Sudbury: Community theatre bucks trend
08:00 23 January 2013
VOLUNTEERS who run a community theatre, which is bucking the national trend and “thriving” in tough economic times, put its success down to “good housekeeping”.
The board of trustees at Sudbury’s Quay Theatre have been quick to quash rumours that they are in financial trouble. Theatre co-ordinator Nicki Murphy said where larger enterprises such as Felixstowe’s Spa Pavilion had succumbed to sweeping cuts in grant funding, the Quay - which a registered charity - had enjoyed one of its best years ever. It has just invested in a new £3,000 sound system with money raised by its own fundraising group.
The Quay, which opened in 1981 as a venue for Sudbury Dramatic Society, encountered financial difficulties in 2011 and had to make staff redundancies. Since then, it has been run from its original 300-year-old building on the edge of the river Stour, almost entirely by voluntary staff.
In recent weeks the Quay has played host to well-known acts including comedian Jo Brand and Hardeep Singh Kohli, who placed it in his “top six” venues in the UK.
But Ms Murphy said balancing the books had not been easy, adding: “Around 18 months ago, we experienced difficulties when our grant funding was reduced, but since then and with the input of many different people, we have managed to keep to budget. Of course we can never afford to become complacent but I believe we have hit our budget and had our best year yet through good housekeeping, looking at programming very carefully and ensuring that we don’t ‘lose’ money on any event.”
The theatre operates a percentage split with artists - or they can hire the theatre - rather than performers receiving a guaranteed fee. Because the Quay has performed so well, some of its board members have even been asked to advise volunteers looking to revitalise the Spa Pavilion.
Quay publicity officer Simon Frampton admits that another reasons why the theatre has survived is because staff are willing to try new things. Last year for example Mr Frampton tried to broaden the range of films offered at the Quay in a bid to draw in a younger audience. But he said this has not been successful, adding: “It is important to recognise that if new things fail, we shouldn’t be afraid to drop them. Young people want the whole Imax cinema social experience these days and are not willing to sit in a 125-seat theatre to watch a film - even if we reduce the ticket price to below £5. Very big films that have already shown elsewhere seem to do well here, but we have to accept that our audiences are of a certain age. We have learned to play to our strengths.”
Part of the venue’s success is that it is open for use by dozens of different community organisations and has become much more than a theatre according to Ms Murphy. She concluded: “Without the ongoing support of Babergh District Council, Sudbury Dramatic Society, Sudbury Musical Society, our volunteers and the whole town, we would struggle. We are very fortunate to be regarded as such an intergral and important part of the community.”