Stage Door News

Stratford: Stratford Festival posts surplus for 2019

Saturday, March 28, 2020

At a time when arts organizations around the world are looking ahead to an unknown and disconcerting future, the Stratford Festival paused on Saturday to look back at the year that was. This year’s annual general meeting could not be held at the Festival Theatre as it has been for more than 60 years. Instead, as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the cancellation of events and the closure of theatres, it was held by conference call.

Just a few weeks ago, plans were underway for a happy celebration of the successes of 2019 – the second season since the Festival undertook the building of the new Tom Patterson Theatre. With just three of its four venues open in 2018 and 2019, the Festival effectively managed resources to emerge from the biggest new arts build in decades with a modest surplus and with the Spirit of the Tent’s $100-million goal just a hair’s breadth away from completion.

“Last Friday we received notification from our contractors, Ellis Don, that they were officially giving the Festival partial occupancy of the new Tom Patterson Theatre,” said Executive Director Anita Gaffney. “We received that news on the darkest of days, when we were forced to lay off staff and artists in the face of this global pandemic. While we didn’t have it in us at that point to celebrate, today I share the news with you: The Tom Patterson Theatre is ours. It gives us so much to look forward to even at this devastating moment in history. This magnificent new space will inspire artists and theatregoers alike and will mark a new and very welcome chapter in our history.”

Gaffney and Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino announced a 2019 surplus of $138,297 on revenue of $63.8 million.

The season of a dozen plays and 150 Forum events was shaped around the theme of Breaking Boundaries. “We explored those moments when you realize that, in order to grow, to ensure your future happiness, you need to push the limits of what you think is possible,” said Cimolino. “You need to do something that’s difficult, a departure from what you’ve been doing or what those around you are doing.”

As in 2018, Shakespeare productions – Othello, The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry VIII – accounted for roughly one quarter of attendance. More than a fifth of those attending a Shakespeare performance were new to the Festival or returning after a period of lapsed attendance. 

Musical attendance was the third highest in the past decade. Billy Elliot the Musical was the Festival’s best attended musical since West Side Story in 2009, and Little Shop of Horrors had the second-highest attendance at the Avon since 2013’s Tommy, bested only by 2018’s record-breaking production of The Rocky Horror Show.

Student and youth attendance rose by 9% to a total of 74,640, with the biggest draws proving to be Billy Elliot the Musical, The Neverending Story, Little Shop of Horrors and Othello

The four productions at the Studio Theatre – where Henry VIII was paired with the world première of Kate Hennig’s Mother’s Daughter, and the German classic Nathan the Wise with the English première of Wajdi Mouawad’s Birds of a Kind – were among the season’s hottest tickets. 

Also contributing to a strong box office were the Noël Coward comedy Private Lives, the Arthur Miller classic The Crucible, and the world première of Michael Healey’s new adaptation of The Front Page

More than 27,000 theatregoers also attended events at the Forum, where they enjoyed a wide range of speakers, special meals, concerts, and panels, including the always popular CBC Ideas at Stratford series and a special week of events featuring arts journalists from The New York Times.

It was a year of magnificent achievement by the Festival’s Advancement team, with a 4% increase in annual donations to $15.1 million – almost 24% of revenue – on top of the breathtaking success of the Spirit of the Tent campaign for the new Tom Patterson Theatre.

Sadly the successes of the season now pale as the pandemic threatens the future of arts organizations the world over.

As Cimolino concluded: “2018 was a season of breaking ground, as we began work on the new theatre, and 2019 was a season of breaking boundaries. At this point in 2020, as I contemplate what has happened to our world in just the last few weeks, it’s my heart that’s breaking. I’m sure that’s true for you too.

“But when the current crisis ends, and end it will, people around the world will crave the human connection, the inspiration, the emotional catharsis that only great live theatre can provide. And more than anywhere else, people will find it here in Stratford.”