Fringe Box



Letter: Others Envy Guildford Its Electric Theatre

Published on: 16 Nov, 2015
Updated on: 15 Nov, 2015

From Mandy Grealis

Chairperson of the Guildford Amateur Theatre Association (GATA)

I write in response to Geoff Davies’ letter to The Guildford Dragon NEWS on 14th November we in GATA would like to address some of the points that he has raised.

Firstly, we would like to remind Cllr Davis that GATA is an umbrella organisation representing the interests of non-for profit community groups. The committee is made up of representatives from each group who all give their time for free as volunteers.

We have always been clear that we do not have the funds to put forward a proposal to run the building – we have however, been keen to work with GBC to explore other alternatives including joint community ventures. Our ideas have not been taken forward.

The GATA contract was terminated in December 2014. We repeatedly sought information from GBC [Guildford Borough Council] on next steps but did not have our first meeting until July this year.

We have had three meetings with the working group, or representatives from it, all of which have been at our request. The GBC purpose of these has been to notify us of decisions – not to explore ideas.

Our “highly advantageous” arrangement has been in place since 1997 because GATA were instrumental in the creation of The Electric Theatre and continue to be a key stakeholder. Aside from regularly hiring the building for productions we have contributed nearly £80,000 in equipment which is available for all users of the venue.

To put in context our discounts we receive a hire fee which is lower than the standard amateur rate – this amounts to a subsidy of £488 per production (this is only given if a GATA group books the venue – it is not a rolling grant).

We do, however, still pay £1,472 for a week long hire, give the theatre 13 per cent commission on every single ticket sold, bring in revenue through bar takings and pay extra to be included in the brochure.

It is also worth noting that our hire fee is guaranteed income, unlike a commercial production (normally a one-nighter) that would attract a box office split with the potential for the theatre to lose money if the event didn’t sell.

GATA would advise the public to read the independent Beckwith report which made many recommendations about how GBC could approach the situation.

To our knowledge the only recommendation taken forward was the one to terminate the GATA contract which we reiterate is because we are an easy target. What other steps have GBC taken in the last year to reduce the deficit?

We acknowledge that in the current economic climate GBC should be scrutinising their assets but we also assert that a community venue (which has never had a remit to make money) should be assessed differently to other business cases.

The level of subsidy the theatre receives has increased over the last few years (page 4 of the Beckwith report) from £165,962 (year 2011/12) to a projected £253,270 (2014/15) which is due to staffing upheavals and reduced programming.

Surely with pro-active and experienced management (coupled with an effective and collaborative business plan) the subsidy could have been better managed and possibly even reduced to its original level?

The figures that Mr Davis quoted are not only lifted out of context but are generated through estimates from different financial years. The Beckwith report has taken ticket sales from 2011/12 and combined these with the estimated budget for 2014/15.

In addition we would like to point out that the report calculates the Electric Theatre subsidy per head of the population is £1.85 which is cheaper than both GLive and the Yvonne Arnaud.

It is also worth considering that the table on page 5 which compares The Electric to G Live and the Yvonne Arnaud is calculated on number of attendees. Can you really compare a venue with 1,000 seats to one that seats 210?

GATA fully accept that change is necessary and have continually adapted our relationship with GBC (including losing Sunday morning access so that the theatre can be hired to a church and allowing ACM to use the auditorium in daytimes during our hires).

We are flexible, forward looking and cherish our time at The Electric Theatre. Guildford is envied for owning such a fantastic community resource.

As an umbrella committee comprising of amateur theatre groups we invite Mr Davis to let us know how else we can be pro-active?

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