Stratford News

Stratford Festival has a hit season on its hands

Anita Gaffney talks turnaround for Canada’s biggest theatre festival

By: Entertainment, Published on Fri Jul 05 2013 from

anita_gaffney_in_theatre.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterbox“Things are looking up,” says Anita Gaffney, executive director of the Stratford Festival.

That could be the understatement of the season.

After spending a scary 2012 season sinking deeper and deeper into red ink, eventually posting a deficit of $3.4 million, Canada’s biggest theatre festival is enjoying a fiscal comeback that deserves a standing ovation.

With the season not yet at the halfway point, the festival has sold 336,000 tickets, which is 32,000 more than it had at this time last year, and is on target to balance its $58 million budget.

The biggest demand is for plays at the Tom Patterson Theatre, where the season has already been extended for a week.

Gaffney, who joined the festival in 1991 as an assistant publicist, worked her way up, becoming the director of marketing and earning an MBA at the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business.

After the 2012 season, Gaffney took over as Stratford’s top administrator when the former executive director, Antoni Cimolino, became artistic director, succeeding Des McAnuff (who presided for five seasons, starting in 2008).

“Antoni has played a huge part in this turnaround,” she says. “He selected a playbill that really resonates with our audience and people are excited by his vision.”

No doubt choosing the plays, the actors and the other members of the creative team is crucial. But there are many other factors involved in the art of filling seats and balancing the books.

Perhaps the most startling factor is that ticket sales to visitors from the U.S., after declining alarmingly for a decade, have increased by 11 per cent so far this year.

Why? Americans are feeling better about a looming economic recovery, but Gaffney thinks they are lured by intriguing shows they could not see closer to home.

A restaurant owner I know believes the biggest factor in the turnaround is a change of how scheduling is done, filling more mid-week slots and providing more choice for people who stay two or three days and want to see several productions.

As Gaffney explains, the festival has introduced a number of touches that have cumulatively boosted attendance.

One of them was to bring back its two-for-one Tuesdays program, a draw for bargain-seekers.

Another is the development of the Forum, a festival within the festival featuring debates, mini-performances and discussions, offering audiences a way to explore the plays and players before or after seeing a production, thus encouraging visitors to extend their stay in Stratford.

For the first time this year, Toronto theatregoers who do not drive cars and can’t afford limos have an easy and inexpensive way to experience the festival. That’s because of a new express bus, which can whisk you from Front St. near the Intercontinental Hotel to your Stratford show for $10 each way.

Earlier this year, the dispute between Ontario schoolteachers and the Ontario government threatened Stratford’s group sales to schools, a program that not only fills thousands of seats but plays a key role in developing audiences of the future. But that problem has vanished and, impressively, school sales have increased 17 per cent this year compared to 2012.

And in the fascinating category of “the return of lapsed patrons” (meaning former ticket buyers who have not been to Stratford in recent years), the number this season is more than double the 2012 figure.

At this stage, Gaffney is cautiously optimistic, rather like the manager of a baseball team leading the league at the all-star break but not yet counting on winning the World Series. But the evidence suggests that the Stratford Festival will wind up the 2013 season as a big winner.

Knitters gather in Stratford as part of World Wide Knit in Public Day


Local knitters gather at Upper Queen’s Park Saturday for World Wide Knit in Public Day. (MIKE BEITZ, The Beacon Herald)

By Mike Beitz, The Beacon Herald

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A small, tightly knit group of people gathered in Upper Queen’s Park on the weekend to demonstrate that weaving and stitching is not just for little old ladies in rocking chairs.

“This is all about knitting awareness,” said Laurie Krempien-Hall as she and nearly a dozen others, needles in hand, patiently and skillfully transformed balls of yarn into colourful, wearable creations.

The annual gathering in the park in Stratford Saturday was held as part of World Wide Knit in Public Day, when knitters around the world take their craft outside for all to see.

Knitting and other fibre arts are often solitary, indoor hobbies, noted Krempien-Hall, so the event gets knitters out, knitting together and sharing their projects in a social setting.

But it’s not the only time they get together.

There’s a Revel Knitters group that meets Tuesday mornings at Revel Caffe, and the Wednesday Night Knitters, which meet regularly in the lounge at the Arden Park Hotel.

Knitting in public also helps to dispel some of the stereotypes surround the craft, said Krempien-Hall.

