Saturday, February 24, 2007

Saved or Not?

The BBC reports that "Councillors have agreed to fund a rescue package for the Theatre Royal but sources close to the Margate theatre are not happy with the results.

Thanet District Council, Kent County Council and the Arts Council South East are together contributing £210,000 to save Margate's Georgian Theatre Royal.

Thanet's chief executive Richard Samuel said the theatre was in financial difficulty, with substantial debts but that the council intended to lease the theatre back to the trust to enable it to continue the business - but with additional financial support.

The theatre, which opened in 1787, is said to be haunted by one of its 19th Century managers, Sarah Thorne.

It has had various uses, including a military barracks, a chapel, a furniture warehouse and bingo hall and was mothballed several times before it was bought by the trust in 1992.

Owner, Margate Theatre Royal Trust, has said it is committed to selling it to Thanet District Council.

"The reason for the sale is that without it the trust cannot repay its substantial debts, which run into three figures," said Mr Samuel."

However, a source writing to ThanetLife comments: "My main concern is that a loyal audience (painstakingly built up and nurtured over the last few years) are now being hoodwinked into thinking 'their' Theatre Royal is safe, but then suddenly discover, too late, it's been replaced by yet another arty farty 'community' project and the staff and volunteers they know, have gone."

What do you think, a good result for the future or the end of the road for a Margate landmark?


Chris Wells said...

I tried to illustrate your readers concern in my speech on Thursday on the Theatre Royal - by which time I think you had gone home Simon. The difficulties, summarised are as follows.

The Theatre Royal as it currently stands has built up a range of commercial and community programming and is tasting a bit of success in terms of audience numbers and attendances at its more popular activities - which include some schools daytime productions (one this week). The supporters suggest that if left alone long enough this will eventually become self sustaining. However right now it certainly isn't and the theatre and trustees are burdened with debt and the whole operation is losing vast sums of money. The trusteees have stated for some time that they cannot find a successful provincial theatre that is not underwritten or supported to a great extent by their local authority. The Marlow, for example, gets around £600,000 a year. The Theatre Royal is on the brink of collapse, in spite of KCC and TDC cash injections this last year.

The current package ties in local authority support from TDC at around £75,000 per year; KCC at a guaranteed £50,000 per year for 5 years, and The Arts Council, from memory at £100,00 over 2 years.

The Trustees, to a great extent are tired and worried, the staff feel betrayed by the turn and speed of events, and the loyal public concerned for the future.

Freeing the trustees from debt, and ensuring revenue support into the future should produce a better position overall. The nature of the programming, the mix of commercial, high and community programmes is the subject of much debate. If the theatre is not however commercially viable, it must programme where it can obtain support monies, and these are controlled by the Arts Council in the main.

If the Theatre is to close during the hiatus, and the trustees are to change, then there is little point in having staff doing nothing for several months, the source of yet more emotive debate. Bottom line, sadly, is that the current administration, in all its forms, trustees, staff etc will probably go. I speak as a councillor who has supported the theatre from his own county council monies, and from his personal expertise to help it win grants, not as an enemy.

If, in the end, we get a sustainable operation in the Theatre Royal, the pain will be worth it. There is still much however to discuss, and I know how difficult all who care for the theatre find this period, and how equally difficult it is to face even a temporary closure...the fear is always when any such place closes its doors, opening them again becomes twice as hard.

Anonymous said...

Most of the centre of Margate is now owned by the council and a single property developer. Is that a good thing? Sounds like a recipe for some pockets to be lined, IMHO.

Anonymous said...

I heartily agree with your source. It is not the job of TDC to grab this project that has been the outcome of 15 years very hard work by a team of dedicated volunteers just because it has some financial difficulties. Get on and subsidise Theatre Royal with further funding TDC but leave it in the hands of the Volunteer Trust. This has all the hallmarks of an asset grab and it stinks!

Anonymous said...

Thanet District Council, Kent County Council and the Arts Council South East are together contributing £210,000 to save Margate's Georgian Theatre Royal.

has godden got his eye on it then

Anonymous said...

Don't trust 'em.

Anonymous said...

OK then Chris, if we accept that most theatres need subsidy, then TDC should be giving regular funding to the Theatre Royal every year not just as an emergency 'cash injection this last year'. How would the Marlowe fare if their £600,000 was not paid regularly? I expect they would also be 'on the brink of collapse' within a reasonably short time as well.

Surely this suggested excessive package from TDC, KCC et al is far more expensive to taxpayers than the current Theatre Royal operation would actually need? Why can't the Theatre be purchased by TDC then leased back to the trust, with a more reasonable regular revenue funding package, who can then continue with their regular programming? This would mean the staff would not lose their jobs, there would be no gap in the programming and audience numbers can continue to increase as you stated. Surely a closure followed by a reduced programming is only going to lead to a much reduced footfall?

I get the feeling that many of the less theatregoing councillors than yourself cannot see the need for, or tell the difference between, the Theatre Royal and the Winter Gardens. A clue...the Winter Gardens is a concert hall not a theatre!

Anonymous said...

It just amazes me that the leader of the council can say he is short of cash because of the government. Then at a blink of the eye , money is found to buy the Theatre Royal, creative accounting?

Anonymous said...

Without this deal the Theatre closes. Simple as that. The Council needs this problem, and the expenditure required, like a hole in the head, but is prepared to play its part in keeping it going as an act of faith in the future of Margate. Some will lose, the majority will gain if the plans work out.

Those who present a negative view are probably those who like to knock the Council whatever the story. No change there then.

DrMoores said...

5:55 has a point. Looking down on a very damp Margate today, I wondered at the number of problems facing the council within a a three block square. The Theatre is a good cause in a very long queue I fear!

Anonymous said...

If the winter gardens could see its way of leaving the 1950's we might have a bit more of a vibrant seen on which to build.

Anonymous said...

Lets get real,
Theatre Royal has MASSIVE debts, and if not payed off it would have closed shortly, been sold off, and soon burnt down!

This way the staff will get paid their redundancy payments, and , hopefully, a phoenix will arise from the ashes of the past, not the ashes of a destryed building