Jeff Heuchert, Stratford Gazette
City council has agreed to support a bid to bring an international children’s theatre festival to Stratford, but not to the tune event organizers had hoped.
Councillors approved a $3,750 grant on Monday to help send two members of a local group to Midland, Texas to present an application to secure the 14th World Festival of Children’s Theatre, to be held in June 2016.
“We feel it would make a rather large difference if we can go to Texas and say that this bid is being made on behalf of the city that supports it,” said local representative Ron Dodson, prior to council’s decision.
Coun. Frank Mark agreed that having the city’s backing would be a “feather in the cap” for event organizers when they make their final bid later this month. He called the festival a good investment and “perfect fit” for the city to go along with its other similar attractions.
“I think it would be another great draw for people to come to the city,” he added.
Likewise, Coun. Brad Beatty noted any time the city can bring hundreds of kids and their families to the city – event organizers estimate the festival would attract between 350-500 children from 18-22 countries – it is a great investment.
The local group was initially asking for $7,500, which would cover the travel expenses for the two members and the cost of a promotional video and theme song that were created to support the bid.
A motion by Coun. Bonnie Henderson for a grant of $5,500 – enough to cover the video and song – was defeated.
Councillors ultimately agreed to fund half what the group was asking. This came following a discussion where some councillors expressed reservation about meeting the grant request this late into the budget year.
According to information provided to council, there is no money left in the city’s 2012 contingency fund, so the contribution will have to come from elsewhere in the budget.
Finance chair Coun. Tom Clifford suggested it wouldn’t be fair to approve the grant after turning down similar requests because of there being no money left in the budget.
While he supports the concept of the festival, Clifford said the group should have to wait until the city deliberates its 2013 budget like everyone else.
“I think it’s a bad precedent,” he added.
Clifford was also uncomfortable with spending taxpayers’ money for an event that might not happen, and said he would prefer the group go find out if it’s successful and then come back for funding.
While nothing is finalized, Dodson suggested the group has a high likelihood of securing the festival.
“It’s a fairly strong possibility that we’re going to get it,” he said. “Nothing is carved in stone, but we’re confident.”
The festival is run by the International Amateur Theatre Association, whose mandate is to support amateur theatre worldwide. The festival started in 1990 in Lingen, Germany and runs every two years. It’s been hosted by Turkey, Denmark, Japan, Russia and Cuba, but has never been held in North America.
Planning for the festival at the local level has been going on for over a year, and local partners include the two school boards, library, University of Waterloo Stratford Campus, the Shakespeare Festival and Summer Music, among others.
According to the group’s proposal, the festival would run over 11 days, with the four main components being performances, workshops, a director’s forum and social program.
Organizers have set a budget of $400,000, which they plan to collect through fundraising and donations. The group has also submitted a grant request to the city that will be reviewed during 2013 budget deliberations.
Coun. Kerry McManus questioned Dodson what would happen if fundraising falls short, noting she wouldn’t want the city to end up in a position where it needs to be a primary funder.
Dodson assured council the focus is on raising as much money possible from the private sector, and if that falls short of the mark, he said they’ll scale back plans accordingly.
“There’s no doubt in our minds this is going to happen, and it’s going to happen to the highest quality possible that befits the Festival City.”