“It’s not just a granny thing,” she said as she looked around the semi-circle of non-granny types knitting in the park. “Anyone can do it at any time.”

In fact, local members have participated in a number of public “yarn bombings” in Stratford, including an AIDS awareness one last year in which knitted red scarves were displayed prominently in the community.

“Far more people are knitting in public now,” said Krempien-Hall.

Stratford falls short again in smart city finale at Intelligent Community Forum

Stratford received its trophy in New York Thursday for being one of the Intelligent Community Forum's Top 7 smart cities in the world. (MIKE BEITZ, The Beacon Herald)

Stratford received its trophy in New York Thursday for being one of the Intelligent Community Forum’s Top 7 smart cities in the world. (MIKE BEITZ, The Beacon Herald)

NEW YORK - Intelligent Community Forum co-founder Lou Zacharilla called Stratford the “little engine that could” Thursday.

On Friday, it was the little engine that almost did.

But it fell just short in its bid for the 2013 Intelligent Community of the Year trophy, which went instead to Taichung City, Taiwan.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed,” said Mayor Dan Mathieson shortly after the announcement was made at Stage 6 of the Steiner Studios in Brooklyn. “You always want to win. But three years in the top seven, I think that says an awful lot about our community.”

Stratford was competing against nearby Toronto, which put in a strong bid anchored by its impressive waterfront revitalization project, as well as international competitors Columbus, Ohio; Oulu, Finland; Taichung City, Taiwan; Tallinn, Estonia and Taoyuan County, Taiwan.

This was Stratford’s third time on the top-seven list for the annual ICF program, which recognizes communities that use broadband technology, including high-speed Internet, to improve the lives of their citizens.

Mathieson said the city will not be entering the smart city competition again next year.

“We’ve been in it for four years now, and there’s been a lot of great opportunities that have come out of it,” he said. “But our volunteers deserve a break, and our corporate sponsors have been very generous. Council has also been very supportive, and now I think it’s time to take it to the operational phase.”

Failure to win the smart city crown this year does not diminish what the municipality has done over the past few years in terms of digital media and broadband communications, suggested Mathieson.

Gains in connectivity have had a definite impact on local businesses, industries, organizations and individuals that rely on a high-speed link to the rest of the world, he said.

He pointed out that the most recent Statistics Canada numbers show the unemployment rate for the Stratford region among the lowest in Ontario at 4.8%, well below the provincial average of 7.3%.

“I tend to think that our economic strategy is working,” said Mathieson, “and this is part of the strategy.”

Economic development officer Randy Mattice agreed that the positives take a bit of the sting out of not being named Intelligent Community of the Year.

“We’ve done some great things as a community,” he said after congratulating Taichung City as a deserving winner. “And making it to the top seven three years in a row puts us in a very elite group.”

Stratford’s loss in New York came despite a high-profile last-minute plug from BlackBerry co-founder Mike Lazaridis, who was being honoured Friday as the ICF’s Visionary of the Year.

“We’re all rooting for you Dan,” he said with a nod to the mayor and the large contingent of Stratford supporters in the room. “The fact that you’re on the list is incredible to me. But I’m not surprised.”

Stratford supporters made no attempt to hide their disappointment at not hearing the city’s named called, but quickly turned to levity to lighten the mood.

“We’re going to drink our sorrows away tomorrow,” said Ysni Semsedini, vice-president of engineering with Festival Hydro, as he contemplated the trip home from New York.

He was talking about Tim Hortons coffee.

From the Stratford Beacon Herald, Saturday June 8th, 2013 by Mike Beitz


A Tiger in Rural Ontario


Guest blog by Jenna Ujiye

A couple of weeks ago I decided to explore the hiking trails in Huron County. There are 29 public trails, so I made a plan to hike sections of three of them. I started off at the Sifto monument at the top of the hill across from the Huron Historic Gaol. This lookout area has a really great view of the Menesetung bridge, the Sifto Salt mine, the Maitland River and Lake Huron.

So you may be wondering why I mentioned a Tiger in the title of this blog. Well, Tiger is actually a person! William “Tiger” Dunlop was a physician, author, woodsman, soldier, politician and raconteur and  one of the founders of  Goderich. I hadn’t hiked the Dunlop trail in years so my next stop was the Tiger Dunlop Trail. This trail is 3.2 kilometers and is great for biking, walking, running, and cross country skiing in the winter. It ends at the Tiger Dunlop Tomb, where there are plaques explaining the history of the man.

