Stratford Festival cancels rest of 2020 season

"Theatre will be one of the last sectors to recover from this pandemic,” says artistic director Antoni Cimolino

The Stratford Festival has suspended its entire 2020 season, which would have run until early November, because of COVID-19.

“This is a crushing announcement, for which we at once feel terrible responsibility and yet is entirely beyond our control,” said Antoni Cimolino, Stratford’s artistic director, in a press release today.

The news comes just days after the fest’s hugely successful launch of its Shakespeare Film Festival, which includes free online screenings of 12 of its earlier productions and continues through mid-July. On March 20, the festival announced it would cancel performances, suspend rehearsals and season preparations through the end of May.

“This is devastating for the festival and for the city of Stratford,” said Cimolino, speaking on behalf of the leadership team.

“The festival is an engine for this region, driving $135 million in economic activity each year. Thousands of people and hundreds of business owners rely on the Festival for their livelihood. It is a terrible irony: the Stratford Festival was started in 1953 to save the city of Stratford from economic disaster and now its closure in the face of this pandemic poses its own economic devastation for the region.”

This year was to have been one of the festival’s most exciting, beginning with the opening of the redesigned Tom Patterson Theatre. The venue was 98 per cent finished when construction on it stopped earlier this year.

Stratford’s four theatres range in capacity from 260 to 1,800 seats, with lots of other areas – lobbies, washrooms, parking lots – full of patrons. It’s also a repertory company with 150 actors, each one performing in two or three of the 15 shows. 

“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,” Cimolino said. 

This afternoon, Ontario detailed a three-stage reopening plan that will see restrictions on public gatherings eased eventually. However, the plan also states that “large public gatherings such as concerts and sporting events will continue to be restricted for the foreseeable future.” 

The festival will revisit programming as soon as it is safe to gather in theatres. Should public health conditions allow, they have not ruled out the possibility of mounting specially scheduled fall or holiday programming.

Cimolino ended by quoting the playwright who inspired the festival’s creation 67 years ago.

“While the creation of a vaccine and anti-viral drugs will cure this pandemic, ultimately what will cure society in its aftermath is art,” said Cimolino. “We look forward to the time when we can gather together again to, in the words of William Shakespeare, ‘live, and pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh.’”


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