A note from our Chief Executive
It's an unprecedented time for us all that's touched every part of our industry. As producers, we are uncertain what the coming weeks will hold in terms of our current/future projects and how best to manage them. I thought sharing what I'm doing at the moment could help advise you on your next steps. It is important to remember however, that this tricky time may create some opportunities in the future. Although we can’t predict when this will be i've tried to end on a slightly positive note.
How can I ensure quick & accurate decision making and communication with my creative team?
On Monday 16th at 6pm we told the company of Come From Away that the evening performance was cancelled and the show was being closed on government advice that the public should not attend theatres. This was the last of 5 productions of CFA running around the world to close.
That set a chain of events that needed the producing team on the show to take some quick and specific actions. The theatre team needed to be working with the production team hand in glove, and straight away we begun the process of cutting all costs on the show and shoring up our financial position. As I write, we are still mid-way in negotiations with the key theatrical unions about how to retain and pay our staff for what is at the moment an unknown period.
Therefore, you have to be cautious. With a long running show like CFA we are determined to be back in the West End again to continue our run and for that, we have to have a decent amount of financial reserves to make that possible:
- Suppliers and weekly fee holders on the show are contacted quickly to negotiate reductions and waivers of payments.
- Detailed work is done with the marketing team in order to pull back as much uncommitted spend as possible and get the marketing expense as quickly down to the lowest figure possible.
In summary, every pound you spend when dark cannot be offset with any income so if you're planning to open again (as is the case with a long running musical) then every pound saved goes towards the strength of that reopening when it happens.
For plays it's a different and somewhat more difficult proposition. Plays are often limited runs dictated by the actors availabilities and the theatre availability. In this case the only thing to do is close down the production as quickly as possible and mitigate as much risk as possible.
What about projects I have in the pipeline?
Quick and streamlined decision making and communication is essential in these crisis moments but thinking ahead to shows yet to happen that are in the planning stages is just as hard as there is so much uncertainty.
With that in mind I wanted to share some key advice as we all think about what the future holds and how to plan;
If you are negotiating a theatre contract for the future, my best advice right now is to not sign anything. Or at the least agree terms with the provision that by a given date (a substantial time before you're due to open) you will have had confirmation that the theatre will be open for performances. I would also say at this point that no theatre, West End or Off West End should be asking for any kind of deposit until we are all clear on an official opening date for theatres in the UK.
Lastly, remember that when we do open for business again it's going to be a slow process building audiences and restoring confidence. Please bare this in mind when thinking about the favourability of the deals you are striking and the financial flexibility within your agreements. It's important we all note that when we do open for business again attendance is going to take some time to build.
For workshops and development sessions you can be a little more flexible. Firstly look at delaying dates, it's probably likely that when social distancing measures start to be relaxed that some smaller development work and informal rehearsal will be able to start again. Certainly before theatres are officially opened again. Also look at other ways to do development work without having to be 'in the room'. Get familiar with Zoom and Microsoft Team. Much can be achieved now in terms of creative development in the digital age.
What should I say to my investors?
The same golden rule always applies. Communicate with your investors accurately, realistically, honestly and regularly. Even in times like these investors are understanding as long as they feel you are being straight with them. On Ghost Stories, once we realised the tour would be cancelled and had communicated with all the future venues we were then ready to write to our backers and explain the circumstances. It was key that we gave them a realistic picture of where we were at financially and that the tour would now be closed. Your relationship with your investors is crucial for once the industry is back up and running again. There will be nervousness and it will take some time for confidence to be restored bu
t if you've been open and honest with them they are more likely to back you again.
And lastly to end on a slightly positive note; when we do open up again be mindful that it will take some time for audiences to come back, so as producers you will be in a position where it's quite possible there will be:
- More theatre availability and probably availability at short notice meaning there will be advantageous deals to do with venues
- A greater pool of talent (Creative Teams and Actors) from which to draw from and attach to your project as people will want to work
- When you put together your budgets and deals you should be able to negotiate from a stronger position bearing in mind the two points above
- A hoped for enthusiasm in audiences to get back to the theatre and experience live performance - this is the big one!
If there is any further advice Stage One could give, please remember our charity's aim; to support and train theatre producers. We have finanicial support available for alumni which you can read more about here. Our enquiries address is also open for questions.
- Joseph Smith, Chief Executive of Stage One