Summary Sheffield Theatre Trust.
Summary Sheffield Theatre Trust
The Sheffield Theatre Trust is responsible for the UK’s leading provincial theatres; a profile of high quality producing theatre (Crucible) and a strong history of touring theatre (Lyceum). A producing theatre commissions and finances productions and employs it’s own artistes through artistic direction. Touring theatre have a contracts with touring companies who bring their production and own artistes to the theatre.
The Sheffield Theatre company is, outside London, unique in the UK in being able to produce, co-produce and present independent productions all in one complex. With an income of around £5m the Sheffield Theatre Trust company aims to create high quality artistic work, filling sufficient seats and work without deficits.
Theatre buildings in Sheffield
The Lyceum Theatre opened in 1897 and is now a grade II listed building with the advantage of traditional theatres of having no pillars obstructing audience views and having one of the deepest stages in the country. In 1968 the Lyceum had to close down in because of lack of investment and modern amenities and became a bingo hall. After giving The Playhouse, another theatre in Sheffield, an Arts Council grant a change took place from being a commercial theatre to becoming a subsidised theatre. In 1966 Sheffield Council announced its intention to sponsor the building of a new theatre of 800-900 seats. This would be mainly a producing house, although with the demise of the Lyceum, it would also host some touring productions. The result was the Crucible Theatre, completed in 1971 at a total cost of £ 884,000, on a site next door to the Lyceum. After some controversy, the final building comprised a main auditorium with 980 seats around three sides of a thrust stage and a smaller Studio Theatre with 250 seats (now increased to allow up to 400).
The Playhouse completed its last season in 1970/71 and the Crucible opened in a blaze of publicity. The most notable difference between the Crucible and the Playhouse was the range of activities which were undertaken. Apart form the two stages, there was a restaurant, coffee bar, shop and licensed bar.
In 1981 there was a major local campaign to reopen the Lyceum as a theatre and in 1987 the Sheffield City Council agreed to redevelop it. On completion in 1990 the restored Lyceum Theatre provided a historic theatre, thoroughly refurbished to modern standards and with seating of 1,100. For reasons of economy of scale it was decided to form a new company, Sheffield Theatres, to run both the Lyceum and the Crucible.
This is a preview of the whole essay
In 1972, less than a year after the Crucible opened, it had unprecedented losses. Over the following years the Crucible encountered severe losses under several overall directors. Structures were changed. Changes were made to budgets, planning on much lower percentages of seats filled. Despite the pressure, under Clare Venables the theatre enjoyed a considerable reputation with productions that were both controversial and challenging artistically. But with the reopening of the Lyceum, the Crucible took a back seat. Stephen Barry was the new chief executive of Sheffield Theatres and also other staff changes took place. The Lyceum brought big-name touring productions and popular drama and musicals to Sheffield, so Crucible could focus almost entirely on its own work.
In 1991 a new crisis was emerging; the artistic director resigned, attendances were down by 50 per cent, productions for the New Year were cancelled, the company was heading for a £250,000 deficit. Two years later it was said that the company was too defensive about the Crucible, narrowing the market appeal and attempting an over-specialist role. The board knew that the Lyceum would in inevitably have an initial effect on the Crucible audiences, which was no doubt deepened by the recession. Box office income appeared to be improving over 1992-93.
In 1993 a senior member of the finance staff had, over a period of two years, embezzled nearly £0.5m of funds from the various companies under the Sheffield Theatres umbrella. It worsened the overdraft in the theatre accounts, with consequent ongoing interest charges. Box office sales had fallen drastically and in 1994/95 accounts showed a deficit of £318,000 and in 1995/96 £353,000. If the board continued to trade while knowing insolvent, they would be held personally accountable for any continued losses. In 1996 crisis meetings were held and a ‘recovery plan’ agreed. Productions were greatly slimmed back and key members of the permanent production staff were made redundant and offered purely seasonal contracts. The artistic moral was low and long term planning was impossible. The reputation fell and attendances were at a low of £240,000.
A new strategy
Until 1996, the board of the theatres was chaired by a Sheffield City Councillor, but the pressure for further change led to Norman Adsetts being asked to take over as chair of the board in summer 1996. Sir Norman brought a new emphasis on strategy and business planning. After Stephen Barry left, Grahame Morris took over bringing experience with him of combining touring and production theatre and immediately presenting a new business plan. The business plan proposed many changes over a three year period to make the complex more profitable. A fundamental shift of thinking came in 1998/99 in that the artistic quality and financial prudence were no longer to be seen as competing forces. The autumn of 2000 was disappointing, but no major cuts were made; the resolve of the board to stick to its new strategy was severely tested.
Both theatres first had their own board. By 1995 it was decided that both theatres would come under one charitable body, the Sheffield Theatres Trust. It charitable objects were:
- To promote, maintain, improve and advance education, particularly by the production of educational plays and the encouragement of the arts of drama, mime, dance, singing and music…
- To receive, educate and train students in drama, dancing, music, and other arts, and to promote the recognition and encouragement of special merit in students…..
