Today at their annual general meeting the Stratford Festival announced results from the 2016 season including attendance of 512,016.
In 2011 attendance dipped below 500,000 and hadn’t surpassed that number until now. This is a milestone for executive director Anita Gaffney who in 2013 expressed her intent to increase attendance to “well over 500,000.”
This jump is good news for the Festival, but still a long way away from the 600,000 number it regularly hit in the early 2000s.
Some of the increase came from a dramatic rise in student attendance at Shakespeare productions, with 25,000 students seeing a Shakespeare performance, a 56% increase from the previous year.
Fittingly, in the year marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s legacy, the Festival saw a 25% increase in attendance at Shakespeare productions, led by the highly acclaimed “Macbeth” – directed by Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino – one of the top-selling Shakespeare productions in the Festival’s history.
Speaking at the annual general meeting Cimolino acknowledged a private donation to support the development work of the Stratford Festival Laboratory. “This generosity allows us to expand our development of new work as we strive to be a centre of new creation for Canadian playwrights,” said Mr. Cimolino.
20 Playwrights Under Commission
“At this moment, the Festival has about 20 playwrights under commission, working on projects of tremendous variety and scope – from musicals and children’s plays to adaptations of classics from a number of cultures.”
Increasingly, work generated by the Lab is being seen well beyond the Stratford stage.
Hannah Moscovitch’s “Bunny,” for example, is going to be staged next season at Tarragon Theatre in Toronto, and Kate Hennig’s play “The Last Wife” went on to productions at The Belfry Theatre in Victoria, Soulpepper in Toronto and TimeLine Theater in Chicago.
photo by Lara Goetsch
“Besides commissioning and premiering new scripts, the exploration of new and unconventional artistic practices is key to the artistic research and development being done in the Lab,” said Mr. Cimolino.
“Some of this work was showcased in Keira Loughran’s imaginative staging of “The Aeneid,” a play about the shattered lives of refugees, which grew in importance as the season progressed.”
Cimolino spoke about the Festival’s commitment to growing diversity and gender equity on stage, in creative teams and training programs, as well as in the work of the Laboratory.
“Because the female experience isn’t always central to classical repertoire, plays like “Bunny” – by women, about women – are very important to a company like ours, as is the work undertaken in “Breath of Kings” and “As You Like It” to broaden the casting opportunities for women within our classical repertoire.”
Having spent several years improving accessibility for patrons, the Festival began to explore the accessibility of its performance spaces, hosting a workshop for disabled artists in partnership with the National Arts Centre.
Work with indigenous actors from Canada and other countries continued, with the Festival welcoming groups from New Zealand and Bolivia for workshops in the Lab. Canadian indigenous artists returned for a week-long workshop in the second year of a multi-year program.
Government funding for the 2016 season totalled $3.7 million, almost 6% of revenue.
The Festival posted a surplus of $687,000, the fourth under the leadership of Cimolino and Gaffney.