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Editor’s View: Touring is already risky – venues, don’t make it worse

Sean Jones and Simon Willmont in a previous Bill Kenwright tour of Blood Brothers at Wyvern Theatre, Swindon, in 2017
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As recent events have shown, producing a commercial tour can be a tightrope walk.

It has become blessedly rare for West End shows to collapse and – if they do – there is a guarantee system that ensures that landlords, suppliers, cast and crew all get paid.

This doesn’t happen outside the West End, where it is more common for a production to live on its wits (and box office takings) from week to week as it moves around the country.

Sometimes, especially when the producer is inexperienced, too much risk is taken, resulting in a show collapsing, people left unpaid and theatres dark. If you flick through past issues of The Stage or search our website, you will see this is a depressingly regular occurrence.

At other times, a producer might take a reasonable and responsible decision – looking at advanced bookings – that not enough money is likely to come in to support the show’s weekly running costs. The tour closes early, as happened with Doctor Dolittle recently, but the damage is minimised.

Mark Shenton: Cast and crew suffer when tours like To Kill a Mockingbird are axed

The key is cash flow: the producer requires money from early box office receipts to continue to cover their ongoing costs: wages, travel and marketing, for example. Responsible producers build a substantial cash buffer into their budgets, but it would be rare for a producer to be able to cover the entire costs of a tour without using some income from that tour along the way.

A common complaint among producers is that venues’ payment terms have got longer, or they don’t pay in a timely fashion. UK Theatre recommends that settlement payments should be made within 30 working days of the final performance, but not all theatres are UK Theatre members and some have terms of settlement with much longer deadlines.

Even worse, as with our front page story, is when theatres don’t meet agreed settlement dates. This can be fatal for a touring show.

Now, that is clearly not the case with Bill Kenwright Ltd, which is one of the UK’s most prolific and established producers, but were this kind of alleged behaviour to be replicated with other, less liquid, producers, it is the kind of thing that could result in a tour collapsing and cast and crew being left unpaid.

It can also be self-defeating for venues, who rely on producers for their income. In the case of our story this week, Bill Kenwright Ltd has indicated that it won’t be bringing any future tours back to Preston, which is probably more of a loss for the theatre and its audiences than it is for Kenwright.

Alistair Smith is the editor of The Stage. Read his latest column every Thursday at thestage.co.uk/author/alistair-smith

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