Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Audience to the Rescue

Richard Ouzounian (the Toronto Star) reports that things have improved for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival since an internal memo revealed the need for cutbacks next season, and the best is yet to come:

"The sun was shining on the Stratford festival Sunday, in every sense of the word.

"Besides the glorious weather, the city was filled with happy people there to see the plays and most of the venues I stuck my head into were playing to near capacity.

"No wonder artistic director Des McAnuff was beaming as he sat down to enjoy a cappuccino before running off to an eight-hour rehearsal for Caesar and Cleopatra.

"'It's all started turning around in the last two weeks,' sighed an almost paternally proud McAnuff. '"I can't tell you how relieved we all are.'

"Just around mid-July, there was a flurry of unwelcome media attention after an internal memo was leaked which urged the staff to tighten their belts in the face of a 10 per cent downturn in sales. Some people (but not this reporter) were even talking about a $5 million deficit.

"But almost magically, the staff woke up the following Monday morning to find the box office busier than it had been all season and it's stayed that way ever since.

"'You don't knock away a slump like we had overnight,' admits the experienced McAnuff, 'but if things keep going like they've been recently, we may wind up out of the woods after all.'

"Why the sudden change? Economists might point to people who've finally reconciled themselves to a 'staycation' deciding that Stratford would make a fine destination, or Toronto residents who suddenly realized a round trip to Stratford wouldn't require enough gas to bankrupt them.

"McAnuff has another theory, also worth giving credence to. 'I think it's word of mouth,' he says. 'We've got a wide variety of really good shows here this season and I think people realized that, came to see them and are now telling their friends about them.'

"And in some ways, the best is yet to come on the Aug. 16-17 weekend, when three high-profile productions open, all with the potential for greatness.

"Joanna McClelland Glass opens her politically explosive drama about the aftermath of the 1967 Detroit riots, Palmer Park.

"I ran into a joyous Nigel Shawn Williams, who's playing one of the leads and he couldn't be more excited about the show's prospects.

"Then there's Morris Panych's revolutionary new movement piece inspired by Moby Dick, which is getting extraordinarily positive buzz during previews. Finally, there's McAnuff directing Christopher Plummer in Caesar and Cleopatra, the kind of playgoing treat that should start any theatre-lover salivating in advance. "

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