Letters of the week

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ATG is looking out for its staff and customers

I believe that Ambassador Theatre Group and the New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham were unfairly and misleadingly represented by your anonymous correspondent (Stage Talk, March 14, page 8).

Firstly, with regards to the restructure, the writer claims that the concerns of staff members were not adequately considered. In fact, there has been ongoing consultation with all affected members of staff – within the constraints of what is a formal process – to ensure they are fully informed, have an opportunity to input and are adequately supported throughout. The restructure follows a detailed review and is squarely aimed at ensuring we have the right structures in place to meet the needs of visiting producers, artists, theatre staff and our customers.

Secondly, the writer claims that ATG is attempting to bring the venue “to its knees”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Since ATG’s acquisition of the New Alexandra, we have been working towards revitalising and improving the venue by significantly developing the programme and delivering increased investment across a range of areas. Clearly, these shifts take time, but we are pleased to report that over the past three years:

  • Average annual capacity has increased by 11%.
  • The number of ‘new’ attendees at performances is frequently above 40%.
  • The number of Theatre Card holders, ATG’s group-wide membership scheme, has grown at the venue from fewer than 150 to almost 3,000.
  • Audience research shows that customer satisfaction levels have increased and continue to climb.

These results are positive news for the city, the venue and the industry as a whole. Increased attendances and more regular larger-scale performances – and therefore casts, crew, etc – in particular bring substantial economic benefits to other businesses as well as to the venue itself.

Among the major productions ATG has co-produced and brought to the New Alexandra in this time are South Pacific, Spamalot, Legally Blonde, Rocky Horror, Maurice’s Jubilee, Blue/Orange and Dandy Dick – demonstrating our commitment. Other producers have been active in supporting us with hit shows such as the sold-out One Man, Two Guvnors, Grease and American Idiot to name but three.

ATG’s co-production of Priscilla – Queen of the Desert is currently playing to packed houses on its first visit to Birmingham, and we have just announced the West End and Broadway hit Ghost – another ATG co-production – will be at the New Alexandra over Christmas, with the internationally acclaimed ATG co-production of West Side Story following next Spring.

ATG has invested more than £150,000 at the New Alexandra on venue improvements and refurbishment projects such as new exterior signage, upgrade of electrical installation, auditorium seating refurbishments, dressing room improvements, window repairs, re-roofing, new emergency lighting, new stalls carpet, new ladder bars for the flying system and upgrades to the heating system.

As part of our ongoing improvement works at venues throughout the UK, plans are also underway to upgrade the two key bars at the New Alexandra Theatre, alongside introducing an Ambassador Lounge – a luxurious, elegant and sophisticated VIP area for the use of customers and visiting producers.

In addition, the New Alexandra is one of our venues pioneering the ‘Be a Star’ training programme – modular, bespoke training that is currently being rolled out to all front of house staff with plans to include other departments in the near future. ‘Be a Star’ is designed in part to improve the working environment for staff as well as customers.

While accepting that there is much still to be done, we firmly believe the New Alexandra has the opportunity to re-establish its position within Birmingham. This is something ATG is fully committed to, and we look forward to taking this vision forwards with the team in place at the venue.

We would very much like to reassure your correspondent that there is nothing to be concerned about, and once again extend an invitation for that person to engage with us and openly discuss the progress being made at the venue.

I trust this sets the record straight.

Nick Potter 
Managing director
ATG
Email address supplied

 

European power is plane to see

Your leader (March 21, page 8) raises some important points about the instruments on planes campaign. It is worth noting, however, that the campaign actually started as early as 2005. The Musicians’ Union reached an agreement with the Department for Transport in 2006, but it quickly became apparent that this issue could be successfully tackled only at a European and international level, as the problem was much broader than just UK airlines.

It was therefore the International Federation of Musicians’ petition, with its 40,000 signatures, that made the real difference and convinced the European Parliament to put forward this proposal. The success of this lobby demonstrates the importance of fighting on a European, as well as a national, level.

