The Magnetic North Theatre Festival has cancelled its 2017 edition in Ottawa and is shutting down operations permanently due to an accumulated deficit of $224,000, the 15-year-old theatre festival's board of directors announced on Wednesday.
"We have looked at all the options to be able to proceed in some capacity, but regrettably none is viable," Mike Hawkes, chair of the Canadian Theatre Festival Society, which produces the festival, said in a statement.
"While the accumulated deficit has been reduced by half over the past five years, the magnitude of the financial challenges and the continued pressure of an accumulated deficit make the festival untenable."
Earlier this month, Magnetic North had postponed an announcement of the programming for this year's festival – which was scheduled to run June 16–24 in Ottawa – but the cancellation of the entire enterprise comes as a surprise.
Just last month, Magnetic North – which runs on a budget of approximately $1-million and alternated between Ottawa and another Canadian city each year – announced it had hired Nancy Oakley as the festival's new managing director. In November, the board named Brendan Healy, former artistic director of Buddies in Bad Times, its new artistic director.
Both have now been given notice, as have three other staff members. Three contractors who were working on the festival's Industry Series have had their contracts terminated.
The National Arts Centre – which co-presents Magnetic North and provides both funds and in-kind support to it – met with its management in the lead-up to the decision to try to save the festival.
"In order to support the organization, the NAC was ready to step up in a variety of ways, as it has in the past," Peter Herrndorf, NAC president and CEO, said in a statement. "We are very sad and disappointed about the cancellation of the Magnetic North Festival." (The NAC says it is currently owed $42,000 from the festival.)
A statement from Magnetic North noted that seven productions programmed for the 2017 edition in Ottawa by previous artistic director Brenda Leadlay would be affected by the cancellation, but a spokesperson for the NAC said that several (including Café Daughter, Making Treaty 7 and Trophy by Sarah Conn would be going ahead as part of its own Canada Scene festival in Ottawa tied to the sesquicentennial.
In 2003, the Magnetic North Theatre Festival was created to showcase and promote contemporary Canadian theatre productions – and quickly became an important support for the growth of touring and presenting networks for work across the country.
But the peripatetic festival had trouble growing an audience base due to the fact that it moved to a new host community every other year. It was held in Edmonton (2004), St. John's (2006), Vancouver (2008), Kitchener-Waterloo (2010), Calgary (2012), Halifax (2014) and Whitehorse (2016) in between stints in the nation's capital.