PRESCOTT – The St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival has implemented a series of cost-cutting measures to stay afloat this year but its future is in doubt without the town’s annual $18,000 grant, artistic director Richard Sheridan Willis told council this week.
“Without the community grant it will be challenging for the festival to continue,” Sheridan Willis said in outlining the festival’s financial picture to council members.
The festival cancelled its season this summer in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it faces the financial struggles common to theatre companies across Canada and indeed around the world, Sheridan Willis said.
To save money, the company has reduced its payroll and rent, and it is chasing every government subsidy available, he said.
Sheridan Willis has taken a 33-per-cent salary cut for the rest of 2020 and the company’s new general manager, Ingrid Bjornson, joined on a part-time basis, which also cuts costs.
The Ontario Arts Council has given the festival its $23,700 grant for this season.
Bjornson said the festival also has qualified for a $40,000 government loan, about $10,000 of which might be forgivable. It is also hopeful of qualifying for the government rent subsidy program.
Despite the cancellation of the season, the festival still has bills to pay, Sheridan Willis told council. On top of payroll, rent and other operational costs, the theatre company must pay its spring expenses before the season was cancelled.
As well, Canadian Actors Equity wants a cancellation fee of more than $13,000, said Sheridan Willis, although he is trying to have the penalty waived by promising to hire the same performers and crew for the 2021 season.
Council delayed its decision on whether to give the $18,000 grant to the festival until its next meeting in two weeks.
Sheridan Willis said the festival won’t be idle even though the shows won’t go on during the summer. It intends to work on its marketing strategy, upgrade its financial software, do some interior work at its offices and sort through its props and costumes – all things that it is unable to do during a formal theatre season.
Sheridan Willis said the theatre group is “bitterly disappointed” not to stage a season this summer.
Last fall, the Shakespeare festival received a one-time $30,000 bailout from the town and it put in changes designed to place it on a stronger financial footing.
It changed its summer program to replace Henry V with the popular musical The Fantasticks and added the crowd-pleasing Mary Poppins as its fall performance, he said.
It also raised ticket prices and planned fundraising events to put the theatre on a firmer financial footing, Sheridan Willis told council.