Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Financial Losses Will Harm 2009 Season

Compiled by Michael Posner and James Bradshaw for the Globe and Mail:

"The theatre community is abuzz with rumours about who might be appearing at Ontario's Stratford Shakespeare Festival next season, but that subject is now being overtaken by concerns about the overall state of the enterprise after an internal memo informed staff of a drop in this season's ticket sales.

"In a recent letter to festival personnel, general director Antoni Cimolino and artistic director Des McAnuff blame gas prices, currency-exchange issues and border-crossing delays for causing a 10 per cent decline in 2008 ticket sales. Insiders have estimated that the festival could lose as much as $5-million this year."

"Already, the festival has begun to cut the 2009 budget. According to the letter, there will be fewer plays produced than in 2008 and fewer performances of those that are mounted. Stratford has also decided to abandon publication of the souvenir book and other selected publications, and it is investigating a format for house programs that could reduce the current page count. The lobby live-music schedule is likely to be trimmed, and book and gift-store hours cut back.

"More economies may be in the offing. The Cimolino/McAnuff letter says that 'a further comprehensive list of possible savings and revenue opportunities' is now being evaluated and weighed against 'artistic quality, patron service and employee impact.' The letter invites festival staff to suggest other ideas, either directly or anonymously. 'We welcome and encourage your best ideas, no matter how unorthodox you think they may seem at first.'

"Though economic factors have clearly taken a toll on the festival's bottom line, this year's playbill shows a shift in direction that, while critically lauded, assumes some financial risk."

"The projected loss also shows the apparent magnification of a recent trend of declining gate revenue at Stratford. In 2007, three quarters of the festival's $53.9-million budget came from earned revenue, and the festival subsidized 4 per cent of its budget – about $2-million – with cash from its endowment fund to avoid running a deficit. In 2006, the company financed 2 per cent of its budget using the endowment fund.

"In Niagara-on-the Lake, Shaw Festival executive director Colleen Blake said the economic downturn has had an undeniable impact on ticket revenues for Ontario's theatres, but that Shaw 'sort of saw that coming and we shifted our marketing plans a bit to try and focus on the Canadian audience.' The result, combined with a solid season, has been an 8-per-cent increase in ticket sales thus far and has given Blake the confidence to assert that Shaw 'will definitely have a stronger financial year this year [than last (an almost $1 million deficit)].'

"Shaw sells about 40 to 42 per cent of its tickets to American visitors, while Stratford has traditionally sold between 35 and 40 per cent to the same group. This year, Shaw's figure has dropped to 38 per cent, a less significant decline than Blake had expected.

"But Blake said that both festivals face uncertainty regardless based on 'what's on the stages and what people are interested in seeing. There's always going to be some impact from your playbill as well.'"

Read the entire article.

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