The Stratford Festival of Canada has ended its 53rd season with a $73,000 surplus on its $52 million budget.
At the Festival's annual general meeting on Saturday, executive director Antoni Cimolino described the year as a "season marked early by a difficult sales environment, particularly in the U.S."
But extraordinary productions, excellent word of mouth, a reduction of in-year expenses and the introduction of incremental marketing initiatives, supported in part by the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership (OTMP), drove a major turnaround at the box office between May and October, resulting in ticket sales of just under 540,000 for the season, he said.
"I cannot say enough good things about the artists and staff of the Festival," Cimolino is quoted as saying in a press release. "They met initial challenges at the box office by taking special care with expenses and finding efficiencies through innovation. Their dedicated efforts enabled the Festival to offset the shortfall in ticket revenues."
Festival Board chair Tom Orr made special mention of the theatre's Members, especially Playwright's Circle Members, who supported the Festival at record-breaking levels.
"The Playwright's Circle campaign raised approximately $1.9 million, six per cent over its goal," said Orr. He also noted a rise in support from U.S. Members.
"In spite of a dip in American attendance, U.S. donor support rose by per cent. It seems clear that while some people wished to remain closer to home last season, their belief in the Festival remains stronger than ever."
Orr also praised the Festival's Endowment Foundation which has reached $45 million of its $50 million goal.
"The need to build an endowment capable of generating annual income for the Festival was identified by Richard Monette in the early stages of his tenure as artistic director," said Orr. "As a result, the For All Time Endowment Campaign was launched in 1999 and we have every confidence that we will achieve our $50-million goal by the end of Richard's term in 2007, in recognition of his extraordinary vision and leadership."
The Festival's overall fundraising activity for the 2005 season generated $6.8 million.
A wealth of activities in the artistically rich 2005 season strongly supported the Festival's four key strategic goals: artistic excellence, relationships with patrons and donors, youth and diversity, and education, states the press release.
The launch of the new Play On program, which offers $20 tickets to young people between the ages of 18 and 29, saw a record number of young, new patrons in attendance, with over 14,000 tickets sold and enthusiastic feedback from users.
Education programs were expanded. For example, the Teaching Shakespeare School for teachers and students was offered to a greater number of teachers and was made available to schools in a broader geographical area, taking programs as far afield as Kenora.
The Festival's archives and warehouse moved into a new state-of-the-art facility on Brunswick Street ensuring the theatre's ability to preserve its past and protect its future.
The Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre Training just entered its eighth session, with 12 of the most talented young actors in Canada, states the Festival's press release.
The Festival also launched a Production Apprenticeship Program to ensure that its next generation of artisans learns from the current master craftspeople whose specialized skills contribute to the theatre's production values.
Cimolino said the 2006 season is shaping up well.
"Response to the upcoming season during the Members' pre-sale period has been extraordinary. And we're delighted to have achieved a significant milestone in our history: we reached just over $1 million in single-day ticket sales, so it looks like we're off to a promising start."
To date, sales for 2006 have reached $6.6 million and 115,000 tickets, up 11 per cent over the same period last year.