27 August 2015

Paines Plough 2014 (Act I - revenue)

Whilst in Edinburgh this month, I took the opportunity to attend a couple of seminars dealing with the more ‘administrative’ side of theatre. That’s right, give me 3500 shows to choose from and I'm going to head straight for the nearest discussion about amortising your production costs.

At one of these seminars I listened to James Grieve (Paines Plough's Artistic Director) talk about how Paines Plough approach the business of small-scale touring. The principles are exactly as you’d expect (minimal actors, minimal set, fit everything in one car, stage manager drives and GO!!! Kind of...) but then someone in the audience asked “Is small-scale touring sustainable?”

From my own experiences of small-scale touring (musician. Kind of...), everything about it is terrible. The van will break down and leave you stuck in a motorway services for 14 hours. The routing will be ridiculous. You will have sleep on the floor in a half gutted house with a toilet that isn’t plumbed in (but many people have kindly used) next to a couple that will not stop touching each other. Or you can sleep in the van. In Ireland. In January.

Oh and also, it can cost a lot to do. You are touring small venues because you are unknown. Since you are unknown, nobody comes to see you which means there’s not really any money in it. Which means you keep telling yourself it’s an investment and next time it will support itself. So the question from the audience didn't really surprise me. It also didn't surprise me that James Grieve's response was that he does believe small-scale touring is sustainable. I suspect that Paines Plough would not have just got themselves a pop-up theatre (The Roundabout Auditorium) if he believed otherwise.

What surprised me was the way in which he said yes. It was so 'definite' that I made a mental note to look into exactly how sustainable small-scale touring is for Paines Plough.

Most of the below is taken from the 2014 annual accounts of Paines Plough Limited, which are the most recent accounts available at time of writing.

First part, revenue:

£20142013Growth% Growth
Arts Council Portfolio Funding314,344313,8015430.17%
Project Specific Funding218,483299,896(81,413)-27.15%
Production Revenue139,844168,524(28,680)-17.02%
Donations & Other18,09514,7233,37222.90%

First thing to note, revenue dropped by around 13% year on year. A proportion of that decrease can be attributed to securing funding for The Roundabout Auditorium in 2013.

£314,344 (roughly 46% of Paines Plough's revenue in 2014) comes from Arts Council England's National Portfolio funding. Essentially no change year on year and looking ahead, there won't be much change in that number out to 2017/2018 according to ACE's data.

The decrease in Project Specific Funding (restricted funds that have to be used for their specified purpose) can be attributed to successfully securing funding for The Roundabout in 2013. However, stripping out the costs of The Roundabout from 2013 (very simply assume it cost the £150,000 received from The Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation in 2013), Project Specific Funding would have actually shown a significant increase year on year.

Removing the costs of The Roundabout from 2013 does however mean that Production Revenue (unrestricted revenue that can be used for any purpose) drops from ~26% of revenue in 2013 down to ~20% of revenue in 2014. This is worth pointing out because Paines Plough do not have a large number of revenue streams and over-reliance on Arts Council England, grants and donations may not be 'truly' sustainable in the event of severe funding cuts (remember that The Department of Culture, Media and Sport has been modelling cuts of up to 40%).

The table below shows Production Revnue as a percentage of revenue for the past 5 years (unadjusted figure used for 2013).

Production Revenue139,844168,524228,40217056250184
Total Revenue690,766796,944626821463529318683
Production Revenue as a %20%21%36%37%16%

Funding The Roundabout may have suppressed the percentages in recent years but having secured such an incredible asset means that Paines Plough are perfectly poised to nudge that Production Revenue % number upwards over the next 5 years if they so choose.

An alternative would be to focus on Project Specific Funding. If a specific project has adequate funding then production revenue may not be required, allowing Paines Plough to reach a wider audience (using subsidised tickets for example). This would likely suppress future Production Revenue. As a highly collaborative organisation, Paines Plough's network is perhaps their greatest asset so it follows that the more they can expand that network through better funding for specific projects the better. I would assume extended reach also helps when it comes to ACE Portfolio funding.

The collaboration aspect is important when considering revenue. It seems clear that not all Production Revenue from every single production that bears the Paines Plough name goes through Paines Plough. For example, a touring production may be subject to a number of calls whereby venues, collaborative partners and Paines Plough themselves all take slices of the production revenue (not necessarily in that order). Again, this likely suppresses Production Revenue as a % of revenue: if Paines Plough were to do more 'in-house' they could report more Production Revenue but the collaborative nature of their work is what ensures their status as a powerhouse of new writing.

At least as far as reported revenue is concerned, I am not surprised James Grieve was so certain in his reply to the question of sustainability. What will be interesting over the next few years is seeing whether The Roundabout is used to fuel growth and drive Paines Plough towards self-sufficiency (increasing Production Revenue as a % of revenue) or whether it demands ever increasing subsidies to maintain and attract the right audience numbers.

Act II