Chet Greason email@example.com
The Stratford Festival’s annual general meeting on March 29 marked the end of David Goldbloom's two-year tenure as chair of the board of governors. Replacing him in the leadership position is Chip Vallis.
However, the real two stars of the meeting were artistic director Antoni Cimolino and executive director Anita Gaffney, who helmed one of the most successful Festival seasons in recent memory in 2013.
Last year was a season of spikes, with everything seemingly up over the year prior. Attendance rose 11 per cent (the biggest increase since 1999); revenue totaled $57.1 million, up five per cent from last year; total fundraising rose. The company even set a Guinness World Record when 100 different pinball wizards played the same Tommy-themed machine simultaneously at its Pinballapalooza event in Toronto.
Five performances saw their runs extended, with Cimolino’s Mary Stewart extended an unprecedented four times; and 34,000 tickets were sold to residents of Stratford - roughly one ticket per person.
In fact, the only thing that didn’t appear to spike was expenses, which were reduced by 3.5 per cent, resulting in a surplus of $1.4 million.
Goldbloom credited the combined efforts of Cimolino and Gaffney, both of whom made their debuts last year in each of their respective positions. He named both of them “gifted and accomplished individuals.”
“We could not be in better hands,” he added.
Board credits new initiatives
To listen to the Festival's board of governors, it would seem a combination of elements made 2013 such a successful year for the theatre company. New marketing strategies like two-for-one Tuesdays and a $20 round-trip bus ride from Toronto brought in thousands of patrons both new and seasoned. The bus initiative was such a success, in fact, that a new service will run American tourists in from Detroit for only $40, and new promotional campaigns will target the lucrative Chicago area. Americans constituted 20 per cent of the Festival's audiences last year.
Cimolino’s Forum was also lauded for increasing attendance. The series of talks, concerts, and debates revolving around common themes imbedded in the playbill attracted roughly 30,000 people to 150 different events. The forum is slated to expand to over 200 events this year, kicking off on April 23 in recognition of William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday.
“In ancient Greece, theatre itself was a forum,” said Cimolino in his address to the board. “The forum connects us; connects our work to the world... Stratford needs to be indispensable to the world.”
Goldbloom called Gaffney "a bounty hunter" in her relentless push for new markets. However, in her address, Gaffney expressed cautious optimism, noting they still had work to do to fully overcome the shortfall of 2012.
"We’re not out of the woods yet,” she said, noting, however, that “2014 is a breath away, the shops are buzzing, and sales are on par with the previous year.”
New strategies for 2014
The theatre is expecting to welcome its 26 millionth visitor in the near future. Gaffney announced that when the special ticket is sold, the buyer will receive a lifetime pass to the Stratford Festival. Gaffney said staff expects the ticket to be sold sometime in May.
Also new this year is an initiative to film Festival plays for the sake of posterity. Three productions every year will be recorded and aired in cinemas, on television, and released on DVD and used as study guides for students.
The Festival will also be offering theatre-themed day care services in conjunction with the Stratford-Perth YMCA in order to further remove barriers from potential audiences. The program, entitled Playcare, will be offered as an affordable option for theatregoers with young children.