Stage Door News

Stratford: Stratford Festival posts a modest surplus for 2022

Saturday, April 1, 2023

The Stratford Festival held its annual general meeting today, celebrating the successes of the 2022 season. It announced a moderate surplus, as it exceeded attendance targets for its first fully indoor season since 2020.

“In 2022, the Festival celebrated its 70th season – seven decades of performances that have attracted more than 29 million visitors from around the world,” said Executive Director Anita Gaffney. “With such an enduring track record of success, it’s easy to forget that each season is a miracle. Since the early days, we have relied on three revenue pillars – ticket sales, donations and government support – together with the careful management of expenses to support the Festival financially. Not since the very first season in 1953 has our financial balance been as delicate as it is now, as we work to thrive once more in a world changed by the pandemic.”

A noteworthy 325,524 people attended the Festival in 2022, nudging past the season goal of 320,000. The Meighen Forum added another 160 events to the season, including concerts, comedy, lectures, panel discussions and more, generating attendance of a further 12,000.

Strong sales, generous donations and extraordinary government support combined for total revenue of $66.2 million. After expenses, the Festival posted a surplus of $638,711. Contributions from donors totaled $14.7 million, and the Endowment Foundation payout was $3.2 million. Government contributions totaled more than $13 million, including a $10-million commitment from the federal Major Festivals and Events Support Initiative, $2.1 million from the Ontario Arts Council and $1.7 million from the Canada Council for the Arts.

“The pandemic that closed our theatres for the better part of two seasons was a formidable enemy,” said Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino. “Quite apart from the grievous toll it exacted on human life around the globe and the havoc it wreaked on our economies, it damaged us as a society. It isolated us, confining us to our homes and distancing us from each other—and not just physically. Psychologically and emotionally, it eroded the bonds of human connection, forcing us to turn more and more to social media, the growing power of which only exacerbated our divided condition.

“The whole point of theatre is to build community, to bring us together and create new understandings. That’s why we’ve never needed theatre more than we did during the pandemic years – and that’s why it was so exciting to be able at last to bring it back into our lives.”

The AGM provided an opportunity to pause and look back at last season’s accomplishments.

The new Tom Patterson Theatre was officially opened in 2022, a launch that had been delayed by the pandemic in 2020. With productions of Richard III, All’s Well That Ends Well and Death and the King’s Horseman, as well as a multitude of Meighen Forum offerings, this wonderful new venue proved to be every bit as versatile and as transformative as it had promised to be. It also delivered on its promise to draw audiences, with more than 64,000 tickets sold for performances there, 40% more than in the last season in the old TPT in 2017.

This new, world-class venue has been honoured around the world, winning the Governor General’s Medal in Architecture, the Global Architecture MasterPrize, the U.K. Civic Trust Award and the Design Excellence Award from the Ontario Association of Architects, as well their People’s Choice Award.

The TPT alone had an estimated economic impact of $19.6 million in 2022. The entire 2022 season is estimated to have generated an economic impact of $87.9 million, almost 10 times that of the small, largely outdoor 2021 season, which generated $8.9 million in economic activity.

Rounding out our 2022 playbill were Hamlet, Chicago and The Miser at the Festival Theatre, Little Women at the Avon, and Every Little Nookie, Hamlet-911 and 1939 at the Studio.

In total, there were 481 performances of the 10 productions on our four stages. Thanks to the very careful implementation of our COVID protocols, we canceled only 13 performances while adding four performances to meet demand. The Meighen Forum added another 160 events to the season, after just three Covid cancellations.

Newcomers to the Festival accounted for 25% of total sales, up from 18% in 2019. This is a promising trend and flows from deliberate actions to create an atmosphere where the staff, artists and audiences feel welcome at the Festival.

A commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion can be seen on stage, with such productions as Death and the King’s Horseman and 1939, which featured culturally specific casting and stories that brought new insights and appreciation to existing audience of theatregoers, and also attracted new audiences. And the work of the talented and diverse acting company reached far beyond these titles to all of the 2022 productions: an excellent example of how EDI ideals can enrich art.

