Blyth Festival posts surplus; Festival, Art Gallery look ahead to 2023
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
The Blyth Centre for the Arts held its annual general meeting late last week, and the Blyth Festival posted a surplus of over $51,000, according to General Manager Rachael King.
The meeting was held virtually, due to inclement weather, and included reports from not just the Blyth Festival, but from the Blyth Festival Art Gallery, Blyth Festival Singers and the Blyth Festival Orchestra as well.
In his report, Artistic Director Gil Garratt said the Festival realized an overall attendance increase of 35 per cent over the 2021 season, adding that nearly 20 per cent of the tickets purchased were done so by new buyers.
“We are continuing to be found by new audiences,” Garratt said in his report.
On the staffing side, Garratt said the Festival contracted 81 artists and staff members in 2022, which is a 300 per cent increase over the 2021 staffing complement of 27.
Garratt also championed the season’s shows, highlighting the return of ensemble casts (rather than the one-person shows of 2021), the connection to The Farm Show production of the 1970s through The Drawer Boy, the return of Festival-specific roots music and the confrontation of important social topics, such as race and Indigenous relations in Canada.
He also noted that in 2022 the Festival had dedicated more time and money to new play development, thanks to the matching gift campaign last holiday season, than it has in decades. That work, he said, was thanks to Associate Artistic Director Severn Thompson.
He also thanked his staff, including General Manager Rachael King, and others for the work they put into the season, making it safe for all.
“We are finishing the 2022 season with a modest surplus, and while I want to celebrate that accomplishment and that all that represents in terms of audience support, donor engagement, government involvement and sheer stick-to-itiveness on the part of our staff and crew and artists, I would happily have taken a deficit this year if it meant the people who held it all together in 2022 had been able to breath more, eat better and sleep deeper. Pulling off 2022 came at a greater cost than is reflected on our balance sheet,” Garratt said in his report.
“We have a lot planned for next year. Huge growth for our Young Company, reopening Memorial Hall, a shoring up of operations to ensure we both excel and take care of each other, and a season of theatre that we hope will bring audiences from far and wide back to Blyth (or to Blyth for the first time).”
In her report, King mentioned a number of highlights, including the purchase of a four-unit apartment in Blyth to increase housing stock for the Festival, the expansion of the Harvest Stage (including the planting of new trees) and support received from the Tourism Relief Fund and the Festival’s many members and donors.
Elli Cohen, president of the centre’s board of directors, called the 2022 season “very special”, adding that the Blyth Festival team “met and exceeded expectations” despite a number of challenges and complications related to weather, the COVID-19 pandemic and the further unexpected hurdles of 2022.
He also heralded the Festival’s plan to move forward with two full-scale stages on a permanent basis, which is a first for the Festival.
Blyth Festival Art Gallery President Carl Stevenson, in his report to the board, said his team is looking forward to a return to a traditional gallery season in 2023. The season will open with a show from local photographer Hannah Dickie, followed by a group exhibition by eight Ontario potters organized by local potter Rob Tetu and will close with Blyth-based artist Kelly Stevenson and an exhibition of her ongoing series of drawings, which is tentatively named “How Far I’ve Fallen”.
He added that the group is hoping to host a series of poetry readings, three over the course of the season, in an effort to expand the gallery’s offerings and attract new fans.
Stevenson noted that, through the gallery’s online show and sale, 52 artists contributed 93 works of art. Eleven pieces sold for a total of $3,118 in sales, all of which went back to the artists and an assumed 450 people visited the gallery in Memorial Hall in a year without live performances there.
Finally, Stevenson paid tribute to Tetu, Bruce Stainton and Colleen Schenk, long-time volunteers (Tetu as communications co-ordinator, Stainton as exhibition committee chair and Schenk as secretary) who stepped down from executive positions in 2022.
Gary Coursey and Shelley McPhee Haist, co-presidents of the Blyth Festival Singers, in their report to the board, said a small number of members attempted to meet and rehearse at various times throughout the year. However, eventually, the fall session for the Singers and the planned Christmas performance had to be cancelled.
“The challenges of [the COVID-19 pandemic] and an aging choir membership has led to many changes in the choir membership over the past two years,” the pair wrote in their report. “The choir is now in hiatus and the executive will meet early in 2023 to determine if there is interest in a spring session and/or next steps for the choir.”
Maarten Bokhout of the Blyth Festival Orchestra submitted a report on behalf of the group, saying that in 2022 the orchestra welcomed a new violinist, Quentin Bouvron, bringing the chamber orchestra’s membership to 11.
He said the orchestra continued to meet and practise in a safe manner, distanced and masked, performing at holiday church services in Goderich and Stratford and at the opening night of the Blyth Festival season and then at Kildonan House in Clinton on Nov. 13.