The Abbey cuts its cloth for lean times
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Amy Molloy and Alan Rickman in John Gabriel Borkman by Ibsen, in a version by Frank McGuinness, transferring to the Brooklyn Academy of Music next year. 

Photo: Ros Kavanagh 

The Abbey cuts its cloth for lean times

For €30, you can have a two-piece suit, or for €35, you can upgrade to a three piece. Leather trousers are a steal at €20, although a military uniform will set you back €60. When the Abbey Theatre sought new ways to diversify its revenue streams as it decreased running costs and instituted pay freezes and salary cuts, the wardrobe department found an effective way of monetising one of the theatre’s resources. “We were supplying costumes before, but on a very small scale,” says Declan Cantwell, the Abbey’s director of finance and administration. “Sometimes for favours or for a small charge. But we have come up with a formal business model around it. It has been extremely successful, a new revenue stream that actually has huge potential.”

It is one example that Cantwell uses to describe a new efficiency in the National Theatre as it nears the end of its restructuring process, which he estimates is currently 90 per cent complete. A new position, the Head of Communications, has now been advertised twice, and its appointee will merge the existing press and marketing departments into one, potentially with further redundancies. An appointment is expected soon. Having begun the year with 113 full-time equivalent staff positions, the Abbey is likely to reduce them to just 81.

Earlier this month the Abbey’s company accounts for 2009 showed a loss of €1.8m, including €1.25m for its restructuring process. The redundancies were not implemented until 2010, following a Labour Relations Court ruling in January, meaning no savings were made from restructuring in 2009. Together with a sharp decrease in its State subsidy (€8.35m in 2009, €7.5 in 2010) and declining box office returns, 2009 was an exceptionally costly year. “When you consider all those things in 2009,” Cantwell told ITM, “to end up with a €1.8m deficit was actually a very good result.”
Cantwell does not downplay the pain of staff cuts or salary reductions (which averaged at a 5 per cent reduction), but he can afford to be sanguine about the theatre’s current finances. The theatre had an operating surplus of €3m before restructuring began, and it ended 2009 with a surplus of just over €1.5m. All of the revenues for this year, he says, “are up on 2009”.

A sell-out production of John GabrielBorkman, featuring Alan Rickman, Lyndsay Duncan and Fiona Shaw, no doubt contributed to its box office revenue, but with that production destined to perform at the Brooklyn Academy of Arts (BAM) next year, it has other strategic benefits too. “Putting the Abbey in the spotlight in the US, taking Abbey productions to the US, is a very big part of the fundraising apparatus and strategy,” Cantwell says. At home, the theatre is seeking to expand its merchandising, fundraising, costume hire and cost-effective processes such as e-commerce and e-ticketing.

“I think at the moment we’re in a good position,” Cantwell said, when asked if the Abbey could withstand the spectre of further cuts to come. “We’ve got our costs under control. We’re reaping the cost savings we set out to achieve. We’ve adopted more flexible work practices. As an organisation we’re leaner and fitter. We have a business model that I think is far more sustainable. So, I think it’s as good, if not slightly better, than what we could have wished for. Now, what’s around the corner, God only knows…”


1 Comment

Pike Bishop says Fri, 26 November 2010 4:13
Nice to see The Abbey has turned the corner, it's a damn shame a dozen or more of my colleagues (including myself) were shafted and sacked in the turning. No workshop, farm the work abroad, and turn an experienced and skillful staff into Dolites.Thanks for nothing.

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