Fringe Box



Dragon Interview: Nick Wyshna – On His Bid for the Electric Theatre

Published on: 17 Nov, 2015
Updated on: 23 Nov, 2015

The future of the Electric Theatre hangs in the balance. It seemed that everything was set up to fast track a deal with the Academy of Contemporary Music but such has been the outcry from supporters of amateur drama in Guildford that the council seems to be having second thoughts and allowing other bids to be made.

Step forward Nick Wyshna, director of The Guildford Fringe, who here explains to The Dragon his ideas for The Electric…

Nick Wyschna

Nick Wyschna

What is your proposal for the Electric Theatre?

In simple terms our proposal is to keep the theatre as a community theatre and work to make it commercially viable under the management of Guildford Fringe.

Our vision statement is: “To create a theatre that is run for the community by the community.”

We are all aware of the theatre’s history, it was opened as Guildford’s community theatre back in 1997. It was not set up as a profit-making theatre but somewhere that Guildford Borough Council (GBC) accepted would need funding, things change and now GBC are saying they can’t continue to fund it.

Our proposal is to, over five years of trading, make the theatre run itself financially and take the burden away from GBC.

In year five we would hope to be in the position, via the Guildford Fringe crowd funding campaign, to buy the building from GBC which would eliminate all risk to them and would mean it is truly independent and for the community.

How would it be different to what we have had in the past?

Well, we would be looking to re-brand the entire area, theatre and outside space and call it ‘Guildford’s South Bank’. When you hear the words South Bank you think of the buzzing riverside location in London, the arts, street food, pop-up performances and generally a great vibe.

This should be the same at the Electric Theatre site. It would encourage the public and local businesses to use the area all year round for their lunch breaks and evening drinks which would then give us the opportunity to up sell them to what is happening inside the theatre.

In our opinion the public will be far keener to support an independently run theatre than a council-run building.

Do you think it can be operated without a council subsidy? Should it be?

As I mentioned, our plan is to make the theatre run without council subsidy. Saying this our proposal does say that we wouldn’t expect to be charged rent or business rates, this would be GBC’s contribution.

In an ideal world councils would support the community arts but if the only options are selling the theatre off or Guildford Fringe making the theatre run without funding then I will be going for that one.

How important are amateur dramatic groups to our cultural life?

Amateur dramatics are so important in cultural life. I can speak for myself and for the majority of my colleagues from my professional career as an actor that amateur dramatics is where we first found the love for theatre and the arts.

Theatre is made up of so many different areas and a huge area is the amateur sector. During my upbringing in Guildford I performed with Godalming Theatre Group, Curtain Raisers, Ghosts as well as taking part in productions at the University of Surrey.

I would be very surprised if I was making a living out of theatre without being brought up in amateur theatre.

The venue is not only for the community to perform in but also for the community to go and enjoy professional events at. We will be building relationships and supporting the local groups as well as looking to expand on the professional productions that currently come to the theatre.

What is your experience in this field, what are you bringing to the situation?

I trained as an actor at the Royal Academy of Music and since then my world has been the theatre and the arts. I have performed all over the world and had the chance to mix with some of the best actors in the industry, many of which have pledged their support for this proposal in anyway they can.

Guildford Fringe was set up in 2012 and is now my full time job, alongside co-owning Firefly @ The Keystone Pub. I have produced many plays, musicals, adult pantos, cabarets and comedy clubs.

I’ve also been very involved with the planning and direction of events like National Armed Forces Day, the Christmas lights switch on and The Experience Guildford Customer Service Awards.

How will you be financed?

I have proposed that the money GBC are spending on the current management team will be put into an investment fund and this will get us set up and enable us to do the initial re brand and re launch.

I will not be drawing a salary as theatre director from GBC.

This is a five-year plan to reduce the funding to zero at the end of that period, GBC will need to support us until then.

Essentially, we just need to sell more tickets to events and increase the number of events that are programmed into the venue. The venue needs to be used at every possible moment.

By opening up the bar and “South Bank” area from lunch through to pre-theatre dinner we will be increasing the turnover of the venue massively.

I cannot remember the last time that the theatre served food. From my experience from co-owning Firefly @ The Keystone Pub I know that this is where money is made so food will be served in the venue from day one.

We will be launching a friends scheme to generate a monthly income and give the public the opportunity to support their community theatre. We will also be making every effort to get business sponsorship, in venue advertising as well as selling brochure adverts to local and national companies.

These things have not been explored before at the theatre and I believe from experience at Guildford Fringe that is a incredibly powerful way of funding projects.

With the theatre being in such a great location it would be very attractive for businesses to advertise with us as the visibility is so high.

The overall mission and five-year plan would be to launch a crowd-funding campaign where the community, local business owners and local celebrities can ‘buy into’ the Electric Theatre.

At a recent World Fringe meeting, we discussed with Bath Fringe a local pub that was due to be closed. The community got involved and raised over £1 million to buy the site from the brewery and they now collectively own the pub.

This not only saved the premises but also created new and loyal customers as each of the investors use the pub far more now they have an interest in it.

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Responses to Dragon Interview: Nick Wyshna – On His Bid for the Electric Theatre

  1. Gilly Fick Reply

    November 18, 2015 at 9:23 am

    This proposal is a fantastic opportunity – I hope Guildford Borough Council bite Nick Wyshna’s hand off and accept it.

    A petition has been started to ask the council to ensure that the Electric remains as a community theatre.

  2. David Smith Reply

    November 18, 2015 at 11:46 pm

    This proposal should be taken with a huge pinch of salt as there are quite a few flaws obvious from the outset.

    Firstly, theatres all over the country would love to be self-sufficient but the reality is that even the most successful venues need subsidy. The fact that the majority if the venue’s productions are and will continue to be by amateur companies who pay hire rates rather than a share if ticket sales means that increasing revenue in that aspect will be difficult.

    Secondly a lot if what Nick Wyschna is proposing as his “new” ideas are things the theatre already does. He would certainly benefit from some more thorough research.

    Lastly the “South Bank” name is an utterly ludicrous name for a venue on the east bank of a river.

  3. Jim Allen Reply

    November 20, 2015 at 9:48 am

    As a watcher rather than performer there is something very special about a live theatrical performance, which cannot be explained by an art critic in a newspaper or a TV commentator outside the venue. It’s like visiting the Grand Canyon or the Dalton Highway (Alaska), unless you have been there you simply cannot imagine what it is truly like or the emotion it can generate.

    I say let the man have a go.

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