John Smith
General secretary
Musicians’ Union
Clapham Road
London SW9

 

If you ask me, they’re all guilty

I enjoyed Harry Venning’s review of Mayday and Broadchurch (March 14, page 32). These so-called thrillers are now totally formulaic, and one assumes their makers are trying to emulate Scandinavian noir.

A moody-looking, handsome male detective and/or a moody-looking, pretty female detective roam around the chosen location, among a set of moody-looking and suspicious characters – so suspicious, in fact, that discovering who’s guilty won’t be any kind of a surprise. Surely these people would make some attempt to at least appear normal to avoid suspicion?

This made me think how poorly these shows compare with that genius of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, Francis Durbridge. His characters all seemed to be nice, normal people – so when something shocking happened it was genuinely so. The hero was a nice, normal man, so when a body was found in his flat at the end of episode one we were all shocked. And when, in episode two, his nice, normal wife was seen to be somewhere she shouldn’t be, we were hooked. For the remaining four episodes, Britain closed down for half an hour every week. And when the guilty party was unmasked, we were truly amazed.

In a Durbridge serial, everyone bust a gut trying to appear nice and normal – as we would all endeavour to do in their position – until they were proved to be otherwise.

We know all those long, dark nights affect the Scandinavians, but in Durbridge-land the sun always shone through the window of the hero’s flat, glinting all the more brightly on the dagger in the victim’s back.

Howard Kay
Email address supplied

 

‘Actress’ is a fine word – so use it

Please, please do not let The Stage go down the path of calling actresses ‘actors’, as you have in the otherwise excellent obituary for Sybil Christopher (March 21, page 45). The vast majority of actresses I have spoken to do not like being referred to as the male practitioners of their craft, and always refer to themselves as ‘actresses’ and are proud of it.

Actresses get to play parts actors cannot, and vice versa, and to allow this idiotic misuse of the English language will result in the most confusing presentations at forthcoming awards: “The award for best actor goes to Sir…” and, “The award for best actor goes to Dame…”

Marc Sinden
Email address supplied

 

8 Comments

  1. I am writing in Mr Potter’s (ATG) rather deluded response to my letter to the Stage. It goes without saying that the investment you are planning is about lining your own pockets with expensive bars. A 150K spend in three years amounts to little than 50K per year, a small price for re-investment considering the “restoration” you are placing on tickets, extract that figure and you can see that very little has been invested. My friend has photos of the appalling seating in this venue and customers are expected to pay £40 upwards to sit on. I refused to meet with the General Manager as I believe his arrival compounded the problems the Theatre had and actually created the headlines that everyone was reading. If he had not cut the front of house staff and management the security of the customers would not have been compounded. People’s handbags would not have been stolen. If he had put provisions in place staff would not be off sick through back injuries, instead he was away over Christmas leaving the staff to cope at a very busy time. Mr Potter believes in what you want to believe as after all you are not there it is the staff that are speaking up and telling the truth.

  2. I refer to Mr Potter’s response here in The Stage and Mr Watta’s subsequent reply. What you have in place in Birmingham is a very run down Theatre with only essential investment. You continue to draw the profits with over inflated Bar prices and ticketing of very sub standard seating and worse staff who are dedicated and loyal do keep it a float because you prey on their passion. Last week your Manager took away over fifty years of staff loyalty and dedication, because “he knows best”. Staff don’t tell you the real story because they know they too will join the list of people who are out of the door. Mr Potter you are not in touch with the reality on the ground. If staff were so happy in your company why does so many of the same vacancies appear time after time?

  3. The letter from Nick Potter headlined ATG are looking out for its staff and customers does not address the concerns that I have picked up from the thread. What it clearly shows is a Managing Director that does not like to think there is a problem in his organisation. In 2011 BECTU did a study into bullying at work collating information from 249 theatre workers in theatres and arts centres that collectively employed more than 22,000 people. Of the participants, 65% said bullying occurred “commonly” or “not uncommonly”, with only 6.4% saying they had never encountered bullying at work. Of the respondents, 99 – nearly 40% – said they had been a target. Some two years on I expect the numbers have risen. ATG mentioned “Be a Star’ designed in part to improve the working environment for staff as well as customers”. Does this programme address poor leadership and Managers that do little to support their staff or is it yet another whipping stick.? From my experience that itself is the true reason why a workforce fears speaking out loud.

