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BASILDON’S Towngate Theatre had its most successful year ever last year, a council meeting has heard.
Council officers did not disclose the theatre’s profits or losses, but a public meeting heard the public-owned theatre’s fortunes had significantly improved.
Councillors were told that the popular annual panto no longer bankrolled the theatre, with all shows now making a profit – but that the theatre did not have enough seats to earn enough money to become completely self-funding.
The meeting heard the theatre had ‘lost a lot of money’ two years ago, exceeding the amount Basildon Council had planned to spend on it.
Tory councillor Kevin Blake explained: “That was totally due to the Market Square being developed.”
Cllr Blake called the theatre ‘a fabulous, fabulous facility’ and asked whether it was now making more money.
Paul Brace, assistant director of Basildon Council, said: “In terms of the success of the theatre, last year was its best year on record and did come under budget. So we are targeting the same this year.”
Checking his watch at last week’s Neighbourhoods and Public Spaces Committee meeting, Mr Brace continued: “I would just like to remind members, and the public that may be watching, that it is of course the first night of panto.”
“Oh no it isn’t!” cried Tory councillor Kevin Blake.
Tory councillor Malcolm Buckley said: “Historically, it’s always been the panto that’s been the profit-maker and pretty much everything else struggles to be in the black. I’m just posing a question about the commerciality of the programming.”
Cllr Buckley said he had been to the Palace Theatre in Southend several times and seen big-name acts like Julian Clary.
He asked: “The Palace Theatre doesn’t seem to me to be very much bigger than the Towngate, so why can’t we bring in names like that, that presumably make a profit? Because we really struggled to get a ticket up in the Gods there.”
Mr Brace replied: “All elements of the show costs, to what we get in ticket income – all areas; so that’s, as the ticket sales show here, professional shows, community shows and pantomime – are all profit-making.
“Because we have 538 seats, we don’t have enough seats to be able to generate enough money to be able to make it a non-subsidised theatre. The ticket prices would have to rise too much that it would be uncompetitive and we would sell less seats.
“So we have to try and get that balance right, we have to try and get the right acts. If we had 700 seats, it would start to be slightly different.
“But we’ve got 538, we’re happy with 538, we work hard to get those acts in and I know the current theatre manager is working very hard.
“We have had very close to having big acts, but of course if a big theatre steps in, they will go to get that money. So we’re building those relationships.”
Independent councillor David Harrison, chairing the meeting, said: “Like you, Cllr Blake, I’m a big supporter of the theatre and visit it quite frequently, and the success over the last year and now forward this year is something to be proud of.
“I’m hoping that we can improve it as a council – not as an administration, all of us – to make it even better, and I know Mr Brace has got the same ideas as well.
“So it has moved forward and it is doing very well.”