actors’ Equity allowed for the creation of “the Lab track” in which a company of ensemble members took on a season-long program of artistic exploration, rather than performing in a second production. This really allowed the work of the Laboratory to flourish.

Among those who visited to lead or take part in 2018 Lab projects were Greek director Thomas Moschopoulos, Japanese-Canadian choreographer Denise Fujiwara, Mohawk dance-theatre creator Santee Smith, leaders from the Deaf Arts community, including Catherine Joell MacKinnon, Chris Dodd and Jack Volpe, and U.K. trans artist and activist Emma Frankland. Director Reneltta Arluk worked with the Lab to develop Pawâkan Macbeth, conceived and adapted by Arluk and set in Cree territory in 1870s Alberta. Staged readings of the work were presented as part of the Forum. The Lab also hosted a public conference, Critically Contemporary, attended by about 65 North American theatre artists and scholars.

“The extensive work done in the Lab will become more and more evident in the years to come,” said Cimolino. “Emanating from the Lab is an artistic unity and a desire to learn that will not only benefit Stratford but will also develop artists who will work here and take the growth in their craft out into the world beyond.”

Chief among the accomplishments of the 2018 season are those achieved by Rachel Smith-Spencer and the Advancement team, who increased in-season fundraising to $14.5 million, while simultaneously raising more than $80 million for the new Tom Patterson Theatre Centre, slated to open in 2020. Other contributed revenues included government grants of $4.2 million and a $2.3-million transfer from the Festival’s endowment.

“The strength of our in-season fundraising coupled with the astonishing success of the Spirit of the Tent Campaign for the new Tom Patterson Theatre Centre speaks to the incredible loyalty and trust that the Festival has earned over the years,” said Gaffney. 

“Having worked diligently over the past six seasons to achieve a measure of financial stability, Antoni and I are delighted to be able to direct $1 million from the 2018 surplus to the Spirit of the Tent Campaign. The balance will go into our Artistic Excellence Fund, a special fund within our Endowment that allows us to tackle ambitious artistic projects that require incremental investment. Financial stability allows us to invest in the artistic work that is our reason for being. It is what gives us the confidence to dream big, to undertake ambitious plans, to keep striving to make our Festival the best in the world.”