Stratford Festival puts entire 2020 season on hold

The Stratford Festival has put its entire 2020 season on hold amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Risk of contagion ‘extremely high’ between cast and crew, officials say

The 2020 Stratford Festival has been put on hold amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Nigel Hunt/CBC)

The Stratford Festival has put its entire 2020 season on hold amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Previously, the festival had cancelled performances through the end of May. But festival organizers now say there is no way of safely resuming performances given the high number of audience members and performers who come into contact with one another during a typical season.

"Sadly, we have to come to terms with the fact that, as it relies on large public gatherings, theatre will be one of the last sectors to recover from this pandemic," said artistic director Antoni Cimolino in a news release. 

The festival's four theatres each have a capacity of between 260 and 1,800 seats. The theatre company itself has 150 actors who typically act in two or three productions at the same time, resulting in an "extremely high risk of contagion," the news release said.

Economic impact

Approximately $135 million of economic activity in the Stratford region is driven by the theatre festival, Stratford Mayor Dan Mathieson told CBC News. 

All kinds of local businesses, from restaurants and hotels to landscaping and plumbing services, are tied to the festival in some way or another, he said.

"It's a real spider and web effect, and it's something we are, of course, concerned about," said Mathieson. 

The festival also creates 3,000 jobs in the community and generates $65 million in tax dollars, he said. 

Executive director Anita Gaffney said the decision also means delaying the opening of the new Tom Patterson theatre. 

"We had so much anticipation for the forthcoming season, so it's really heartbreaking to have to come to this decision," she said. 

Organizers say they may stage special fall and holiday productions if it becomes safe to do so.