This trail meets up with the Goderich to Auburn Rail Trail and the Maitland Trail. Seeing as I wanted to finish the trails in a couple of days I decided to drive to a parking area along the 48 km Maitland Trail. I hiked about 6 kilometeres along the Maitland River and took in some great views. I even caught a beaver working on his dam, watched two eagles dancing and witnessed a blue heron! I will say I was surprised at the damage that still existed from the 2011 tornado in the area. I know that nature (and the amazing trail volunteers) will take over soon though!

My next stop was over to a loop of the main part of the Maitland Trail to check out the Balls Bridge. This bridge is really amazing and it’s story is even better. They say that it is the “bridge that love built,” the original builder built it so his wife didn’t have to get her feet wet walking through the river on her way to the market back in 1885. This bridge is also one of  the older bridges in Ontario and the design is very rare with less than a dozen left in existence. To find out more about the Balls Bridge visit The pictures tell it all!

I ended at the Goderich boardwalk. It’s a 1.5km trek along the three beaches in Goderich. My friend Cindy says it’s the best, because there are ice cream shops at both ends. While I was walking I probably passed 100 people enjoying the sun and getting a bit of exercise. I actually watched a couple of kids swimming at The Cove beach, but it was still pretty cold. I can’t wait for the water to be warm enough for me, this beach has the best waves and sand around!

To find out more about these wonderful trails visit

Keeping Your Kids Active Once the School Year Ends


Seventh Inning Stretch is a 500 piece puzzle by Cobble Hills. It is available at the Book Vault in Stratford, Ontario.

In many ways, today’s kids have busier schedules than any previous generation of youngsters. Many extracurricular activities, including sports, require a year-round commitment, and the dual-income household has landed many kids in after school programs where kids tend to do their schoolwork or engage in various activities that keep them from resting on their laurels.

But those busy schedules get a lot less hectic when the school year ends. Once school is out, kids used to a full schedule might find themselves with lots of time on their hands. Though it’s good for kids to squeeze in some rest and relaxation during their summer break, it’s also important for kids to stay active so they don’t develop poor habits as the summer goes on.

In addition, the American Psychological Association notes that kids who are physically active are more capable of coping with stress and tend to have higher self-esteem than kids who do not include physical activity as part of their regular routines. The following are a few suggestions for parents looking for ways to keep their kids active throughout the summer while still allowing them to recharge their batteries after a long school year.

*Plan an active vacation. Summer is when many families go on vacation, so why not choose a vacation that involves more than napping poolside? Though it’s still a good to leave some time for relaxation, find a locale where you can embrace activities like snorkeling, hiking, kayaking, or other adventures that get you and your youngsters off the poolside chaise and out exploring. Such a trip might inspire kids to embrace an activity more fully, getting them off the couch not only while they’re on vacation but also when they return home for the rest of summer.

*Teach kids to garden. Gardening might be seen as a peaceful and relaxing hobby, but it still requires a lot of elbow grease and hard work that pays physical dividends. A garden must be planted, hoed, weeded, and watered, and gardening gets kids out of the house to enjoy the great outdoors.

When growing a vegetable garden, kids might embrace the chance to be directly involved in the foods that will eventually end up on their dinner tables. Parents can embrace this as an opportunity to teach the value of eating locally-produced foods and the positive impact such behaviour has on the environment.

*Go swimming. Few adults who work in offices haven’t looked out their windows on a sunny summer day and thought how nice it would be to be spending that afternoon taking a few laps in a lake, at the beach or in a pool. Kids have the same daydreams during the summer, so take a day off every so often and take the kids for an afternoon of swimming.

Swimming is a great activity that exercises the entire body, including the shoulders, back, hips, legs, and abdominals. In addition, swimming helps kids and adults alike maintain a healthy weight while also improving their cardiovascular health. It’s hard for some people to find a place to swim once the warm weather departs, so take advantage of the summer weather and go swimming as often as possible while the kids are not in school.

*Limit how much time kids spend watching television, playing video games or surfing the internet. Many of today’s kids are as tech savvy as they are busy. But it’s important that kids don’t spend too much time online or on the couch watching television or playing video games. Such activities are largely sedentary, and they can set a bad precedent for the months ahead, even when the school year begins once again.

