Last week’s Federal budget cuts to the arts revealed the divide between the so-called “rich” established companies and independent artists living hand–to-mouth on project grants, who are those in the arts most likely to suffer in the next four years.
But there’s rich and not quite so rich among Australia’s 28 major theatre, opera, music and dance companies which are guaranteed federal funding through the Australia Council.
Indeed, the annual reports of three of the country’s major theatre companies released in the last few weeks reveal that these companies are not so much “rich” but that some are not as poor, and luckier, than others.
The results of Sydney Theatre Company (released tonight), Sydney’s Belvoir Theatre and Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre show that the business of theatre is always, as they say on Broadway, a crapshoot.
Sometimes the stars align (literally) as they did in 2013 at the STC, allowing it to combine glittering casting, successful tours, a program of canonical favourites and intriguing new works that generally pleased both audiences and critics, and saw the company record a financial surplus and rising attendances.
Belvoir had a similarly golden year of well-received shows but somehow a “perfect storm” of factors largely beyond its control saw it record a financial loss.
In 2013 Malthouse took its usual bold risks (and many more than Belvoir and STC). But last year these risks didn’t pay off in audience approval as its paid attendances fell substantially. However, the company made a balance sheet profit because its accountants made a profit from its investment strategy, courtesy of its healthy philanthropical input into its capital reserves.
These three companies recorded diverse financial results in 2013 but this doesn’t mean a formula has been locked in for financial (or artistic) success in 2014, or any year after. Audience tastes change, lead actors get sick, directors cancel, a financial crisis or draconian budget suddenly hits “discretionary” spending and the stars can re-align for better or worse. It’s the unpredictable “magic of theatre”, as they also say on Broadway.
But down to business. STC had a great year in 2013 – the final season put together by Cate Blanchett and co-director and husband Andrew Upton (who continues in the role solo until the end of 2015).
One barometer of a company’s success is how many people are prepared to pay to see a show, and last year 321,610 people paid to see STC shows (including tours). These included the star-fests of Blanchett and Isabelle Huppert in The Maids, Hugo Weaving and Richard Roxburgh in Waiting for Godot, and Toby Schmitz and Tim Minchin in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.
The company saw its subscriber numbers climb by 3,733 to 16,922, and it made a profit of $431,000 on a turnover of $35 million.
Lest anyone accuse the STC of hogging federal funding, its executive director Patrick McIntyre said in a press release today: “We are particularly proud of the efficiency of the organisation. In 2013, our base recurrent subsidies from federal and state governments represented seven per cent of our budget, and more than 100 per cent of these subsidies were spent directly on performers’ wages and fees to other creative artists, not including the costs of new play commissions, readings and workshops, and in-house artistic staff.”
Belvoir’s successes last year included its productions of Angels in America, Miss Julie and Hamlet, but the company posted a deficit of $568,000.
Its chairman, Andrew Cameron, wrote in its 2013 annual report: “Live performance comes with a wide variety of in-built risks, and an unexpectedly high number of incidents in 2013 led to additional costs. These incidents led to cancelled performances and cast changes which all contributed to higher than forecast costs”.
“Our box office revenue in our home venue was well above target and this financial result does not reflect significant reduction in sales or turnover, rather it is akin to growing pains. Like many businesses we were affected by a downturn in interest earnings and commercial income, but box office figures remain strong with more people visiting Belvoir throughout the year than ever before’’, Cameron wrote. (Paid attendances at Belvoir in 2013 last year numbered 161,067, which includes tours to New York, Melbourne, Amsterdam and Vienna).
Malthouse’s annual report emblazons across its pages how many people paid to see its shows in its Southbank theatres in 2013 (42,866), but this compares to 54,269 in 2012.
The company’s revenues declined to $6.6 million in 2013 from $7.1 million the year before. Its production and touring costs were only $2.5 million compared to $3.4 million the year before, because there was no touring (and hence lower box-office). Revenue from theatre and performance (box office) dropped to $1.42 million last year compared to $1.94 in 2012. However its marketing expenses climbed to $623,343 last year ($487,211 in 2012). Other expenses from continuing operations also went up to $3.7 million in 2013 compared to $3.4 million in 2012.
Malthouse’s losses before its earnings from investments in 2013 were $287,860 compared to losses of $209,434 in 2012. Its investments, however, earned it a whopping $430,625 in 2013 compared to $192,369 in 2012. The company officially made a profit of $142,765.
Malthouse’s biggest box office success in 2012 was its Melbourne Festival co-production of The Shadow King which 5,077 people paid to see over 18 performances taking about $200,000 total in box office. Its STC and Back to Back Theatre co-production Super Discount was attended by 2,711 people (1,882 of them paying) and took $68,490 in box office during its Malthouse run. About 2,130 people paid to see The Bloody Chamber earning $80,127 at the box office.
The Malthouse 2013 annual report does not include any commentary from its management or board about the decline in audience numbers.
In a supplied statement today its artistic director Marion Potts and executive director Sarah Neal said: “We are happy with the financial result of 2013, supported by a strong year for investments, which saw a profit to the company of $142,000. Ticket sales across the year were softer than expected for some productions, but balanced by very strong results for other major Malthouse works such as the award winning The Shadow King and The Bloody Chamber. With creative risk being one of the core values underlying the work we program, it’s natural there will be variance across the season.”