The Shaw Festival’s audience may have shrunk in 2012, but the southern Ontario theatre company has ended up in the black after two years of large deficits thanks to a “right sizing” that reined in expenditures.
Attendance for the Niagara-on-the-Lake festival’s 51st season – which included a popular hit in the musical Ragtime and a critically acclaimed revival of Come Back, Little Sheba, both directed by artistic director Jackie Maxwell – hit 245,615.
Though this was an 11 per cent decline in attendance from the year before, the Shaw Festival nevertheless managed to achieve a surplus of $19,000. In 2011, it had run a $1.5-million deficit – its second over a million in a row – leading treasurer Hazel Claxton to call for “aggressive action to right size the cost structure to align to more conservative revenue estimates” at the last annual general meeting.
Long-time executive director Colleen Blake left the company around that time – and the festival’s financial turn-around mostly took place during eight months when Maxwell had assumed Blake’s administrative duties in addition to her own, overseeing a reduction of the budget from $30-million to less than $27-million. (Elaine Calder took over the role of executive director in September – but declined to take credit for this year’s results.)
“When people talk of theatre as a collective effort, they are usually referring to the work onstage,” Maxwell said in a press release. “In this case, it refers to the hard work, talent, generosity and willing collaboration of every single person connected to this extraordinary organization.”