With just three of its four venues open in 2018 and 2019, the Stratford Festival effectively managed resources to emerge from the biggest new arts build in decades with a modest surplus.
In the annual general meeting, held on a conference call, executive director Anita Gaffney and artistic director Antoni Cimolino announced a 2019 surplus of $138,297 on revenue of $63.8 million.
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.
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.”
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.”
More than 27,000 theatregoers also attended events at the Forum, including the always popular “CBC Ideas at Stratford” series and a special week of events featuring arts journalists from The New York Times.
The Festival’s Advancement team drove 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.
“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 Gaffney in a press release.
“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.”
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.”
Commenting on the current shut down of theatres, Cimolio said in the Toronto Star, “Even during the Second World War, the West End (in London, England) kept going. And so the closing of the theatres … it’s a sacred space in some way.”