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Canadian fest audiences slowly return

Stratford, Shaw attendance still off, but tide is turning

Canada’s major theater festivals, Stratford and Shaw, have posted declining attendance figures for the 2009 season despite strong late-season rallies at the B.O.

Recession fears, declining tourism and confusion over new passport requirements for U.S. residents traveling to and from Canada led to a nearly 20% dcline in advance bookings for both fests.

Fortunately, strong reviews for many shows and a Canadian government marketing initiative helped turn the tide, meaning Stratford wound up only 4.5% down (532,000 admissions in 2008 to 509,200 this year) while Shaw showed a 6.5% drop (from 281,000 to 253,000).

Stratford’s big draws were its two musicals, “West Side Story” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” Top crowd-puller for the Shaw fest was classic Garson Kanin comedy “Born Yesterday.”

While there’s no word as to Shaw’s year-end bottom line, Stratford predicts that it will end up in the black due to conservative budgeting.

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