Harrogate Theatre - permanent closure risk unless public supports emergency appeal

No one is unaffected by the coronavirus lockdown and all will have their struggles.

By Graham Chalmers
Tuesday, 24th March 2020, 11:16 am
Harrogate Theatre chief executive David Bown - we are in a fight for survival.
Harrogate Theatre chief executive David Bown - we are in a fight for survival.

But Harrogate Theatre, one of the first organisations in Harrogate brave enough to flag up the size of the challenge in the weeks ahead, is hailing the public for its "remarkable" response to its own plight.

After shutting its doors and launching an emergency fundraising appeal last week, the theatre's chief executive said although they were determined to survive, permanent closure was a real threat.

The future of Harrogate Theatre, David Bown told the Harrogate Advertiser by phone, now depended on the support of arts lovers in the Harrogate district.

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The message is simple - keep buying tickets for future shows!

David Bown. who also co-writes the theatre's much-loved panto each year, said: "These are incredibly difficult times for everyone; potentially catastrophic for not just the us, but the whole of the arts and the economy in general.

"Each day brings a new feeling of intense worry in your stomach.

"But the public have been quite remarkable. Since we appealed for anyone who had purchased tickets for cancelled events to consider converting these into either credit or a donation, they have shown a huge willingness to do this."

Mr Bown, whose own mother is frail and has respiratory problems and whose wife is very ill in bed with what may be the symptoms of the virus, said the theatre had sent most of its staff home and was still paying them.

But, he warned, the town's most important arts hub, could not do so forever.

And he admitted, as an organisation which relied on ticket sales rather than grants the longer the crisis went on, the bigger the risk that Harrogate Theatre may never reopen once the virus is contained and the storm passes.

Mr Bown said: "We are trying to prepare for shows later in the year; the Rep season, our comedy festival and, of course, the pantomime.

"The staff have all been beyond amazing. They have responded with energy, passion and intelligence.

"Quite a bit has been done already on the pantomime and can still continue.

"There is script and design work that can continue remotely. Marketing are working on all campaigns.

"But yet again, I urge the public to invest as much as they can in purchasing tickets for shows and events in the later part of the year.

"That’s what will keep us going and is the key to survival."

The alternative was almost unthinkable, said Mr Bown.

Mr Bown said: "The government and the Arts Council have stated that support will be available.

"But It’s difficult to see how this is going to play out.

"Closure and insolvency may have to be considered at Harrogate Theatre.

"All staff have been paid, but there is a finite amount of cash in reserve.

"We can’t withstand too much of this situation."

Two simple ways of supporting Harrogate Theatre's emergency fundraising appeal

1. Make a donation

You can do this online via this website, or call 01423 502116 between 10am – 5pm Mon-Fri

2. Buy tickets to Harrogate Theatre's autumn/winter season

Theatre supporters can see what’s coming up and book online

Harrogate Theatre has its third season of HT Rep in September, the 12th annual Harrogate Comedy Festival in October, and its award-winning pantomime is Cinderella for 2020.

INTERVIEW: Harrogate Theatre chief executive on coronavirus and why public support is so vital

Question:

Is this potentially the most dangerous position for Harrogate Theatre in its 120-year history?

David Bown:

Firstly can I say that these are incredibly difficult times for everyone and certainly for the vulnerable. That has to be our priority.

We must do what we can for each other.

It’s difficult to say how severe this situation will be, and how it will compare to events over the last century.

Certainly it feels right now to be very brutal and potentially catastrophic for not just the us, but the whole of the arts and the economy in general.

Question:

How did it feel to have to postpone or cancel so many events and go into temporary hibernation?

David Bown:

It feels surreal for all of us at the moment. Each day brings a new feeling of intense worry in your stomach.

My mother is very frail and has respiratory problems and my wife, who has been identified as a ‘key worker’ is very ill in bed with what seem to be the symptoms.

We have to do what we are told and look out for each other.

Question:

How did the theatre's staff and volunteers take the news the theatre was shutting down during the crisis?

David Bown:

The staff have all been beyond amazing. They have responded with energy, passion and intelligence. Of course they are very worried.

We shut the theatre to all staff quickly and we will obviously be guided by government instruction. It was the only action left, given how the global situation escalates.

Question:

What is happening to the staff now? Have they all been sent home? Are they being paid

David Bown:

The staff are working from home on whatever they can. Our Communications team are doing an incredible job raising awareness and fundraising. All staff have been paid, but there is a finite amount of cash in reserve. We can’t withstand too much of this situation

Question:

How much financial support do you think you need roughly to get through the coronavirus crisis period?

David Bown:

So far the public are being quite remarkable and sensitive to our needs, but, of course, they have their own circumstances.

In the first instance we would appeal to all patrons that have purchased tickets for cancelled events to consider converting these into either credit or a donation. I have to say patrons are showing a huge willingness to do this.

The Chancellor's proposals for financial support , on the face of it, are very encouraging. However, I suspect that these will be burdened with heavy administration and bureaucracy and will take a long time to flush through the system.

Question:

If you come up short in the appeal, what consequences for the theatre will there be? Complete closure etc or what?

David Bown:

Closure and insolvency will have to be considered. The government and the Arts Council have stated that support will be available.

But everyone in the country will need some form of assistance, it’s difficult to see how this is going to play out.

Question:

How do you think it will it feel to open the theatre's doors again?

David Bown:

It will be a huge relief if we can open the doors soon.

I should imagine it is going to take a while for the public to gain confidence in spending, especially in the entertainments industry.

The Rep season, Comedy Festival and of course the pantomime are the big three for us.

I urge people to invest in what they can and purchase tickets for all the events that are coming up, if they can.

Question:

Will the shutdown impact on planning for the annual panto this year? ?

David Bown:

Quite a bit has been done already on the pantomime and can still continue. There is script and design work that can continue remotely.

Marketing are working on all campaigns.

But I urge the public to invest as much as they can in purchasing tickets.

That’s what will keep us going and is the key to survival. It would be lovely to fast forward to opening night right now, which means we have got through this.

I urge people to do what they can to make that happen. Stay safe and look after each other.

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