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Was the Shaw Festival profitable (and popular) in 2012?

A scene from Ragtime.

Emily Cooper, The Shaw Festival

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.

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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."

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