Kitchener-Waterloo

Stratford Festival lays off hundreds, cancels more shows amid COVID-19 spread

The Stratford Festival laid off 495 people Friday and says another 440 will have their contracts or seasonal employment delayed. The news comes as the festival announced it would cancel performances through to the end of May and suspend rehearsals and season preparations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Stratford Festival has laid off staff and delayed seasonal employment for hundreds more as it pushes back the opening date for the new season in light of COVID-19. (Nigel Hunt/CBC)

The Stratford Festival laid off 495 people Friday and says another 440 will have their contracts or seasonal employment delayed.

The news comes as the festival announced it will now cancel performances through to the end of May and suspend both rehearsals and season preparations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Performances had already been cancelled from April 11 to May 2.

In a news release, festival officials said it had become clear this week that the practice of social distancing was "not compatible" with the rehearsal process.

"The festival now finds itself in a holding pattern as it awaits further direction from the government so that it can safely resume preparations for the 2020 season," the news release said.

The news release said one of the financial benefits announced this week by the federal government was an allowance for arts workers "who typically function as independent contractors" to receive employment insurance.

Artistic director Antoni Cimolino noted the current pandemic situation has parallels to an outbreak of the plague that closed theatres in the 1600s.

"We take some comfort in the fact that this has happened before, knowing theatres did re-open when it was safe to do so and audiences did return to the theatre," said Cimolino in the release.

"We look forward to a strong season when we return to the stage."

The festival said it is following the COVID-19 situation closely and will announce details of the upcoming season when it is safe to do so.

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