The Lyceum Trust continues, but it employs no staff. It leases the building to Sheffield Theatres Trust using the money for future repairs and maintenance. As with most charitable organisations of any size, it is necessary to have a trading subsidiary company to undertake non-charitable subsidiary company to undertake non-charitable activities such as the sale of food and drinks and commercial sponsorship. This is the role of Offstage Ltd which is owned by Sheffield Theatres Trust. At the end of the year, Offstage undertakes a gift aid payment to transfer all its profits to Sheffield Theatres Trust.
The board of Sheffield Theatres now operates in effect as one organisation, which overall responsibility for management of the whole complex.
In 1960/61 grants came primarily from the arts council of Great Britain and the local authorities. By 1977 some 63% of the income was in the form of grants; declining in the 1980s to 55%, to 40% in 1989 and to 27% by 1995. Though with some one-off grants for specific initiatives the rant funding rose slightly to 31% in 2000. The Arts Council gives grants to production companies like the Crucible, but in this case also to the Lyceum to cover lease payments to the council.
In 1985 there was an attempt to build up genuine centres of excellence in the regions and Crucible was one of the thirteen regional theatres selected as a major beneficiary. Another important policy change was the introduction of ‘parity funding’, by which the Arts Council aimed that the total public funding of any theatre should be share equally between themselves and the local authority.
In 1990, the Arts Council moved to regional structure, which meant that most of the grant to Sheffield Theatres came from Yorkshire Arts Board rather than direct from the Arts Council of England. This change meant that the Crucible was no longer in direct competition for funds with as many other theatres as previously, but it also meant that the scope for Arts Council grants was influenced heavily by the initial split of the ‘cake’ into regional ‘slices’ over which the theatre had relatively little influence. Over just two years the Trust was due to receive a massive 72 per cent increase in Yorkshire Arts core funding. The launch of the National Lottery in 1994 meant a new possible source of support from the Arts Lottery Fund from around 1996.In 1999 ACE announced the launch of its Stabilisation Programme, aimed at helping major arts bodies. Confirmation was received in the summer of 2000 that Sheffield Theatres had been accepted on to the programme, and by spring 2001 a total award of £1.7m was confirmed. Grahame Morris estimated that a minimum of £750,000 was required for emergency capital works, as much as £8-10m needed to bring the Crucible fully up to the standards needed for the 21st century.
Audiences, pricing and marketing
The largest part of Sheffield Theatres’ revenue is dependent on tickets sold at the box office. The theatres offer a range of discounts for regular theatre-goers who belong to certain membership schemes. Concessions were also available to those over 60, children, students, registered unemployed, disabled people and their carers. The average yield per seat in 2000 was around £7.50 for Sheffield productions and around £9.50 for performances mounted by visited companies. In some cases quite complex formulae can be used to allocate the box office sales for visiting productions but a typical split is for 70 per cent of revenue to get to the touring company and 30 per cent to be retained by the theatre. In terms of minimising the risk, the best arrangement with visiting productions is hire only where the touring company simply pays a fixed fee for use of the theatre, regardless of ticket sales.
Sheffield Theatres successfully obtained a 300,000 Arts Council grant in 1998 for a two-year project entitled ‘How Much?’, 21 productions were publicised under the ‘How Much’ banner with seat prices as low as £3.50 for those aged 16-24. The net effect was a massive increase in seats sold to young people. There was also the problem that these productions were less attractive to some of the more traditional audience.
In addition to the grand and box office income, the most long-standing source of external income has been from hosting the World Snooker Championships. The profits of the restaurants, bars and gift shop form an important source of additional income. By the mid-1990’s, Sheffield Theatres became increasingly successful in attracting sponsors for many Sheffield productions. The need for major upgrading of the Crucible building means that a new fundraising project, possibly for up to £10m, might soon be launched with a view to completion by 2004.
In 2000, Sheffield Theatres employed 161 staff on ongoing contracts.
Issues for the early 2000s
The principal challenge is the ongoing requirement to maintain and develop the quality of output on the three stages, whilst attracting sufficient revenue from a combination of grants and box office sales to make this possible. Building new audiences remained crucial.
The new revenue grants from Yorkshire Arts meant that for the first time in many years the management could think about expanding the investment in productions.
Charity Commissions guidance suggests that charities should have adequate reserves over and above their fixed assets to cover a reasonable period of expenditure (three months is often suggested).
There was willingness to invest in higher quality in-house productions, but a higher quality of in-house productions can only succeed in the long term if it leads to higher levels of attendance. Sadly, due to a combination of apparently unrelated issues, attendances in 2000/01 were disappointing both for in-house and visiting productions.
The key question which remained was whether or not, on a long-term basis, the output of the theatres could be translated into a level of scales at the box office that could give the financial stability which Sheffield Theatres so desperately needed.