Comment: The Shaw Festival 2018 Financial Results

by Lynn on March 5, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At its Annual General Meeting, the Shaw Festival announced a healthy outlook because of increased box office, increased attendance and sold out performances. This is heartening news, but as a long-time member (donor) of the Shaw, a theatre critic and a ticket buyer, I find some of the facts and figures puzzling.

The press release of the 2018 Financial Results states: “The 57th Shaw Festival season welcomed 251,321 patrons to 755 performances while also increasing donations and financial support—all of which resulted in a $537,000 surplus.”

Of the $537,000 surplus, how much is attributed to operating surplus? For the Financial Results of the 2017 season, the Shaw Festival posted an ‘operating surplus” (without including donations and financial support) of $65 K. Being able to compare the precise terms from one financial year to the next would be helpful to see a transparent picture of how the Shaw Festival is really doing.

According to the 2017 Financial Result the 2017 season welcomed 236,824 patrons to 783 performances. I assume the drop of 28 performances from 2017 to 2018 is due to 2017 having ‘two Decembers” while the Shaw Festival established the ‘winter’ season of A Christmas Carol?

The press release of the 2018 Financial Results states: “A Christmas Carol sold out for the second season in a row ending the year on a high note.” The Shaw Festival’s own website of the 2018 Calendar dates for A Christmas Carol of November 14 to December 23, suggests otherwise.

I tracked the attendance of A Christmas Carol for a year when the box office opened and at the end of the run the show sold out two performances in November, 2018, and eleven of twenty-eight performances in December. Does this count as a sell out?  Where is the Shaw getting its figures? Interestingly the 2018 Calendar that did list the number of tickets sold has been removed.

For the 2017 sold out run of A Christmas Carol it was noted in the Financial Results that 44% of those who attended had never attended the Shaw Festival before. Similarly in the 2018 Financial Results it’s noted that 28% of tickets sold were to first-time buyers. Is this drop from 44% to 28% of first-time buyers good news? Of those new to the Shaw how many have then bought tickets for other shows in the upcoming season? Attracting new ticket buyers is good news. More important, is the Shaw attracting them to come again?

Is there any indication in the 2018 attendance statistics how these new ticket-buyers spread over the shows of the season? For example, the 2018 Financial Results claimed that Mythos: A Trilogy—Gods. Heroes. Men. written and performed by Stephen Fry “… saw new visitors from around the globe discover The Shaw.” How many new visitors did this show attract?

Much store was put on The Magician’s Nephew to attract families and/or new audiences. Some facts suggest that The Magician’s Nephew did not live up to its expectations. In March 2018 four performances of The Magician’s Nephew that were to play in August, 2018, were cancelled and four performances (at least) of Grand Hotel were scheduled in its place. Grand Hotel proved popular in that more performances were added within the scheduled dates of the Festival rather than extend the festival, which would have been costly.

As I said, it’s heartening that it appears the Shaw Festival is doing better financially according to the 2018 Financial Results.  My concern is that the facts and figures offered to prove this claim appear less than transparent.



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