Stage Door News

Stratford: Covid causes cancellation of first preview of “Chicago” at the Stratford Festival

Thursday, April 7, 2022

A sixth wave of COVID-19 in Ontario has already made an impact on this year’s theatre season in Stratford.

An afternoon performance of the musical Chicago, the Stratford Festival’s first preview of the year, was cancelled Wednesday after members of the cast tested positive for the virus, Festival officials have confirmed.

“We are working with the principle that we will proceed with a show if we can do so safely while delivering a show that meets the intended artistic integrity,” Anita Gaffney, the Festival’s executive director, said Thursday via email. “While we have understudy coverage, the understudies cover more than one role. The impact on the safety of the show depends on the combination of individuals who are not able to perform.

“As a result, the Festival needs to weigh the specific circumstances of each show when making a recommendation about whether to proceed or not.”

Ticket-holders were informed of the cancellation in an apology letter sent via email. The value of the tickets will be held in the holder’s Stratford Festival account and can be used to attend future performances, according to the letter.

“We trust cancellations will be a rare occurrence but the current surge in (COVID-19) cases in Ontario has forced us to cancel on this occasion,” the letter said. “We have a season full of outstanding productions, with performances continuing until October 30. If you can’t join us at another time this season, rest assured your credit will not expire. You can use it in a future season.”

As of Thursday afternoon, previews of Chicago scheduled for Friday and Saturday are expected to move forward, Stratford Festival publicity director Ann Swerdfager said.

COVID-related hospitalizations in Ontario are up 40 per cent week over week and wastewater surveillance suggests COVID-19 activity is higher than it was at the peak of the pandemic’s fifth wave in January. The latest wave of the virus is hitting Ontario only a few weeks after the province dropped most of its public health measures in March, leaving it up to private institutions to decide for themselves whether to continue with policies such as mask mandates and proof of vaccination requirements.

After losing an entire season to the pandemic in 2020, the Stratford Festival launched a scaled-back 2021 season last year that primarily took place at two outdoor venues covered by large canopies. Despite the significant reduction in capacity, the Festival reported this month a 2021 surplus of more than $550,000. Last season’s revenue included ticket sales to more than 34,000 theatregoers who attended a total of 274 in-person performances, $13 million in pledges through the festival’s Relaunch fundraising campaign, and a combined $12.9 million in federal and provincial government funding.

The easing of public health restrictions last month has offered the Stratford area’s pandemic-hammered tourism industry some optimism following two years of provincial lockdowns. Though the Stratford Festival has decided to move forward cautiously – patrons are still required to show proof of vaccination at ticketed events until at least the end of April – officials are anticipating a full 70th anniversary season that includes the grand opening of the new Tom Patterson Theatre, 10 productions on four stages, and numerous other events.

“We’re in the midst of a multi-year recovery,” Gaffney said during the festival’s annual general meeting earlier this month. “While we’ve managed to keep the ship afloat over the last two years, our financial position is still delicate. After posting a shortfall (of $4.3 million) in 2020, we’ve been able to post a small surplus for 2021, a season we envisaged as both an investment in maintaining connections as well as a beacon of hope for our patrons, audiences and our community at large.”

By Chris Montanini with files from Galen Simmons for

Photo: Chicago cast members Sandra Caldwell, Chelsea Preston and Jennifer Rider-Shaw. © 2022 David Hou.