Parents should limit how much time their youngsters spend in front of the television or the computer during summer vacation, keeping track and turning the TV or computer off if they suspect kids are spending too much time staring at the screen instead of being active. Kids might not love it when you turn their video games off or minimize their access to social media, but explain the limitations at the onset of summer and let kids know you expect them to be physically active even if it’s summer vacation.

Credit: Stratford Gazette, May 16, 2013

REPAIR OUR AIR – Turn off vehicle engines – Idling By-law 133-2001


‘Two for the Road’ is a 1000 piece puzzle from Cobble Hills. It is available at the Book Vault in Stratford, Ontario.

Idling and Air Quality
The goal of this By-law is to improve air quality and respiratory health. Contaminates from vehicle exhaust are major contributors to deteriorating air quality in Stratford. Studies by Health Canada and other agencies link a number of contaminates from vehicle emissions to significant respiratory health effects.

By-law Purpose
The By-law is intended to reduce unnecessary idling in the City. It limits idling to no more than 5 consecutive minutes. the by-law allows transit vehicles to idle when picking up or discharging passengers and allows limited idling when transit vehicles are waiting for passengers. The By-law also allows private transit vehicles equipped with air-conditioning systems to idle for 10 minutes to bring the temperature to a tolerable level for passengers. As well, the By-law provides for idling during extreme outdoor temperatures to ensure heating or cooling inside a vehicle.

How is the By-law enforced?
It is the City’s intention to achieve compliance through voluntary measures. However, the By-law stipulates a fine of up to a maximum of $5000.00 for infractions. City By-law Enforcement Officers will carry out enforcement. Contact By-law Enforcement at 519-271-0250, ext. 200 or 327.

Why should we reduce unnecessary idling?
There are known environmental impacts and economic costs associated with vehicle emissions. Motor vehicles and related activities are the major sources of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, suspended particles and volatile organic compounds in the City. Nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds are the two main substances involved in the formation of ozone, a component of smog.

Ozone and suspended particles are included in the group of chemicals associated with significant respiratory health effects and hospital admissions.

Economic costs and operational impacts.

It has been estimated that idling wastes 3% of Ontario’s fuel. Lubricant contamination occurs from excessive idling.

Alternatives to unnecessary idling

From a cold start, it is better to warm up an engine by driving it rather than idling. Warm up times are reduced to half and fuel consumption is reduced. If you are concerned about turning off your engine because you may have trouble restarting it, a well-maintained starter system and engine is a better alternative than idling.

Repair Our Air – turn off your vehicle engine

A copy of the City’s idling By-law 133-2001 is available on the City’s website at or can be obtained by calling the City Clerk’s Office at 519-271-0250 ext. 237 during business hours. For By-law Enforcement, contact By-law Enforcement at 519-271-0250, ext. 200 or 327.

Credit – The Beacon Herald – Stratford Town Crier, Saturday, June 1, 2013

Walk – Don’t Ride on Stratford’s Sidewalks!


‘Sunday Morning’ is a 1000 piece puzzle from Cobble Hills. It is available at the Book Vault, in Stratford, Ontario.

Riding a bicycle on a sidewalk is contrary to By-law 159-2008 section 29(2) and can result in a $35.00 fine

WALK your bike on sidewalks

Cycling tips:
-Always wear a helmet
-Ride with a buddy if possible
-Obey traffic rules

Bikes are:
-A great way to get around
-Green and clean
-Great exercise

SAFE side WALKS for everyone!

Credit: Stratford Town Crier

Toastmasters Group the Talk of Town


“The Saloon” is a 1000 piece puzzle from SunsOut. It is available at the Book Vault Inc. in Stratford, Ontario.

Credit: Stratford Gazette – Wednesday, May 16, 2013

Toastmasters group the talk of town

The number one fear for most people is public speaking, and now residents of Stratford have a place to turn to help them overcome that phobia.

Speak Stratford Toastmasters has been holding meetings since the fall and currently meets every Monday night at 7 p.m. at the Stratford Country Club.

Founding members Lisa Stanley and Gezahgn Wordofa both saw a need and decided they were the ones to fill it. They felt their speaking skills needed improvement and a Toastmasters club seemed like the obvious way to reach that goal.

Toastmasters International is a world leader in communication and leadership development. Its membership is 280,000. These members improve their speaking and leadership skills by attending one of the 13,500 clubs in 116 countries that make up their global network of meeting locations.

