Opinion: The business of theatre
By CEO of The Everyman, Sean Kelly
The Everyman, as most people know, is a 652 seat theatre that offers a programme of live events on a year-round basis.
A number of inter-linked responsibilities arise from that but before we talk about them, it’s important to understand that over ninety per cent of our annual income comes from ticket sales meaning that our audiences, approximately 120,000 every year, are our main stakeholders.
We serve a huge number of constituencies in Cork city, county and beyond – lovers of mainstream entertainment such as standup comedy and great gigs, fans of classic drama, families, people who want to see the latest in contemporary drama and much, much more.
We make it our business to ensure that we have regular, high-quality offerings for all of our audiences. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have a theatre or a business to talk about.
While our audiences are our main stakeholders, many of their most beloved shows cost a great deal more to put on than they could ever hope to recoup at the box office, unless we were to charge the eye-wateringly high prices, unaffordable to most, that are seen in other countries.
Therefore, the hope is always that a combination of proceeds from our more commercial events and public funding, will allow us to meet the costs of things like contemporary drama, opera and dance.
In other words, the key is balance; a balanced programme of activities that meets the needs of all our stakeholders while generating sufficient income to keep our business thriving.
Live performances on stage are the most visible part of what we do but we also have a number of other responsibilities to the citizens, artists and businesses of Cork.
For example, every year we work with over 500 artists providing them with a range of supports such as business advice, support in making funding applications, artistic guidance, rehearsal space, office space, technical training, subsidised tickets, travel to see the best international and national work and monthly artist networking events.
Of course, a key part of our remit is providing employment opportunities for artists, Cork artists in particular. Historically, our best artists had to leave Cork to earn a living but we work extremely hard to support Cork’s vibrant and varied cultural ecology through providing meaningful employment for artists at various stages of their careers from emerging artists right up to experienced, internationally recognised practitioners.
For example, we produce or co-produce several productions on our stage each year allowing us to hire actors, designers, technicians, producers, directors, set builders, musicians and many others.
We commission artists to produce and develop new work, allowing them to earn a living while practicing and honing their craft, we offer residencies to artists, giving them a guaranteed income for a three year period and we have a new assistantship programme whereby emerging artists and arts professionals can gain vital experience working alongside some of our most established and celebrated colleagues.
Aside from our extensive work with artists, we also see ourselves as being rooted in Cork’s diverse communities, old and new.
We want our beautiful theatre to stand as a home, a refuge for all of our communities and all of our citizens, regardless of who they are or how they define themselves. We want our building to extend beyond the walls of MacCurtain Street into our local communities.
We run a range of outreach activities to try to make this a reality. We are also focussed on building audiences of the future and nurturing tomorrow’s artists through family events, our young playwright’s programme and The Everyman Young Company.
Our work in supporting artists, building connections with communities and nurturing a love of theatre in young people is hugely rewarding but also costly.
Again, we are hugely reliant on ticket sales to generate the necessary funds to cover the costs of our non-commercial shows, our work supporting artists, our work with young people and our community and outreach work.
The big financial goal remains the same every year – ensure that we raise the €3.5 million necessary to keep our doors open. While ticket sales and public funding take us a long way towards this journey, it simply wouldn’t be possible without our other major income stream – fundraising.
We’ve been putting more and more focus on this in recent years and we’ve been very moved by the support offered to us by the businesses and citizens of Cork, as donors, Everyman Friends, seat sponsors, business club members and the myriad of other ways that they choose to support us.
We see our ourselves as being at the heart of the city’s business community and we have a key role to play in making Cork an attractive city to visit, live and do business in.
We’re located in one Cork’s most historic and vibrant areas and the 120,000 people that come through our doors also bring footfall to the area generally and the many other fabulous businesses around us.
While the challenges of presenting such a variety of cultural activities to a wide range of audiences in a Victorian-era listed building that requires constant maintenance are considerable, we’re extremely proud of the contribution we make to the city’s cultural landscape – as a place of entertainment, a place of refuge, a place to hear breath-taking stories, a place to find people like and unlike yourself, a place for the young and not so young to feel the thrill of live performance for the first time, and as an ethical employer with an ever-growing audience and client base.
We’ve been helping to shape the city’s cultural and economic conversation for 130 years and we plan on doing so for many years to come.