Friday, June 28, 2013

The Five Ps

In the fourth of his speaker profiles from the 2013 Theatres Trust Conference, Thriving Theatres, Conference Reporter Fin Kennedy hears from Ian Pratt of Kings Theatre Southsea about a community-led restoration effort which saved the town's Frank Matcham designed Edwardian Theatre - and the continuing efforts to open the building up even further to its local people.
Ian Pratt

Ian has a background as a Naval Engineer. He moved into running a theatre lighting company which led to him becoming Vice Chairman and Technical Director of the Kings Theatre Southsea. He gave Conference 2013 an overview of the theatre's history, ethos and future and how its supportive community and many volunteers had reopened its doors.

The Kings is a Frank Matcham designed Edwardian era theatre, which like many from that period became run down and entered a period of decline in the 1990s. After a big local campaign, it was bought by the City Council and leased to the Kings Theatre Trust, an organisation with huge public support. In the early days, a huge amount of volunteer support was needed to put it back on its feet, helping the small number of paid staff. Twelve years on, there is now a much larger staff to run the much bigger operation of the vibrant building, but volunteers are just as vital to support their beloved local theatre. Ian spoke about one important lesson learned over the years that staff and volunteers need treating slightly differently. Volunteers need looking after and motivating, and as such aren't completely 'free' due to the management time this requires.

Prior to its restoration, the Kings only put on shows. There was no education work and, as a consequence, not enough community engagement or involvement. Since its refurbishment, this is now at the heart of the theatre's work and there is a thriving programme of education tours, workshops, open days, youth theatre shows, heritage tours and schools work which they feel confident will protect the theatre in future. But Ian was clear that the Kings must succeed as a theatre first and foremost.

The theatre has strong links with Portsmouth University and many other schools and colleges. One undergraduate came to work for them as an admin placement, joined the paid staff and moved her way up to marketing supervisor. She recently left for a job in London's West End as a Marketing Manager.

Kings Theatre Southsea after its restoration
In 2001, the theatre was threadbare, damp and semi-derelict. A largely volunteer-led restoration and redecoration project took place, and professional stage equipment was installed, such as modern power flying motors and their computer control. The theatre is now clean, fresh, transformed and loved - and the restoration has helped kickstart a regeneration of the surrounding area. The theatre has also purchased an empty shop nearby to use as rehearsal and workshop and “whatever” space and to support its long term viability.

However, the Edwardian design means the foyer areas become crowded, and access is difficult.  A further, larger redevelopment is planned, including a full education suite (currently, it is not unusual for school groups to have to sit on the stairs for their classes). The cost is estimated at £6 million. But the relationship with the City Council is strong, so much so that the council have kickstarted the fundraising with a very welcome grant of £200,000 - which has already generated a matched funding of a further £200,000. The rest will be raised over the next few years.

Ian outlined his four Ps for success: Passion, Public Support, Partnership and Participation. But he added a fifth key one: Performance. The venue must first and foremost succeed as a working theatre.

Previous profiles in this series:

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