I am the Artistic Director of The Point theatre – a mid-scale venue (300 seats) in Eastleigh, Hampshire, programming contemporary dance and theatre. Last year, the venue cost £696,000 to operate.
Most of the time, I offer companies a 70/30 split (in their favour). So, if I sell all 300 seats at our standard ticket price of £12 then the company makes £2,520 and the venue makes £1,080. But, for many shows, companies prefer to use a ‘flat-floor’ configuration, lowering capacity to 264. Eastleigh is not a particularly affluent town, so we sell a large amount of concession tickets at £10, bringing the average ticket yield down to £11. So, based on these figures, if we sell out, then the company gets £2,032 and the venue takes £871. But let’s face it, as much as we would all love our work to sell out, the reality is that this happens less often than we would like, especially as we prioritise the development of risk-taking new work. So, let’s say I sell 150 tickets. The company takes £1,155 and the venue takes £495. From this figure, I have to pay the marketing team who have worked tirelessly to promote the show, the front of house team who look after our audiences, the technical team who are helping to operate the show, the box office team who sold the tickets, the operations team who keep our venue functioning and the management team to oversee all of this, not to mention a truly eye-watering electricity bill (£31,000 last year). The result of this, sadly, is that staff working in venues don’t get paid as much as they should for their skills and expertise either.
Theatres are expensive buildings to run. So, why bother? With the increasing popularity of site-specific/immersive/pop-up/outdoor work, maybe we should stop paying for bricks and mortar and concentrate our money on artists.
But my venue is developing the next generation of artists. We have five youth theatre groups and 15 dance groups every week. With salaried staff as opposed to project fees, our creative learning team can work year-round, working with 30,000 people to make art. We also run a paid internship scheme; a centre for advanced dance training and a boys’ dance academy, all focused upon nurturing young artists.
Amelia, I completely understand your frustrations at Artist Development programmes and your plea to just be paid properly for your art, but I don’t believe that these two things are mutually exclusive. We provide eight Associate Companies with free office space as well as rehearsal space, year round. We help all of our associates (whether mid-career or emerging) with support to write funding bids. Every one of our associates has achieved G4A funding in the past two years. Through this model, we are supporting artists so that they are better able to raise the money necessary to make their art and better able to negotiate with venues to get paid properly for their work.
We support the development of new work. We encourage experimentation and risk-taking, often supporting companies’ research and development processes. There is far less financial return for this work, as not all of these shows in development will make it into production in order for us to see a return on this investment. The Point is not regularly funded by Arts Council England, though we do receive public subsidy through our local authority (Eastleigh Borough Council) which makes all of this possible.
There is a danger that these debates polarise venues and artists, when the truth is that we are all working for the same thing: we all want to make and to present great art. The reality is that we work in an art form that is heavily reliant upon public subsidy. It is painfully apparent that there will be less government subsidy (in all its many forms) available over the coming two years. So, how do we begin to bridge this gap to ensure that artists are paid for their work, venues are able to keep their doors open and, most importantly, that audiences continue to be able to enjoy great art?
Well, if neither artists nor venues are earning enough money, then basic economics tells us that we are either not selling enough of it or we are selling it too cheaply. Perhaps we need to charge more for tickets? But then how do we make sure that our work is accessible to everyone? Perhaps we need to get rid of tickets all together and find a new way to allow audiences to pay for what they enjoy in an informed manner, which directly relates to what the production cost to put on?
I agree with Andy that greater transparency would be a good place to start. Artists, venues and funders being more open with one another about what things cost can only be a good thing. But without audiences being part of this conversation, we are simply preaching to the converted.
Owen Calvert-Lyons is the Artistic Director of The Point, Eastleigh.