  4. I did a double take when I read 150k had been spent in three years. Peanuts for a company as large as that! Although, if the rest of the reports are true then the peanuts are costing more than that.

  5. As a BECTU member the union has slammed the high-rolling pay packets of ATG’s owners and directors. The biggest shareholder is a private equity partnership whose members include the investment arm of Barclays Bank, and a holding company registered in the Cayman Islands. In 2011/12 ATG, chaired by ex-BBC Director General Greg Dyke, made a profit of £15.5 million on turnover of £111 million. Its managing director, Nick Potter, took home nearly £412,000 (yes I read that twice too). Many of the front-of-house staff covered by the BECTU agreement are on £6.45 an hour. The same company that took away bank holiday pay for its staff on Sundays and also reduced the minimum call time from 3.75 hours to 3.5. “The restructure follows a detailed review and is squarely aimed at ensuring we have the right structures in place to meet the needs of visiting producers, artists, theatre staff and our customers”. Lets not gloss that statement over either, all that means dissected is the chance to create new positions that existing staff, who are currently at risk, would not be able to have the chance to compete for.

  6. I find it very sad that I still have to read remarks from men about what I like to be called in my profession. When referring to myself, I call myself an actor, the job I do is no different to the job a male actor does, the roles differ but the job does not. I have no objection to others referring to me as an actress, nor do I object to there being separate categories for males and females in awards ceremonies. What does dissapoint me is that in 2013 I am still reading comments from men about what women like to be called. May I suggest to Mr Sinden (for I assume Marc Sinden to be a man, and apologies if I am wrong) that he trust the females of his acquaintance to have voices of their own, as sweet as it is that he feels the need to speak on their behalf. If all other women-who-act prefer to be known as actresses and are proud of being actresses then is it not more damaging to the cause to have a man tell us this?

  7. I would like to thank Zara Swanton for her comments about my letter to The Stage and confirm that a.) yes, I am a man – I have never heard of a woman with the name Marc before! and b.) I quite agree that “If all other women-who-act prefer to be known as actresses and are proud of being actresses then is it not more damaging to the cause to have a man tell us this?” but perhaps she could explain why it is more actresses don’t complain themselves about the misuse of the word? I waited long enough for someone to respond to the original article and as nothing was forthcoming, decided to step into the fray myself. But then perhaps it is (and I only say this from experience of my group of female friends and acquaintances in the business) the fact that most women like to fight their corner quietly and so, successfully and not to bang-the-drum in a more militant fashion, or as Miss Swanton has put it, a “cause”. On a Channel 5 television show only the other night, several ‘talking-heads’ were interviewed about their thoughts on a particular subject and three different female interviewees were captioned as “Actor” or “Comedian”. I am amazed that when a perfectly good and long-standing word to delineate gender exists, they did not insist on it being used. Or is this Chanel 5 policy?

  8. With regards to Mr. Nick Potter I have a few questions. ATG have been in charge of the alex theatre since around 2010? yet why in all of those years has the broken window at the front of the theatre not been fixed? or if it now has why has it taken over two years? I also am intrigued because I now find that there are more ‘dark periods’ at the theatre than previosuly. Another note concerns the productions. Whilst there have been new productions there I wonder how many of them are ATG production/ co production and how many are purely external production companies? Whatever happened to the likes of Bill Kenwright and his repertiore? The Birmingham Stage Company? I am sure there are also more.
    One thing I do find when browsing your website is that your ‘premier’ venues are constantly full of product, and those left lower down scrape by.
    I remember reading in the local paper that mr. Panter claimed that birmingham would be in the premier league of theatres with quality drama and musicals filling the calendar. Was this not possible? because as stated earlier the dark periods are more and more frequent.

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