Commercial Legit Buoyed By Co-Ventures

While Aussie commercial legit currently is considered quite buoyant, it’s marked this year by a full-fledged move into co-ventures between venue-based administrations and indie producers to spread risk and defray rising costs.

Public venue operators in Oz usually wear an entrepreneurial hat. Principal players – the Adelaide Festival Center Trust, the Victorian Arts Center, the Sydney Opera House Trust, the Queensland Performing Arts Trust, and the Perth Theater Trust – present shows in their own right; some, like the AFCT, also offer a management role for outside productions, and most have extensive workshop and marketing facilities.

Their problem is securing enough product to drive their venues. One solution to date has been an informal Center circuit, with each venue generally taking the risk on a production initiated by a member of the group. Now, that has been expanded to include product from major commercial producers.

AFCT and Sydney’s Gordon/Frost Organization recently announced a joint presentation of “The King & I,” $A2 million production that kicks off in Adelaide mid-June. Arrangement sees the Brisbane, Perth, Melbourne and Adelaide players assume the risk in their cities with representative profit sharing; in Sydney AFCT and GFO take on the risk. Production also gets the benefit of the AFCT’s workshop and marketing facilities.

That’s a first for GFO, and, per m.d. John Frost, is “the way to go” in the ’90s. “No individual producer can go out and mount a musical worth $A2 million and then face the risk of it falling over; they couldn’t sustain a loss of that order. By marrying with an arts center you confine the risk.”

Adds AFCT’s g.m. Tim McFarlane, “It’s a response to the fact that very few producers can get up a musical and then tour it. These arrangements are really about spreading the risk.”

If the arrangement clicks, Frost and McFarlane say they’d like to mount a similar deal once a year.

Producer Gary Penny meanwhile is seeking “major theater venue involvement” in Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane for a tour of “Steaming” following its recent Sydney stint. Risk on the VAC’s $A3 million production of “The Wizard Of Oz” is spread between the Victorian State Opera, AFCT and QPAT, and will tour it toward the end of the year.

And the prolific Kerry Jewel, currently touring “Noises Off,” has reached agreement with Paul Dainty to provide his Comedy Theater in Melbourne for a share of the b.o. instead of hiring fees. “I’d prefer not to take on partners but you have to hedge your bets.”

That sort of activity has seen an upswing on last year’s relatively depressed business, despite Australia’s recessed economy. Says Peter Williams, Australia’s most prolific producer, echoing all other major players, “It seems if you have the right product at the moment people want to be entertained.”

Nonetheless, coinraising will be made harder by new legislation regarding fund-raising. For private raisings, producers now have to prepare a prospectus with extensive disclosures unless certain provisions apply.

Rising costs, particularly for advertising, are putting increasing pressure on ticket prices and breakeven margins. “The Wizard Of Oz” ran in Melbourne on an 85% breakeven, which it missed by about $A300,000. “But we can recoup with the arts center arrangement,” notes VAC g.m. Sue Nattrass.

As an additional way of defraying costs, sponsorship is also taking an increasing role in the staging of Oz legit. Producers are becoming increasing adept at product tie-ins. As an example, producer Pat Condon says Toyota has “extensive involvement” in his forthcoming “Return To The Forbidden Planet” that allow for an “enormous” campaign.

Recession-geared business doesn’t leave much room for unknown work. “People are staying away in droves from anything out of the ordinary,” observes the AFCT’s Tim McFarlane. “There’s a hardening of people’s attitude to spending money on things they don’t know are good. In a recession, people aren’t prepared to take that risk.”

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