Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Berry Interesting..

"Blame The Tories" says Lib Dem Art and Culture Maestro Cllr Alan Broadhurst in response to Hedge End Blogger's questions about the management of The Berry and its apparent neglect by Eastleigh Council.

Apparently there would be more going on at the venue this summer had conservative controlled Hampshire County Council not withdrawn promised funding.  But Lib Dem controlled Eastleigh does not intend to recruit to fill the vacant manager's role for a whole year.  That looks like a stealth cut to me.  Before The Berry opened the Council claimed it would be creating five new jobs in the area.  Make that four then.

If your manager resigns because of stress, I can't see the logic in keeping the position vacant.  Surely that just puts more stress on the remaining staff members?

I asked Alan to comment on three areas of concern in addition to the unfilled manager vacancy.  They were: the failure of the Council to promote The Berry in the "Borough News", the confusion caused by running a joint box office with The Point, and the failure to programme any of the promised professional touring drama productions for six months between the opening events and the end of September.  

Although he glosses over the failure of the Council to promote the venue and criticises me for not publicising the good things that are happening there (bit cheeky Alan! - I guess you hadn't seen this post.) he does cover the other points in some detail.   This is in marked contrast to at least one of his Lib Dem colleagues who has refused to engage with Hedge End Blogger at all when asked to comment on other stories of local interest.  Thank you Alan for taking this seriously and realising that the new media are now an important part of the democratic process.

Here is Alan's statement:

"It is normal for most provincial theatres to have a "Dark Period" in August. Most people go away for their summer holidays and in an area like ours it is not economic to run a theatre during August as attendance is likely to be very low.
August is normally the time when we would traditionally do summer schools etc but as HCC pulled their promised funding for skills training for young people in technical theatre as part of their budget cuts and because we can’t do anything that could be perceived as clashing with the d@rt’s programme, this year activity will be less.
The theatre has the direction that was laid out in the business plan. It was only due to programme two professional shows a month to minimise financial risk and give time for the programme to grow.
The theatre has only been open for three months as opposed to the Point's 15 years and has come on a huge amount in a very short time. We programme a range of professional shows responding to the needs of the community.
It is extremely rare for comedians such as Ross Noble to perform as a venue such as ours, and in the normal course of events we could not afford to programme him, however we have already gained a good reputation. The shows sell very quickly which is good for our bottom line. Both The Point and The Berry can only programme according to their seating capacity.
The general manager left because of stress, we felt stability should be our first priority and seconded the general manager of The Point for a year. He has over thirty years experience in a number of theatres and also is experienced at managing snagging which is something that is happening this first year, and there are major issues with the air-con, heating, alarm system, the roof. These are also another reason not to over programme in our first year. It is better to grow the programme, we also have a commitment to the school not to programme at certain times, and to run a whole host of community projects as well as our professional shows.
The d@rt were due to take on box office but lost key staff just prior to our opening so were not able to take on the commitment. The Point box office staff stepped into the breach and have done a sterling job. The d@rt is now back up to strength and a training programme is in place for their staff. In them meantime now that all the financial and audit requirements are in place a member of The Point box office team is going to be seconded to The Berry to get box office going from the theatre.
The Berry has been successful in gaining major funding from the arts council - almost unheard of for a new theatre - to work with three theatre companies over the next two years. This will also see the first produced Pantomime going into the theatre this December. We have also been successful in gaining consortium funding to programme more financially risky product - theatre is expensive to put on - and that will enable us to programme more professional theatre going forward. We are also in conversation with The Globe theatre to bring one of their productions to The Berry. You do actually need a multi million pound venue to show professional, digital down load film at time of release.
Once again the theatre has only been open three months, as a totally new venture, staff have been working very hard, doing many, many more hours than they get paid for at a very difficult time. The Director, General Manager, and other senior staff have taken on this extra responsibility for no extra pay and have made a restricted budget go a very long way and I are all very professional even when they had to open a venue that was not even finished at the opening and have had to set up systems, deal with some very difficult snagging issues, and making sure the School do not feel over-whelmed by having a professional theatre on campus. The theatre is actually doing extremely well and some of that is to do with the reputation of The Point but it is not realistic to expect it to operate at the same level as The Point in such a short space of time.
If more mainstream fully produced theatre is a priority for Hedge End members then there is every opportunity for them to sponsor a show, and we are already responding to requests for festivals and other ideas put forward. However I am concerned that we do not lose more staff through stress and if would have been nice to have had some positive comments as well as negative about the external funding, the sell-out shows, the popular community projects, the feature on prime time BBC, the £10K funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
As to the very good opening events, a lot of that was down to the theatre's amateur staff pulling in plenty of favours and personal contacts to get someone like Sam West to opening the venue - for no fee I might add."


  1. Jenny Schwausch12 July 2011 at 23:53

    I read Alan's reply with interest.

    I have a few questions to ask of him:

    What is a Hedge End member?

    How much would it cost to sponsor the Berry?

    How has Academy status, awarded to Wildern since the building of the Berry, affected the school/theatre relationship?

    Originally there was to be a three way split between professional theatre/community groups/Wildern School. Does this arrangement still stand?

    Hedge End Town Council have £20,000 ringfenced for performances at the Berry. This would be sufficient to finance a varied programme for three months so why not use it?

    Cllr Louise Bloom is intending to stage a Hedge End Festival in the Autumn. Is this the Festival request referred to? Will she have to pay the same hire fee as non-Councillors?

    As the amateur staff are great at pulling in favours, how about asking them to pull in a few more?

    Thanks, Alan. I look forward to your reply.

  2. Although Cllr Alan Broadhurst referred to the Berry Interim General Manager taking on "extra responsibilities" for "no extra pay", he has told me in a subsequent email that the manager has, in fact, no longer any responsibilities at The Point, and is dedicated to The Berry. Happy to clarify this point.

  3. Keith Day said...

    Although Cllr Alan Broadhurst referred to the Berry Interim General Manager taking on "extra responsibilities" for "no extra pay", he has told me in a subsequent email that the manager has, in fact, no longer any responsibilities at The Point, and is dedicated to The Berry. Happy to clarify this point.

    Thanks Keith, thats as clear as mud.!!