Stage Door News

Stratford: Stratford Festival requests $8 million in funding from federal government

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Stratford Festival appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance today to present its case for recovery funding as a result of the cancellation of its 2020 season.

Carol Stephenson O.C., Chair of the Board of Governors, made the opening remarks and was joined by Executive Director Anita Gaffney for the question period.  

Stephenson’s remarks were as follows: 

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the committee for inviting us here today. The Stratford Festival’s executive director, Anita Gaffney, is with me today – and we would both ask that you think of the Stratford Festival as a business – because it’s the way we see ourselves. Ours is a $65-million company that sells its product to the world. This product, unparalleled in North America, with featured artists like Colm Feore, Martha Henry, Maggie Smith and Christopher Plummer, has attracted almost 29 million visitors to Southwestern Ontario over the past 67 years.

The Stratford Festival attracts a diverse audience, and while they come from around the world, it is significant that 25% come annually from the US. These are people who return to Stratford, to Canada, year after year, generation after generation, boosting our tourism economy and proving that when you do something of value it has a lasting impact. In the Stratford Festival’s case, that impact is $135 million a year in economic activity, verified by the Conference Board of Canada. 

The Stratford Festival was founded in 1952 to save the town from economic disaster when it lost its major industry. It worked. And it continues to work.

  • ·         It is the largest not-for-profit theatre in North America.
  • ·         It presents 700 performances of 15 productions on four stages.
  • ·         It attracts 500,000 people a year.
  • ·         It employs 1,000 people, creates 2,400 more full-time-equivalent jobs and supports hundreds of small businesses in the region.
  • ·         It drives $55 million in taxes to the three levels of government annually.
  • ·         And, it has the highest level of earned revenues – at 94% – and lowest level of government support – at 6% – in the not-for-profit performing arts industry.

Not only does the Stratford Festival operate as a business, but it is also GOOD for business. It is a key attractor used for medical and corporate recruitment and by regional economic development departments. When I was Dean of the Ivey Business School in London, I often touted it in my efforts to recruit top talent. And I know I am not alone in that.

I can attest to the fact that the Stratford Festival is extremely fiscally responsible. I say this as a business leader. It pains all of us to be in this position. It is not our usual manner and one we will not become accustomed to.

But because of this pandemic, a business model that has worked for decades has been turned on its head. Without ticket sales, the Festival’s unique ability to be 94% self-funding becomes a unique vulnerability forcing us to turn to government for its very survival. 

And the Festival’s survival is vital. It would not simply be a profound cultural blow to lose the Festival. Stratford Mayor Dan Mathieson has said it would have a “catastrophic impact” on the community, causing the loss of more than 3,400 jobs and decimating the downtown core.

It is essential to save the Festival and we have taken a number of immediate steps to help stabilize the organization:

  • ·         We have launched a ticket donation campaign.
  • ·         We have reduced overhead expenses 
  • ·         We have instituted a 50% salary reduction for the Executive Director and Artistic Director.
  • ·         We have drawn from our Endowment.
  • ·         We have accessed the CEWS.
  • ·         We have accessed a $6-million line of credit.
  • ·         We have launched a fundraising campaign to support our recovery.

Even with all of these efforts, there is a shortfall of $20 million. We need the help of government to close this gap. We are committed to raising $12 million in private sector donations and we ask government to contribute $8 million through a combination of a grant and a loan. With the support of government, we can continue to generate jobs, economic activity and tax revenues well into the future. 

In exchange, we promise a tremendous return on investment, both culturally and economically: $8 million is after all just 15% of the $55M in taxes we generate annually.

Granting this urgent request will protect 3,400 jobs, stimulate the regional economy by at least $135 million annually, and preserve the international prestige of this world renowned Canadian theatre.

Thank you.


The Stratford Festival put its 2020 season on hold on April 27. It will resume live performances as soon as it is safe to do so, most likely in 2021, but will consider the possibility of fall or holiday programming in 2020, should the public health situation allow.

“As we have seen the economic devastation this pandemic has wrought on our population, we have investigated our own urgent needs as realistically as possible, fully understanding the vast burden this event has placed on our governments,” Gaffney says. “It is our pledge that all recovery funding will be well-managed and used to support the Stratford Festival and generate a strong cultural tourism market in Southwestern Ontario.”

The 2020 season was to have been the most ambitious in its history, with 15 productions and projected revenue of $72 million, generating an estimated economic impact for the region of $154 million and $64 million in taxes to all levels of government. 

It was also to have featured the grand opening of its new Tom Patterson Theatre, an event that was to be marked on June 11, the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Festival’s founder for whom the theatre is named.

Patterson’s goal in creating the Festival in 1952 was to provide economic stimulus for the city of Stratford after the closure of the rail repair shops, the town’s major industry. The stimulus continues to this day.

In noting the “catastrophic impact” the loss of the Festival would have on Stratford, Mayor Dan Mathieson notes, “There would be more than 2,000 job losses in our tourism, hospitality and retail sectors that would reverberate to other sectors of our economy. Our heritage downtown core would see a vacancy rate of 30% in 2020 and 50% by 2022. Our identity as a community would be lost and our recovery would be very long indeed.”

Thousands of Festival patrons have offered support to the organization by donating the value of their tickets or keeping tickets on account for future use.

“We are incredibly grateful to our patrons,” says Gaffney. “They have shown tremendous generosity, stepping up in large numbers to support the Festival. We have also received hundreds of messages of support which have buoyed our spirits no end and given us hope for a speedy return to normal once this pandemic passes.”

The Stratford Festival continues to explore every scenario to resume live performances. In the meantime it is taking great strides in the digital realm. Next week two new films in the Stratford Festival On Film series will première on the Cineplex Store, The Merry Wives of Windsor and Othello. The Festival is also offering a free online Shakespeare film festival to keep audiences engaged. It includes a number of brand new interviews, led by Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino, with actors, directors and scholars, including Margaret Atwood, Colm Feore, Robert Lepage, Stephen Greenblatt and James Shapiro. With more than 300,000 views in less than four weeks, the Festival’s films and digital content are gaining worldwide attention and promise to play an important role in future audience development.