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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Stratford Festival celebrates stellar 2013 season

Reports $1.4-million surplus, increased attendance, reduced expenses

The Stratford Festival’s first season under the leadership of Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino and Executive Director Anita Gaffney was hailed as an artistic and financial success at the annual general meeting held in Stratford.

“Two veterans of the Stratford Festival have nevertheless made extraordinary debuts in leading roles this past season: Antoni and Anita have earned the acclaim and respect of the Board of Governors, and indeed of many people who know and love the Festival, for their intelligence, passion, artistry, vigilance to detail, and ultimately their success. The Festival is in good and wonderful hands,” said David Goldbloom, who today completed his two-year term as Chair of the Festival’s Board.

Chief among the achievements of 2013: a critically acclaimed playbill; the introduction of the Forum; the extension of five productions; a substantial increase in ticket sales; and a surplus of $1.4 million.

“The 2014 season was a time of change at Stratford,” said Mr. Cimolino. “When spoke to you at this time last year, I spoke of the importance of focusing on the texts that fire our imaginations, that address the great questions, that captivate and, above all, that move us – texts that not only stimulate our thoughts but also touch our hearts and stir our souls.

"And I spoke about the necessity of attracting and cultivating the kind of extraordinary talent that is needed to bring such texts to life. When I look back at the 2013 season, I feel tremendous pride in the extent to which we achieved that kind of artistic vibrancy in the work on our stages.”

Propelled by the exceptional work on stage, the 2013 season saw the biggest increase in attendance since 1999, rising 11% to 480,232 from 2012’s 432,240. This surge in ticket sales was strengthened by new programming and marketing initiatives, which included the Stratford Festival Forum, the Stratford Direct bus and incentives such as two-for-one Tuesdays. Demand for tickets led to the extension of five productions – Fiddler on the Roof, Measure for Measure, Waiting for Godot, Taking Shakespeare and Mary Stuart, which was extended an unprecedented four times. Together, these extensions generated an additional $1 million in revenue.

Attendance and revenue up, expenses down

“One of our most important goals in 2013 was to build our Stratford Festival community,” said Ms Gaffney, “to bring back patrons that had lapsed, to build stronger connections with current patrons, to attract new patrons and to enrich the experience of visiting Stratford for everyone. I’m pleased to report that we succeeded in enhancing our community of theatregoers, with an increase in attendance of 11% – or 50,000 patrons – the largest percentage increase since 1999.”

Revenue for 2013 totalled $57.1 million, up 5% from 2012’s $54.3 million. Thanks to an extremely effective cost management strategy, expenses were reduced by 3.5%. As a result, the Festival achieved a surplus of $1.4 million.

“The effort to carefully manage our expenses is a job that was shared by everyone at the Festival,” said Ms Gaffney. “The management, staff and company worked hard to reduce expenses without affecting the experience of our patrons. I was delighted by the creative solutions we were able to find, given our limited resources.”

Fundraising revenue grew to $12.4 million from $12.3 million the previous year. “We are very grateful to the many theatregoers who not only purchase tickets but also support us through charitable donations, which amounted to 22% of our annual revenue in 2013,” Ms Gaffney said.

Government contributions totalled $5 million, or 9% of revenue. The $2-million balance of revenue came from an Endowment transfer and the amortization of contributed capital.

Stratford Festival Forum an unqualified success

Mr. Cimolino structured the 12-play season around the theme of communities divided, and introduced the Forum – a series of events offering a diverse range of perspectives – to enable audiences to enjoy theatre in a deeper and more dynamic way, using the work they see on stage to prompt ideas, raise questions and open the door to good-hearted and open-minded debate. This really struck a chord with the public, leading to great success, both in terms of attendance and engagement. More than 30,000 people turned out for roughly 150 events, including concerts, screenings, debates, workshops, performance showcases, comedy nights, and a number of high-profile guests, including Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, Stephen Lewis, General John de Chastelain, Adam Gopnik and Sally Armstrong.

“Themed seasons give us a way to enlarge the audience’s experience in Stratford,” said Mr. Cimolino. “They offer all the diversity of content that people expect of a festival – and all the delight – but they also invite us to compare and contrast, to pursue ideas and experience emotions beyond the bounds of a single production. Seeing both Fiddler on the Roof and The Merchant of Venice side by side provides a combined experience that is even richer than the sum of its parts. By building the playbill around a cluster of ideas, we also created the opportunity to explore those ideas in an unprecedented way through the Forum.”

Budgeted to break even, the Forum generated $340,000 in revenue. The 30,000 people who attended the Forum bought 54,000 theatre tickets, and 47% of those attending bought more performance tickets than they did the previous year. In addition to accomplishing its goal of solidifying the Festival’s relationship with existing patrons, it also attracted a new audience, with 13% of overall Forum attendees coming to the Festival expressly for Forum events.