“Membership in Toastmasters is one of the greatest investments you can make in yourself,” states a press release from local organizers. “It is also one of the most cost-effective skill-building tools available anywhere.”

The local Toastmasters group currently has 17 members and needs three more to reach its the number to officially become a chartered club.

If interested, you’re asked to contact Lisa Stanley at 519-276-1158 or find the club on Facebook at Speak Stratford Toastmasters

Meet Our Neighbours – On Stage Dance Studio


On Stage Dance Studio – 172 Ontario Street, Stratford, Ontario.

There is no doubt in the minds of Stratford’s many business entrepreneurs that this generous community has been the perfect place to open up their business, and allow them to follow their dreams. Meghan Seaman, Owner and Artistic Director of On Stage Dance Studio located on Ontario Street, is proof of just that.

“I’m living my dream,” says Meghan. “I’m so privileged to enjoy going to work every day! I’ve been dancing my entire life and I never have to stop. How cool is that?”

It is clear from her work in the community and her great accomplishments at such a young age that Meghan’s passion for dance and working with children runs through her blood. Teaching the perfect combination of high-calibre dance and positivity, Meghan has lead her students to success, and many of her students have gone on to study with The National Ballet of Canada, The Alberta School of Ballet, The Stratford Festival, and York University among many others! Meghan also organized and choreographed what is Stratford’s most well-known flashmob, in which she and her dancers shared their joy of dance to over 65,000 viewers on YouTube. However, Meghan’s dance studio is much more than a place of work; rather she sees it more of a “dance” family.

When I opened the studio,” Meghan explains, “having a supportive, nurturing place for kids to explore dance was really important to me. I’m so happy to see that the studio has developed into a place where kids can be themselves, express themselves and feel safe.

Not only has Meghan become a role model for her students and youth throughout Stratford, she has also become a tremendous contributor and supporter in her community. On Stage Dance Studio has offered a scholarship program to dancers, has been the main financial sponsor of the ‘Teen Esteem’ and ‘Elements’ programs, has donated and volunteered time to local causes such as Optimism Place and, among countless other involvements, runs On Stage’s Community Performance Company, a performance group that dances at local fundraisers and events.

Meghan has also been heavily recognized for her business and her contributions for the community winning “Stratford’s Favourite Dance Studio” in multiple years, and has just recently won the “Young Entrepreneur” award at this year’s Stratford Business Excellence Awards. Her competitive dance team has competed across North America, and her dancers have been recognized with multiple accolades for their performances.

Meghan, who is now in her 8th year of owning the business, enjoys looking back at how it all started and reminisces about what she wrote in her journal when she was in the first grade – a journal that her family still treasures.

“When I grow up,” Meghan’s journal reads. “I want to be a dance teacher.”

Credit: Stratford Gazette, May 16, 2013

Meet our neighbours – Stratford Accelerator Centre


For the past century, Stratford has been well-known particularly for its arts and theatre lifestyle, especially since the inception of its Shakespeare Festival Theatre. However, quite recently the city has seen its home rapidly become a blossoming technology culture, making the shortlist as one of the ICF’s smartest communities three years in a row, with–among other advancements– the installation of the University of Waterloo’s Stratford Campus and now the Stratford Accelerator Centre located on Wellington Street.

Opening up their doors for the official Grand Opening on May 9th, the SAC’s Shane Pegg, Director of Strategic, and Office Manager Joanne Schmidt are excited to be in Stratford to finally have the chance to show the community what local entrepreneurs are creating!

Although Shane and Joanne have led different paths leading up to joining the SAC, both have extended roots in Stratford as well as a diverse work history.

Shane worked for Blackberry in Waterloo for many years before joining the SAC late last year. Although Shane was born and raised just outside of Wingham in the town of Bluevale, Shane happily visited Stratford regularly during his childhood, since his mother and grandparents were born and raised here.

“I appreciate the strong, supportive community in Stratford,” Shane explains, “I’m excited to be part of the Stratford Accelerator Centre and to connect with local businesses and entrepreneurs!”

Joanne, who lives and was raised in Stratford, has an Office Administration background combined with 15 years experience within the Stratford community.

“I’m excited to work with new and existing Stratford Accelerator clients,” says Joanne. “So stop by and say hi!”

So when you get the chance take Joanne’s advice, and stop by the Stratford Accelerator Centre to meet her and Shane as well as the other great clients and entrepreneurs!

Stratford Gazette, May 16, 2013.