Stratford, Ont., enters phase 3 reopening with outdoor theatre, smaller productions
Stratford, Ont., rolled into phase three of reopening Friday after weeks of business closures and reductions in services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But it won't be business as usual for the town, whose economy revolves around the Stratford Shakespearean Festival of Canada.
"It really doesn't change the situation for us, because we have a half million people who come here every year, and due to the nature of our agreements, we can't begin to afford to play for less than thousands of people," artistic director Antoni Cimolino told CBC.
The festival – which creates around 3,000 jobs and generates approximately $135 million for the local economy, according to Stratford mayor Dan Mathieson – put its entire 2020 season on hold amid the pandemic.
As a result, it has lost $10 million this year, Cimolino said, and has asked the government for $8 million in emergency funding.
Businesses that have traditionally relied on the festival are now having to find new ways to generate revenue.
"It's like we're all little birds now leaving the nest," said Jennifer Birmingham, who owns the Bruce Hotel. "The festival has nurtured us, has brought the clientele in, but in the end, it is the work that we do that brings them back."
Birmingham will be promoting the hotel's new chef, working with a massage business, and trying to attract more wedding business, she said.
It's also hosting the Open Air Theatre Festival on its backyard lawn.
"We're throwing down a stage. We have very little tech. We have some lights for the later shows, but it's very much focused on the storytelling, because we can't use a theater space so we can't have all the tech support," said Fiona Mongillo, the festival's artistic producer.
Mongillo was excited to see the province move to phase three of reopening in time for the festival's opening night, she said.
That means the performers can play to audiences of 25 instead of just 10.
"Financially of course it is nice to be able to make… something for your work that feels like you know you're being paid as a professional and, yeah, that's what it allows."