Outdoor shows were a ‘huge hit,’ artistic director Tim Carroll says
The Shaw Festival is adopting a “new normal.”
“Turns out that there might be no such place as normal. And maybe that’s all right,” artistic director Tim Carroll told the Shaw’s annual meeting Friday afternoon.
The board of directors shared some tempered optimism.
While the revenue still paints a picture of a production company in recovery, executive director Tim Jennings said the festival has had some good fortune compared to other industry groups.
“By the end of the year, we’ve managed to hit about 65 per cent of our 2019 attendance,” Jennings said.
“In some ways that 65 per cent number was a pretty good one because Broadway and many urban theatres across North America didn’t crest 50 per cent,” he added.
“Generating $35.7 million in revenues in the year when we were only at 65 per cent of our normal attendance was a significant feat,” he said.
Jennings stressed that the accomplishment was only made possible by the charity of the Shaw’s supporters and government support programs.
“We were made whole this year through donations and personal philanthropy,” he said.
Treasurer Gregory Prince told the meeting that the Shaw received an “extraordinary investment” of $6 million from the federal government through its Major Festivals and Events Support Initiative.
And board chair Ian Joseph said 2022 was “the single best individual fundraising year in our history,” with $11.8 million in donations.
Together, these streams of revenue helped to protect the jobs of the company’s more than 600 employees.
“This funding recognizes the almost $220 million per year impact of the Shaw on the Niagara region,” Prince added.
Joseph pointed out that when the year began, theatre seating capacity was still capped at 50 per cent, and even as restrictions were lifted, audiences remained hesitant.
A significant decrease in lost performances helped.
The Shaw rescheduled 28 of 811 performances in 2022 compared to more than 300 in 2021, Joseph said.
On top of that, the Shaw boasted a small operational surplus of $7,000.
“While our operations effectively broke even, for the first time in several years, we are reporting an accounting deficiency totalling $1.1 million,” Prince said.
The loss, Prince said, is due to the depreciating value of the company’s capital assets.
Last year was the company’s “largest and longest” festival season ever, Joseph said.
After adapting some shows to outdoor stages in 2021, the company saw a continued appetite for open-air productions, Carroll wrote in the company’s annual report.
“The outdoor events were a huge hit,” Carroll wrote. “We had to keep doing them.”
In 2022, as a result, 109 of the Shaws 783 performances were held outdoors, the report said.
As well, the festival has almost $13.5 million in “earned revenues,” meaning income generated by ticket sales and other profitable ventures.
Prince said this is up from just $3.9 million in 2021, but down from $21.1 million in 2019.
So while fundraising is up for the festival, earned revenue is still catching up.
Carroll pointed out that many of the festival’s heroes have been unsung.
“Next time you come to a show here, make a point of expressing your appreciation to whoever helps you,” he said.
Carroll said that many of the festival’s support staff had the unenviable job of announcing bad news, such as cancelled shows.
“The sales staff, the box office staff, all of those people really have to bear the brunt quite often,” he said.
Carroll also made special mention of the performers and understudies who had to learn each other’s parts in case one of them got sick.
“Some of the efforts and energy put in last year was really heroic,” he said.