Thursday, July 17, 2008

More Speculation on Losses

From Richard Ouzounian at the Toronto Star:

"Shakespeare's Malvolio put it best in Twelfth Night: 'And thus the whirligig of time brings in its revenges.'

"For the first time in recent memory, the Shaw Festival is doing far better at the box office than its colleagues at Stratford.

"In fact, the chances are very good that, come year-end, there will be black ink at Shaw and red ink at Stratford: a definite reversal of the colour scheme in recent years.

"And whereas both festivals are feeling the pinch from rising gas prices and declining tourism, it seems to be hurting one far more than the other.

"The good news first. As of now, the Shaw Festival is 8 per cent ahead in revenue from where it was last year at this time.

"They never like to discuss how individual shows are performing, but sources within the company tell me that, plain and simple, the musical this year, Wonderful Town, is selling much better than Mack and Mabel did last year.

"And though I'm delighted that Shaw is doing well this year, it's still only regained about half the ground it lost in 2007 when sales dropped 15 per cent and is still roughly 7 per cent behind 2006.

"Will this year wind up in the profit column? There's a definite chance it could happen, but let's wait till the season is over to celebrate.

"I'm afraid that in Stratford, celebration isn't on anyone's mind. An internal memo last week told the staff to prepare for belt-tightening and revealed that sales were running 10 per cent behind last year's.

"On its own, that's a frightening figure and some sources have been trying to attach an exaggerated $5 million deficit to it, but there are some things worth pointing out to ease the mind slightly.

"The 2007 Stratford sales were 8 per cent ahead of 2006, which means that even if things continue on the unsatisfying trajectory they're now on, it will only represent a 2 per cent decline from 2006.

"It's interesting to note that there is actually a 14 per cent decline from U.S. customers and only 7 per cent in Ontario.

"Why has it happened? The season (with some telling exceptions) has received a generous critical response, and names like Brian Dennehy and Christopher Plummer can be counted on to sell some tickets.

"But the new administration at Stratford tried something daring this year and it proved to be a losing gamble.

"They moved the major cash cow musical out of the larger Festival Theatre and into the smaller Avon. As has been often pointed out, it's in your largest theatre (whether you're Stratford or Shaw) where you make or break your budget.

"To date, there are four Shakespeare plays on the Festival stage and only one of them, Hamlet, has received major praise and attracted corresponding box office attention.

"With the name change to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, it's embarrassing that Shakespeare is where this regime has fallen down. Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, Love's Labour's Lost and All's Well That Ends Well have not received consistent acclaim from critics or audiences, either.

"You can find lots of people to cheer The Trojan Women, Krapp's Last Tape, Fuente Ovejuna and The Music Man, but none of them are playing in large-capacity houses.

"Stratford will survive the rough financial weather this season. Fourteen years deficit-free and a successful endowment campaign have seen to that.

"But there have to be changes in the future.

"I'm sure they're not looking for advice, but here it is: put at least one big musical back into the Festival Theatre and make sure anything else on that giant stage is done extremely well.

"And if there's only going to be one true comedy in your major theatre, then do us all a favour and make sure that it's really funny."

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