STAGEnStratford 1990nby O.B. Hardison, Jr.nTom-Toms Along the AvonnWhat Joseph’s coat of many colorsnis to a London Fog raincoatnOntario’s Stratford Shakespearean Festivalnis to all other summer dramanfestivals. It was founded in 1953 bynTom Patterson, a Stratford journalist.nPatterson’s motives were varied but onenis obvious. If God had not intended anCanadian Shakespeare festival, why hadnHe named Patterson’s home townnStratford and run a river through itnnamed Avon?nThe first season consisted of RichardnIII and All’s Well That Ends Well. Itnstarred Irene Worth and Alec Guinnessnand was presented in a 1500-seatntent on a stage designed by TyronenGuthrie. To the delighted surprise ofneveryone involved, attendance was regularlyn98 percent of capacity, and thenseason was extended from five to sixnweeks. The Stratford company madenShakespeare the hottest ticket in Canada.nThis year the Festival season extendsnfrom April 30 to November 11. Fifteennmajor productions will be oflFered,nincluding four big Shakespeare playsn— Macbeth, Julius Caesar, The Merryn45/CHRONICLESnVITAL SIGNSnWives of Windsor, and As You Like It.nThe season’s bill also includes FranknLoesser, Abe Burrows, and Jo Swerling’snGuys and Dolls, EugenenO’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness!, Racine’snPhaedre, David Storey’s Home, andnthree plays by contemporary Canadiannplaywrights.nThe mechanics of this immense programnare as impressive as the programnitself The festival has a payroll of 800.nIts annual budget is $20 million, ofnwhich around $ 15 million comes fromnbox office. That means roughlyn515,000 tickets will be sold for 572nscheduled performances in three festivalntheaters. Canadians are no longernthe only ones who have gotten thenword. Around 40 percent of the audiencenwill be from the States, most fromnthe upper Midwest, but on any visitnyou will see license plates from NewnYork, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts,nand a scattering from states as distant asnVirginia and Florida.nGanada’s federal government contributesna niggling $1 million or so anyear to the $20 million annual budget.nOntario’s provincial government doesnonly a little better. The grand totalnfrom all government sources is $2.2nmillion, or around 10 percent. Therenare no concealed subsidies for buildingnmaintenance, grounds upkeep (Canadiansnshare the English love of elegantngardens and weedless lawns perfectlynshaved), insurance, and the like.nArtistic Director David Williamncomplains that government grants fornopera and symphony orchestras—bothnwith less popular appeal than theatern— are much higher. An official festivalnhandout dramatizes the imbalance betweennsubsidy and service: althoughnWilliam and company will receive onlyn$2.2 million in subsidies in 1990, theynwill generate $70 million in businessnfor Stratford motels, restaurants, andnservice businesses, and $15 millionnin “estimated taxes . . . for governments.”nFair treatment aside, classicndrama is labor intensive. If the festivalnis obligated by its charter to do Shakespeare,nshouldn’t the government pro­nnnvide a more realistic subsidy?nThe festival is also under constantnpressure from politicians and reviewers,nnot to mention playwrights, to producenCanadian plays and thus to celebratenwhat is known as “Canadian identity.”nPeople who use the term “Canadiannidentity” attribute potent and mysteriousnpowers to it, but these powers donnot extend to the box office. Therefore,nargues William, if Canadian dramanis important — and he agrees that itnis — the festival deserves more support.nTo an outsider, especially an Americannoutsider, the case may not be quitenso obvious. The great strength of thenStratford Festival is that it has had tonsink or swim largely through its ownnefforts. That requirement has forced itnto keep in touch with all of its supporters,nespecially its audiences. The publicnmeets three-fourths of the cost of thenStratford Festival through the best of allnpossible activities — buying tickets andnpaying for them at a rate that is close tontheir real cost. By reducing the influencenof the box office, larger subsidiesnmight open a gap between the festivalnand its audience.nThere is also’ the tail-wagging-thedognproblem. Those who give grantsncan withhold them, as Senator Helmsnreminded the National Endowmentnfor the Arts last spring, during itsnreauthorization hearings. Canada is nonless political than the United States. Atnthe moment it is locked in a complicatedndebate about Quebec and Canada’sn(you guessed it) national identity.nA grants agency might well maneuvernthe festival into pushing “Canadiannidentity” in defiance of the commonnsense of the box office and the artisticnsense of the festival’s artists.nAll of the above is a reminder of annimportant fact about theater — not justnStratford but all theater. A play isnsupposed to be about itself, but by thentime it is produced, any play worth itsnsalt is also about things that are happeningnin the culture around it. RecallnOlivier’s movie of Henry V. It wasnabout the British victory at Agincourt,nbut it was also about the sense ofn