Friday, August 8, 2008

Not Enough Summer to Save Season

As reported by Laura Cudworth for the Beacon Herald:

"The box office is buzzing, but it won’t be enough to break even.

"The Stratford Shakespeare Festival based its budget on 550,000 seat sales to stay out of the red this season. General director Antoni Cimolino said the Festival is about eight per cent lower than that now.

"Despite an improvement at the box office and an 'acceleration' in sales in recent weeks it’s not feasible the Festival will be able to make up the deficit.

"'I think we can make up some of it, but it will be very difficult to make up all of it. We’re running out of summer,' Mr. Cimolino said yesterday. 'We would need a lot of acceleration in sales in the next three months and you run out of shows.'

"To compare ticket sales in recent years, the Festival sold 557,000 last season and ended the year with a net revenue of $221,000. The Festival had anticipated 528,000 patrons would visit the theatre last year. That projection was likely based on ticket sales from the year before.

"In 2006 the Festival sold 528,373 seats to 16 productions. Had it not been for record donations totalling $7.6 million, government grants and other sources the Festival would not have seen a $20,000 net revenue that year.

"The improvement over the past few weeks in the sale of tickets, some of which are discounted, can be attributed to Canadian patrons.

"'Things in the United States are not picking up. It’s worse than we were a month ago,' Mr. Cimolino said.

"Mr. Cimolino suspects word of mouth is part of the reason sales have improved two per cent in Canada — the Festival’s biggest market.

"The season has had good reviews both in Canada and in the U.S., but the American audience has been harder to entice.

"The high Canadian dollar, the sluggish American economy, gas prices and border hassles have been too significant to overcome, he suggested.

"The question on Mr. Cimolino’s mind is how to compensate for American ticket sales which have fallen 16 per cent. He noted next year there will be one more hurdle added when Americans will require a passport to get home.

"The question at the Festival is whether to work harder at attracting Americans, maintain the same level of advertising or shift the focus to Ontario for the next couple of years. Whatever the answer, it will have a long-term impact on the Festival, Mr. Cimolino said.

"'We can’t expect to bounce back (immediately) but we can’t afford to walk away,' from the American market, Mr. Cimolino said. 'These things go in cycles, and we’ve got to maintain connections.'

"The Festival employs between 900 and 1,000 people and those numbers tend to expand and contract, Mr. Cimolino said. He acknowledged there will be a 'slightly leaner complement' of staff next season. Some of the tightening could be in talent and administration, but Mr. Cimolino couldn’t provide a definitive answer.

"As for talk of a scaled back season next summer, Mr. Cimolino said it won’t be much smaller than previous seasons.

"Additional shows like Shakespeare’s Universe, performed outside, were possible because of a one-time grant and won’t be repeated next year.

"He was tight-lipped about what the Festival will produce next season except to say 'old favourites' would be back along with 'great comedies.'

"'We’re up for an exciting year. (Artistic director) Des (McAnuff) has done a terrific job.'"

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