Magnetic North Festival cancelled

The Magnetic North Theatre Festival, slated to open in Ottawa this June, has been cancelled.

Mike Hawkes, chair of the Canadian Theatre Festival Society, which produces Magnetic North told Artsfile that the Festival has been cancelled for this year. He said it is uncertain if it will be resurrected in some form.
“The financial obligations that the festival has (incurred) exceed our capacity to … (present the festival).
“There were several triggers that happened in the past couple of weeks including grants that we anticipated being successful with that we just were not able to achieve. Had we had some of those it would have allowed us to have an interim solution while we kept pushing the festival forward.
“But we felt that given the state of our financial obligations, if we pushed it forward without at least one or two significant partners, we would be in far worse condition in June.”
In a statement, the society’s board said: “The Board of Directors of the Canadian Theatre Festival Society announced today it is cancelling the Magnetic North Theatre Festival.  The Festival was scheduled for 16-24 June 2017 in various arts venues in Ottawa, including the National Arts Centre, la Nouvelle Scène, and Ottawa Arts Court. As a result, the seven productions from across Canada, programmed prior to Artistic Director Brendan Healy’s appointment in November 2016, as well as its annual Industry Series for professionals in the Canadian and International theatre, are cancelled.”

The festival employed five full-time staff and three contract employees including Healy and Managing Director Nancy Oakley. They all have been given notice, the board said. The festival’s annual budget is about $1 million and it was carrying an accumulated deficit of $224,000 and faced a further shortfall of $150,000 this season.

Founded in 2003, it incurred a total deficit of $466,738 for the fiscal years 2010 and 2011, during its seasons in Kitchener-Waterloo and in Ottawa. “Since that time, although managing to reduce the accumulated deficit to $224,000 through surpluses in each but one of the successive years, it is now facing a forecast cash deficit of over $150,000 for this season,” the board says.

“To proceed with the festival, absorb the cash flow and provide some continuity for next year would require $250,000. Staff and Board have explored all available options to maintain at least some aspects of the Festival but have concluded that it cannot be presented without increasing the accumulated deficit further,” the statement added.

One the the companies that was to work with Magnetic North this June is Nadia Ross’s STO Union which is based in the Ottawa-Gatineau region. Her group was to perform the play Trophy as part of this summer’s Canada Scene. Ross was the winner of the 2016 Siminovitch Prize in Theatre.
“There are real practical, on-the-ground, devastating issues – people who have to pay rent, feed their kids, that have to deal with the very short notice,” she said expressing her disappointment. “There are companies that are now scrambling because it affects their season, it affects their possibility for operating funding because if you don’t have a certain amount of shows you can get booted off that.
“There are presenters from around the world. I’ve sat next to people who might give me a job – many times. It was a really good place to start the conversation … because of the Industry Series that really set up those discussions.
“We’ve lost a huge amount. It’s a devastating blow on so many different levels.”
In a statement, the National Arts Centre, too, expressed regret over the decision.

The NAC said in the statement that it had met with Magnetic North’s management and board of directors, as well as the festival’s funders, to try save this years event.

Magnetic North was founded in 2003. The NAC has provided financial and in-kind support, including the use of office space and stages at no cost.

“In order to support the organization, the NAC was ready to step up in a variety of ways, as it has in the past,” said Peter Herrndorf, the NAC’s CEO, in the statement. “We are very sad and disappointed about the cancellation of the Magnetic North Festival. Those who created it – including the NAC’s then Artistic Director of English Theatre, Marti Maraden – envisioned an annual festival where the best work from across the country could be discovered by presenters and the professional theatre community.

“We’re proud of what Magnetic North has achieved for Canada’s English-language theatre community. It will be sorely missed.”

Magnetic North announced it was suspending the festival earlier this month.

In the same NAC press release, Jillian Keiley, NAC’s English Theatre artistic director said: “All of us at English Theatre were very sorry to learn the Magnetic North Theatre Festival has been cancelled.

“We especially send our thoughts to the artistic and leadership team of Brendan Healy and Nancy Oakley, who had barely begun in their new posts when the festival took this unexpected turn.”

Oakley told Artsfile earlier that the festival needed “to address funding issues.” Asked if the event would go ahead this year, she said that that time, “that is our hope.”

Magnetic North Theatre Festival was held bi-annually in Ottawa and then it went to a different community every other year. The first festival was in 2003. Since then it has been in Edmonton, St. John’s, Vancouver, Kitchener-Waterloo, Calgary and Halifax.

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Patrick Langston covered English professional theatre for the Ottawa Citizen from 2008 to 2016. He also wrote about music, travel, the local housing industry and other subjects for the paper. Patrick continues to contribute to Ottawa Magazine, Diplomat and International Canada Magazine, and other publications.