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Apr. 8, 2020 | Wednesday
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COVID-19: Shaw cancels first month of season
Tim Jennings, executive director of the Shaw Festival. (Supplied)

Mike Keenan

Special to The Lake Report

The first month of the Shaw Festival has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Festival executive director Tim Jennings announced Monday evening that 33 performances, from April 2 to 30, have been cancelled.

The economic impact on Niagara-on-the-Lake could be severe, Jennings said, estimating that for every single dollar the Shaw loses, the region loses $7 to $10. 

“It’s like juggling hand-grenades,” Jennings said at the start of a media conference call to address the spread of COVID-19. 

“Your health and safety and that of our community, our artists and our staff is our top priority. We feel that cancelling performances and drastically reducing business operations is the only responsible decision at this time,” he said.

The three plays involved are “Gypsy,” Charley’s Aunt” and “Prince Caspian.”

Jennings said the season will not be extended because that would interfere with the Shaw’s commitments to its winter productions.

Artistic director Tim Carroll said in a news release, “I know our amazing audience will understand and support us and we send everyone our love and good thoughts. Please stay safe and well. We will get through this together.”

“We have an incredible team here who have been cooking up some wonderful theatre,” Carroll added.

“Of course it is frustrating to have to put that on hold, but if our aim is to create a more human, more connected theatre, then our first priority has to be keeping everyone safe.”

As of now, the festival plans to resume rehearsals and reopen its administration and box offices on April 6, but that all depends on the progress of the fight against the pandemic. The next big decision will occur around April 2.

In the interim, Jennings indicated that cast and crew will be paid through April 6.

The news comes a little more than a week after the festival’s annual general meeting, at which the Shaw announced that 2019 had been its most successful year ever at the box office.

The festival had a 13 per cent increase in gross operating revenue, taking in a $34.1 million and posting a surplus of more than $500,000.

The cancellation decision was made while consulting with public health and other officials in the midst of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shutting the border Monday to non-Canadians. Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump has called for people to avoid crowds of 10 and Ontario Premier Doug Ford has suggested avoiding gatherings of 50 or more.

Those who have tickets to the affected performances will have the full value of their tickets held on their account.

Box office representatives will be contacting ticket holders to reschedule or refund tickets once the box office reopens. In the meantime, anyone with ticket-related questions is advised to email feedback@shawfest.com.

For the most up-to-date information please visit shawfest.com.

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