30 years of history. Gone. Ended with a blink of an eye. Amid financial pressures, Freedom Leisure has forced Stafford Borough Council to accept that its Open Air Stafford Festival Shakespeare should be no more. Instead, replacing it with a Shakespeare production staged indoors at the Gatehouse Theatre, Stafford in 2023 with its future after that in a state of paralysis.
In a move that has shocked and dissappinted local residents, it’s a decision supposedly needed to protect against rising costs and energy prices.
A report to the Local Council, who offloaded its cultural services in Stafford, sets out positives and negatives to three options: cancelling the production, closing the festival and instead producing a Shakespeare production in the Gatehouse in the summer and keeping things as they are.
Notably many of the pros and cons are questionable. For example, while weather does have an impact on last minute ticket sales, if you secure high demand for tickets in advance that can be offset. A presumption that people will still travel to see the production with its reputation and history decimated. The productions inability to attract talent who have been known to do the production because of its reputation, history and unique setting and the additional costs it will now have to put into increasing star pay to cover that. Perhaps most importantly, that brick and morter buildings does itself form a barrier to attracting new audiences. There’s also been no reference to the fact that brick and morter sales in theatres are known to be much lower in the summer months.
With Freedom Leisure already in close negotiations with an American Hollywood performer for 2023, questions need to be asked urgently about whether they really grasp and understand the make up of culture in Stafford.