“In ancient Greece and in Shakespeare’s time, the theatre was a forum,” said Mr. Cimolino: “a place where ideas, issues, questions and conflicts that were central to the real world came to blazing life on stage, embodied in words and actions that seized the imagination and touched the heart. That’s what we seek to do today, and that’s what our themed seasons and our Forum events help us to achieve.”

New bus service, other marketing initiatives fuel ticket sales

On the business side, Ms Gaffney oversaw the introduction of a number of new initiatives. Stratford Direct offered twice-daily luxury bus service between Stratford and Toronto at a price of just $20 round trip. Roughly 15,000 people used the service, and they purchased $1 million worth of tickets. As hoped, the bus helped attract new patrons – 53% of those riding the bus had not been to the Festival before. It also lured a number of patrons back to the Festival: 13% of riders had not attended in two or more years.

“Inspired by this success, and by an 8% increase in U.S. attendance, we are expanding Stratford Direct to include a Stratford-Detroit route three times a week for just $40 round trip,” said Ms Gaffney.

Another initiative introduced in 2013 and being expanded in 2014 is two-for-one Tuesdays. This incentive provided an opportunity for almost 12,000 additional people to attend a performance at the Festival, and 32% of people who took advantage of the two-for-one offer were first-time visitors. The offer drove a 30% increase in Tuesday attendance, along with a 6% increase in Tuesday revenue over 2012.

“The two-for-one offer has been extended to Thursday evenings in 2014,” said Ms Gaffney, “and we are working with the Regional Tourism Organization to compile mid-week packages that include tickets and overnight accommodations.”

Existing incentives also saw increased sales, including Play On, which offers 16- to 29-year-olds $25 tickets to selected performances – up 57% – and the Family Experience, which offers $36 tickets to children 18 and younger attending with an adult – up 39%. The price of a student ticket was reduced to make it more affordable for school groups to attend a performance. As a result of these initiatives more than 70,000 young people came to the Festival in 2013.

Stratford@Play will see 3 productions filmed each season

Looking to the future, Mr. Cimolino and Ms Gaffney took the opportunity of the AGM to formally announce Stratford@Play, the Festival’s film project, which will see the capture of an estimated three productions each season.

“As we work diligently to bring the Festival to financial health, we are also looking to the future,” said Ms Gaffney. “Stratford@Play will allow us to cultivate an audience for the Festival today and for generations to come. This project will see us distributing our films through cinemas, television, on-demand and on DVD.”

Stratford@Play films will also be made available to schools and will be accompanied by digital study guides, so that students and teachers around the globe can look to the Festival as a resource.

“Students need to see that Shakespeare doesn’t live in the daunting pages of a great thick book,” said Mr. Cimolino, “but in the very same media they use to navigate and explore the world around them.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for the Festival to conquer not only geography but also time. Over the years, Canada’s greatest theatre artists have done some of their finest work on our stages, only to have that work vanish into thin air. It is shocking to me that William Hutt’s final Prospero, for instance, lives on only as a distant, static archival recording that can barely even hint at the magnificent power of that performance.

“We can change that situation, and we owe it to posterity to do so. Films, however, superbly shot, can never replace the theatrical experience, nor should they try to. ‘The best in this kind are but shadows.’ But they can illuminate, inspire and instil in their audiences a hunger for the real thing, the live experience.”

Further details of Stratford@Play, including the plays selected for filming, will be made public at a later date. The program will be supported by its own fundraising campaign.

The 2014 season of the Stratford Festival runs from April 21 to October 12, featuring King Lear; Crazy for You; A Midsummer Night’s Dream; The Beaux’ Stratagem; Man of La Mancha; Alice Through the Looking-Glass; Hay Fever; King John; Mother Courage and Her Children; Antony and Cleopatra; Christina, The Girl King; A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Chamber Play; and more than 200 events in the Stratford Festival Forum. To purchase tickets, visit www.stratfordfestival.ca or call the box office at 1.800.567.1600.


Stratford Festival 55 Queen Street PO Box 520 Stratford ON | N5A 6V2
519.271.4040 x 2297
Box Office: Toll Free 1.800.567.1600 Local 519.273.1600

2014 Season | April 21 to October 12
King Lear | Crazy for You | A Midsummer Night’s Dream | The Beaux’ Stratagem
Man of La Mancha | Alice Through the Looking-Glass | Hay Fever | King John
Mother Courage and Her Children | Antony and Cleopatra | Christina, The Girl King
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a chamber play

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