What happens on stage must be supported behind the scenes, and so the Festival introduced a number of initiatives to make it a more inclusive place. 2022 saw the creation of the First Nations Inuit Metis Circle to build community with Indigenous artists both within the Festival and across the country.

Another action taken was the introduction of Pre-Rehearsal Orientations for each production. This new practice, recommended by the Anti-Racism Committee, is unique to the Stratford Festival, and is industry-leading. These sessions, which take place on the actors’ first day at the theatre, allow cast and full creative teams to get to know and understand each other as human beings, allowing work in rehearsals to take place in a safer environment. This not only makes the art on stage even better but it makes for a more inclusive working community. This feeling of belonging then extends beyond the Festival to audiences and the community.

For audiences, the Festival introduced new forms of accessible pricing, including the pay-what-you-will program for designated performances, with prices starting at just $10. It has addressed other barriers to attendance by offering such services as audio description and ASL performances.

People coming to work at the Festival and to visit this city need to feel – and be – welcome. So EDI work cannot stop at the theatre doors. The Festival is making significant strides with community outreach as it builds and diversifies its audiences. That work includes a partnership with the City of Stratford and other stakeholders such as Destination Stratford and the Stratford Police Department to form the Welcoming Communities working group, dedicated to making Stratford a truly wonderful place for everyone to visit.

This work also provides for a more inclusive student experience, which will be an important focus moving forward. Attendance by students for shows like Hamlet, 1939 and Chicago represented 6% of sales in 2022. That compares with student attendance representing 10% of sales in 2019. Education is seen as vital to the Festival’s future and many initiatives are being put in place to bring back this important audience segment post-pandemic, including earlier performance times for some student matinees.

In addition to hosting visitors in person in Stratford, the Festival continues to invest in digital content for the subscription-based streaming platform Stratfest@Home. Six of the 2022 productions were filmed, in addition to a number of new pieces of original content created especially for Stratfest@Home. The Festival has also begun licensing third-party content to highlight the work of other companies and artists. Stratfest@Home heightens awareness of the Festival and shares the work of Canadian artists across the country and around the world, helps to introduce the Festival to new audiences, and allows us to connect with existing audiences all year long. This digital content was viewed 135,000 times last year.

Among the highlights of Stratfest@Home in 2022 was Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women, the last production to feature the incomparable Martha Henry, who died just days after the closing performance. The production has now been nominated for three Canadian Screen Awards, including Best Performance by a Lead Performer in a TV Movie, for Martha Henry.

Video content shared on our social channels also attracted a good deal of attention, with 451,000 views on TikTok, a platform new to the Festival last season, and 761,000 views on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Festival videos on YouTube had 3.8 million views (organic and paid).

The amount of money held in ticket vouchers as a result of pandemic cancellations in 2020 continues to decrease as patrons redeem them for tickets. Down from a high of $8 million in 2020, $2.6 million is still held on vouchers as of the end of 2022. With 2023 titles like Spamalot, Frankenstein Revived and Much Ado About Nothing, which were originally scheduled in 2020, that liability should further diminish in the coming year.

“It’s easy to forget what an incredible leap forward we took in 2022,” said Cimolino. “We celebrated our 70th season. We opened our new Tom Patterson Theatre. And we welcomed indoor audiences back into all our venues, for the first time in two years. It was truly a milestone season. Nevertheless, it remained a season of challenge and uncertainty. Cross-border travel was still problematic, and people were still very concerned about getting sick. The Omicron variant brought a new wave of infections, and we had no idea how that situation was going to evolve. We had to figure out how to function—how to rehearse, how to perform, how to accommodate our audiences—within that unpredictable environment.

“We needed to take meaningful steps toward rebuilding our pre-pandemic momentum with work that would invite a broad audience, without exposing that audience – and ourselves – to risks that would undermine the Festival’s whole future. Considering all that, I’d say the 2022 season was nothing short of miraculous.”

Photo: The Festival Theatre, Stratford. © 2021 Howard Clarke.