Stratford Festival chair asks for $8 million in federal recovery funding

Stratford Festival board chair Carol Stephenson appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance Thursday to ask for recovery funding. The festival cancelled its 2020 season last month due to concerns that rehearsing and performing could spread the COVID-19 infection.

Carol Stephenson appeared before House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance Thursday

(Screenshot/Standing Committee on Finance)

The Stratford Festival is asking the federal government for $8 million in recovery funding through a combination of a grant and a loan.

Last month, the festival cancelled its 2020 season due to concerns that rehearsals and performances posed a risk of COVID-19 infection. That decision has led to a $20 million shortfall, according to festival board chair Carol Stephenson, who appeared via video before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance in Ottawa on Thursday. 

The festival is committed to coming up with $12 million on its own but needs the government's help to make up the difference, she said.

"It pains all of us to be in this position, it's not our usual manner and it's not one that we will become accustomed to," Stephenson said.

Much of the region's economic activity is tied to the festival in some way or another, she noted.

The Stratford Festival is estimated to drive about $135 million in economic activity, Mayor Dan Matheson has said.

In return for the recovery funding, Stephenson promised "a tremendous return on investment."

"Granting this urgent request will protect 3,400 jobs, stimulate the regional economy ... and preserve the international prestige of this world-renowned Canadian theatre," she said.

The Stratford Festival, which has been holding annual theatre productions in Stratford, Ont., since 1953, will put its entire 2020 season on hold amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Artistic director Antoni Cimolino stands in front of the Festival Theatre. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)