Theatre funding cut fears

A POPULAR riverside theatre is bracing itself for a drop in funding which council officers believe might lead to it becoming a “wholly amateur” venture.

The Quay Theatre in Sudbury runs on cash generated from ticket sales and grants from a range of organisations.

Among those grants is the �51,500 from Babergh District Council. However, Babergh has revealed its grant is under review and discussions have taken place with the theatre about what impact a cut in financial support would have.

Theatre chiefs said they had expected a cut in grant funding and were building that into their future plans.

In their report to the council, Babergh officers Tim Mutum and Chris Foti said cutting its funding was “the only way forward in the current climate”.

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The pair said if the funding cut was more than �5,500 – and the theatre was unable to find other cash sources – it might choose to consider becoming a “wholly amateur-operated theatre”.

“In this scenario,” the officers said, “it is unlikely that the company would be able to continue to present the current level of work, or to be able to sustain its professional programme.”

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A council spokeswoman said: “Babergh is having to make very tough decisions in the current financial climate and savings have to be made in order to achieve a balanced budget in 2011/12. No decision about the level of grant funding has yet been made but a reduction in grant funding for the theatre is likely.”

Robert Benton, chief executive at the theatre, said a drop in funding from Babergh was expected.

He said: “The board (of the theatre) are very much aware of these mattters and are looking to build that sort of thinking in their planning for the future.”

He said: “We are very, very happy with the way Babergh has assisted us in the last few years – especially the recessionary years. Life is tough for all of us. This is the community’s theatre and it is for them to support us.”

He said he had no objection in principle to the idea of the Quay being an amateur-operated establishment – but only if it made sense financially.

He added the current autumn programme was showing ticket sales 15% ahead of the best levels in the last five years.

Penny Otton, vice-chairman of the charity Suffolk Artlink, said: “There’s no argument about how drama can help with all sorts of things in the community.

“These are difficult times for local authorities but what we need to do in the arts sector is make the case loud and strong about the benefits organisations like the Quay offer.”

Babergh’s overview and scrutiny (community services) committee will discuss the theatre’s funding next Tuesday.

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