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May. 22, 2022 | Sunday
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Shaw Festival sees $500K surplus
Board of director’s chair Peter Jewett, executive directo Tim Jennings, artistic director Tim Carroll and treasurer Kevin Patterson at the annual general meeting last Friday. (Dariya Baiguzhiyeva/Niagara Now)

The Shaw Festival had another successful year last season, posting a surplus of more than $500,000.

The Shaw’s board of directors unveiled financial results for 2019 during its annual general meeting at the Royal George Theatre Friday.

The festival had a 13 per cent increase in gross operating revenue, resulting in an all-time-high of $34.1 million in 2019, with one-third of all revenues coming from donations. In 2018, revenue was $30.2 million.

This year, so far, the Shaw has experienced an upsurge in ticket sales in the wake of the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, said executive director Tim Jennings.

Responding to a question from the audience, he said that with people deciding not to visit Europe or Asia, the Shaw has actually seen an increase in sales in the last two weeks.

“Coronavirus is an interesting conversation, one we’re keeping a close eye on,” Jennings said. “We’ve already enacted a bunch of things to make sure we’re doing more to protect our health and the health of our audiences.”

Reflecting on 2019, Jennings noted the “real win” for him is how high attendance and public investment resulted in sustainable employment for the company’s artists, technicians and seasonal staff, while the theatre remains a significant driver for the tourism economy in town and the Niagara region.

“All of that is due to a distinctive nature of Shaw as a destination theatre,” he said. “That destination, our home in Niagara-on-the-Lake, amplifies our art and increases our collective experience. It attracts people. That doesn’t happen anywhere else.”

Artistic director Tim Carroll said he has learned that the audience loves spontaneity and “human fallibility.”

“We don’t want our shows to be all just machines. We can go to films for that,” he said.

He also mentioned that Shaw offers classes and artist training programs by some of the “best theatre practitioners” in the world to a generation of young people.

“If there’s a problem in the world, it is not with the younger generation, believe me. They are remarkable people here … I’ve felt since I got here that the Shaw should one day be recognized as a centre of training. And I hope it will be.”

Financially, last year was an “excellent” one for the Shaw, resulting in a $519,000 season surplus, said board treasurer Kevin Patterson.

The company held 789 performances in the main season, attracting 267,413 people with more than 25 per cent of attendees being new to the Shaw.

The attendance is an increase of 10 per cent over 2018, making it the festival’s best result since its 50th anniversary in 2010.

Shaw’s total expenses were $33.6 million, an increase of $3.9 million.

The theatre’s public education and outreach team held 1,907 events that were attended by 56,191 people. In 2018, the company held 1,500 events with 50,000 people attending.

Since the addition of new holiday show productions, more than 36,000 people visited NOTL during what used to be considered the off-season and almost 100 jobs were created for the company’s part-time and seasonal workers.

Ticket sales boosted the revenue by $2 million, resulting in the highest income from sales at $17.7 million, Patterson said.

Fundraising hit a record high revenue, totalling $8.8 million, an increase of $598,000 from 2018.

Artistic and production expenses increased by $1.1 million, while marketing and PR expenses rose by $314,000.

Due to capital investments, such as the purchase of new artist housing, investment in holiday programming, and stage and sound system upgrades, the Shaw ended the year with a bank debt on its line of credit with $406,000.

The new sound system in the main Festival Theatre was installed in the winter to replace equipment that was more than 20 years old.

Moving forward, the company will rebuild the Royal George Theatre. After archeological and geotechnical survey work were completed, rebuilding the theatre on the site was deemed feasible, said board chair Peter Jewett.

“In our planning to rebuild the George, we’re determined to keep that style and keep the intimacy of this theatre,” he said.

The accumulated deficit, made of long-term debt, property mortgages and vehicle loans, sits at $292,000. The Shaw’s board and management team are working on how to be less dependent on loans, Pattreson said.

The Shaw has also established a new board of governors.

Chaired by Tim Price, the board includes 29 appointed members: Marilyn and Charles Baillie, Barbara and Ronald Bessie, James F. Brown and Jean Stevenson, Robin Campbell and Peter Jewett, Tim Carroll, Alberta Cefis, Ilio Santilli, Betty Disero, Wendy and Bruce Gitelman, Lyle Hall, Laurie Harley, Tim Jennings, Nona Macdonald Heaslip, Mary E. Hill, Carolyn Keystone and James D. Meekison, Diane K. King, Frances M. Price, Elizabeth and Edward Simmons, Nancy Smith, Marc St-Onge, and Barbara and Colin Watson.

The festival’s 2020 playbill, starting April 2, will include productions of Gypsy, The Devil’s Disciple, Sherlock Holmes and the Raven’s Curse, Mahabharata, Prince Caspian, Charley’s Aunt, Flush, Assassins, The Playboy of the Western World, Desire under the Elms, Trouble in Mind, A Short History of Niagara, A Christmas Carol, Me and My Girl, and Shaw Not Shaw.