Ticket prices would need to be raised

DEATH Knell to the Arts? (Weston Mercury January 19). Playhouse, Winter Gardens and libraries up for sale? In spite of the councillor's comments I cannot see how a charitable trust can be a realistic or financially credible alternative to the continued s

DEATH Knell to the Arts? (Weston Mercury January 19). Playhouse, Winter Gardens and libraries up for sale? In spite of the councillor's comments I cannot see how a charitable trust can be a realistic or financially credible alternative to the continued support of North Somerset Council. Indeed, having worked at the Playhouse for 12 years and been extensively involved with arts fund-raising, a charitable trust, in my opinion, is not the Holy Grail for most arts venues and would be the kiss of death for this hugely popular and award winning venue.That The Playhouse needs to be subsidised there is no question. I do not know of any theatre in the UK which is not subsidised in one form or another. Essentially, this is because nationally the income from ticket sales does not typically cover the show production costs and a theatre's running costs. So, if there was a significant cut in the theatre subsidy, ticket prices would need to be substantially raised.But it's not just the ticket prices! A cut to the subsidy would also severely threaten the opportunity for local community groups, schools, youth groups, dance schools, etc., to perform on the professional stage, as the rates they pay in hire fees would need to dramatically increase.The fundamental question in my mind is whether there are credible and secure alternative sources of funding available to ensure the theatre's future.Whilst charitable trust status offers a reduction on the business rates, allows donations to be the subject of Gift Aid, it doesn't automatically open up a treasure trove of benefactors eager and willing to annually pay the electricity bill, water rates, insurance, salaries, etc.Most funders will consider supporting educational (aligned to the national curriculum) and social programming, outreach programmes, schools' workshops and the like, but will not pay for the building's overheads nor a mainstream entertainments programme which has been the hallmark of the theatre's programming since it was re-opened in 1969.So if North Somerset Council was allowed to withdraw, or 'significantly limit' the subsidy, these costs would have to be found from donations and local business, and I do not believe the economy of Weston could find a minimum of £241,000 per year, the 2005/6 'operational cost of service'.The Stage Newspaper last week stated "it's worth councils remembering that every £1 invested in a theatre brings £4 into the local economy", on which basis the Playhouse generates almost £1 million for the local economy.In other words, each North Somerset resident annually invests £1.27 to fund the Playhouse, and the return on this investment to the local economy is £5.07 each.When one bears in mind that at least 50 per cent of the theatre's annual attendance live outside of Weston (there were 110,000 patrons in 2005/6, many of whom live in the north of the authority) one wonders how much more money has been generated for local bars and restaurants, hotels, car parks, etc.Thankfully, over 80 per cent of the Weston Mercury's online poll voted against the Playhouse being sold off, and I urge all interested parties to take their lead and join this debate. Please make your opinions heard through the media or directly to your local councillor. There are so many economic, educational and social benefits to having the Playhouse Theatre as it is, and to undermine its considerable success in recent years would be a tragedy. Remember the 60s?Public funding was an issue for the Knightstone Theatre in March, 1962, when the late Basil Flavell announced at a council meeting "There is no possible way of running a theatre... and making a profit". The town may well have doubled in population since then, but, in 1962 there was no colour TV, Internet, easyjet and holidays abroad, nor a motorway to Bristol!ANDREW JEFFERY - Playhouse front of house manager 1995-9, programming and marketing manager 1999-06.


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