St Andrews´ Byre Theatre closes suddenly

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The Byre Theatre in St Andrews is to go dark and the company running it has ceased trading with immediate effect.

The theatre was due to be taken under the wing of the new Fife Culture Trust from April 1. Two charity performances on the January 30 and 31 will take place and the building will close its doors on Thursday night.

In a statement, the board of the Byre Theatre Ltd said: "The Byre has struggled to cover its costs ever since the new building opened and the problem became acute when the annual grant it had received from the former Scottish Arts Council ended in 2011.

"Expenditure was reduced by losing staff, making increased use of volunteers, and by other means. These included franchising the café-bar and restaurant, a change that was initially successful but ended with the closure of the new business and debts to the theatre."

Ironically, the theatre has just reported its busiest Christmas period ever. There were just under 8,000 tickets sold for its pantomime and large audiences for live film streamings from the Royal Opera and National Theatre. Ticket sales were never sufficient to cover overheads and staff costs.

The statement continues: "The board was hoping that these ongoing challenges could be resolved through the planned participation in the new Fife Cultural Trust from 1 April 2013 but, given the scale of the challenges being faced by the Byre, it became clear to us that this would no longer be a feasible option.

"The board has, of course, explored all other possibilities, including consultation with Creative Scotland and Fife Council, but there was no alternative to liquidation."

The original Byre Theatre was founded in a semi-derelict cow byre in 1933 by Alexander B Paterson, a local freelance journalist and playwright. The original building was demolished in 1969 and a new theatre opened in 1970. A £5.5 million rebuild was carried out in 2001.

In 2007 the Byre's annual grant from the Scottish Arts Council was cut by two thirds to £150,000 and it moved from being a producing company to being be run largely as a receiving house. This grant was removed in 2011 despite a legal challenge from the theatre's board.

The building is owned by Fife Council, which will be seeking an early meeting with the administrators, once appointed.

3 Comments

  1. Byre Theatre Closure

    Having read your news item on the closure of the Byre Theatre in St. Andrews, I was surprised to see the statement, “A £5.5m refurbishment was carried out in 2001.” As the design architect for Byre Theatre 2 (~1970-2000) my understanding is that the second Byre Theatre was demolished and the site (approximately) doubled in area prior to the construction of the present building.

    Though the number of seats was almost doubled the business plan for Byre Theatre 2 was substantially the same as for the original Byre – and deliberately so. Both operated with a very small professional (paid) company supported by large contributions from local volunteers across all aspects of their operations on stage and off.

    Byre Theatre 3 is substantially different both in its range and size of facilities and its dependence on paid inputs of personnel and services. Therein probably lies the problem. The original large grant of Lottery money may have been a Trojan horse. Sometimes there is nothing so expensive as free money!

    Allan Rodger, Melbourne

  2. Thank-you for your comment Allan, you quite right and my original use of “refurbishment” was something of an understatement.

    It is very interesting to hear your comment on the size of Byre 3 and its dependence on paid inputs of personell and services. I suspect that you have got to the nub of the problem there.

    The Byre is not to be closed without a fight, it must be said. There is a facebook page: “Save the Byre” which is a good start point to get into contact with the campaign’s organisers.

    It would appear that the new Fife Culture Trust will still take over the running of the Byre, as was originally intended. What I find particularly sad is the personal loss which the current situation has caused. I understand that individuals hired to work on recent productions there have had their cheques returned, unpayable.

    Thom Dibdin, Edinburgh

  3. Hey Matt,I agree. The Church used to be the steward of the cutlarul arts, in a way. The Reformation caused some overreactions to art such that certain strands of the church shunned artists and great art. I think we\’re right to be wary of the danger of idolatry (worshipping art), but that doesn\’t usually stop us from adoring God\’s creation (though creation idolatry certain exists). Great art done to the glory of God (like Bach\’s soli deo gloria) inspires great thoughts of God and great acts for God.

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