Regional theatres too slow to pay, producers warn

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Regional theatres are taking so long to release box office takings that it is beginning to threaten the future of some smaller touring companies, producers and angels are warning.

While the major regional operators Clear Channel Entertainment and the Ambassador Theatre Group have been credited for the speed at which they pay visiting companies, venues in the independent and council-run sector face growing criticism. So severe is the problem in some cases that producers are blacklisting certain venues.

One angel, who did not want to be named but who has backed a large number of regional shows, said: "It is getting increasingly difficult to get a theatre, when it is sitting on the box office, to give a settlement. They are sitting on a big cash flow."

Some theatres are waiting more than eight weeks since the settlement of a show to release the cash. If a production has enjoyed a decent run it can attract £100,000 a week - actors and suppliers still have to be paid even if the box office has not been released and the delay is putting undue pressure on production companies.

Stage columnist Charles Vance, who is the longest-serving regional producer still operating in the UK, said the problem is getting increasingly worse.

"Settlements in the touring circuit, with notable exceptions, are getting worse and worse and there are some theatres that are keeping producers waiting for eight to ten weeks," he said. "It will bankrupt some producers. It will put them to the wall - the smaller ones - and the bigger ones have to lick their wounds. It is evil."

Richard Jordan - youngest winner of the Theatre Investment Fund's young producers bursary and previously part of the management team at Wycombe Swan - said producing venues which double as receiving houses are finding themselves increasingly overstretched. Box office money that is being held back is used to relieve the cash flow burden created by the funding of their own shows.

He said: "Sometimes you can find that they are very overstretched. It you are also trying to run a busy producing theatre it is a pretty tall order. There have always been slow theatres paying for as long as I can remember. If the situation is changing for the worse, it presents great concerns for many producers in the long term."

He warned local theatregoers would suffer as producers will stop bringing shows to poor paying venues.