Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Stratford Proves Ideas Pay Off

Cleveland Press June 16, 1967

STRATFORD, ONTARIO: The Stratford Festival began its 15th season this week and for a theatrical idea that started in a tent in a town of less than 20,000 people it has gone a long way.

Some 68,000 people poured into town for that first six-week season in 1953. The opening play that year as it is this year was "Richard III," a bit of planning not looked on kindly by some, including the local newspaper which felt that a play about a murderous English monarch was hardly fitting during the coronation year.

Since 1957 the Festival has been held in what is easily the most magnificent theater on this continent and a prototype for theaters built in the past decade.

ADVANCE TICKET SALE before this season began was $600,000, $100,000 more than it ever was. The season runs for 18 weeks, plus two additional weeks at Expo 67.

The benefits to this community have been economically as well as artistically satisfying. The Ontario Tourism Department estimates that the theater goers add more than $5,000,000 to the city every summer -- exclusive of theater admissions.

Last year the festival's payroll was more than $1000,000, putting it among the top 10 employers. There are never fewer than 60 people on the payroll and during the summer the number goes up to more than 400. With 300 of these Stratford residents, most of that payroll stays right in town.

The festival's gross budget for this year is $1,700,000. If every ticket were sold, the total receipts would be $1,600,000.

But the arts are subsidized in Canada and individual and corporate donors have been extremely generous over the years. With a grant of $295,000 from the Canada Council, another smaller grant from the Ontario government and a campaign that resulted in $150,000 from corporate and private donors, no one is worried about financial ruin.

A LARGE PART OF THE REASON for the huge sums and the apparent lack of profit is the heavy capital investment. The festival has taken over the old Avon Theater in town for operas and original plays and renovation cost $400,000.

With its magnificent Festival Theater the physical plant is worth more than $4,000,000.

The Board of Governors, who control the festival, last year started a campaign to assure regular private and corporate financial support. Next year's target is $200,000.

That first season, however, the budget was $150,000 and there were no subsidies. When the campaign ended more than 1000 donors had pledged $157,000.

The festival opened with Alec Guinness and Irene Worth heading the company, with Tyrone Guthrie directing and Tanya Moiseiwitsch as designer.

THE FESTIVAL LENGTHENED ITS SEASON, soon began doing works by playwrights other than Shakespeare. For the future there are plans to tour, not only this continent but possibly Europe, plans for a year round company.

Beginnings were made when two plays were toured to distant parts of Canada this past February and March. The festival hopes to do more contemporary plays, to encourage new playwrights.

"Henry V" was presented on commercial television last year and negotiations have begun to film "Antony and Cleopatra" which will open here in July with Christopher Plummer.

One thing is certain. Stratford -- where a professional theater hadn't existed in 50 years -- will continue to be home base for the festival.