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2019 a surplus year for Stratford Festival, 2020 uncertain amid coronavirus pandemic

Antoni Cimolino
Stratford Festival artistic director Antoni Cimolino, pictured in 2013. Kevin Van Paassen / The Globe and Mail via The Canadian Press

The year 2019 was a positive one for the Stratford Festival. The theatre company announced its numbers for 2019 on Saturday, with a surplus of $138,297 on a revenue of $63.8-million.

“In this past year we had 12 plays across three theatres and they seemed to really connect with audiences,” said Antoni Cimolino, artistic director of Stratford Festival Canada.

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“There was a wide variety, from Little Shop of Horrors right through to Othello and The Merry Wives of Windsor, so the variety is something that people come to expect and love.”

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Stratford Festival’s 67th season on-stage until Fall – Jul 11, 2019

Another positive note for the 2019 year was that the company undertook the building of the new Tom Patterson Theatre.

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“We’ve gotten possession of the building. There’s still work to be done, but my God is it beautiful.”

“I was with Colin Feore and Lucy Peacock recently rehearsing a scene from Richard III and I knocked off rehearsal early. We went down to the theatre, and there in construction vests, boots and hard hats, they started to rehearse the same scene from Richard III and we were all electrified by the intimacy of that space, by the dynamism of it. I just can’t wait to get in there and work,” Cimolino added.

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With the safety measures undertaken to slow the spread of COVID-19, when staff will actually get to use the new facility is unknown. Layoffs came quickly and the art industry in Stratford came to a halt amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“That was heartbreaking. We’re in a situation where we have hundreds of performances that were slated to start in April and now the future is uncertain. We’re waiting to see what happens in the months and days ahead,” said Cimolino.

Cimolino told Global News that once the government gives them the all-clear to return to the stage, they will slowly work in missed performances that were scheduled and look for a way to maintain safety in the workplace.

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“We’re trying to see how bad it gets and how long it stays and try to understand how we can keep our audience members safe and our artists safe, so there is a lot to think through.”

“When it feels like the all clear is there and the government gives us the ability to proceed, then we will run different scenarios as to how we would begin performances,” said Cimolino.

Cimolino adds that it may be a difficult time for people to accept sitting so close in an audience once they re-open, but he’s also optimistic that the lack of theatre during quarantine will have people itching to come back.

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“Clearly there is going to be some caution with people for some time about public gatherings. On the other hand, I think that after a period of isolation we’re going to be just wanting to get out there and experience the joy of theatre and laughter and tears and see these great plays like never before.”

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“We’re going through a necessary period of isolation, but theatre is ultimately about community and bringing us together, and one day, not too far away, we will experience that again.”