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Recession Slams Subsidized Theaters

The recession is hurting Australia’s subsidized theater network.

Melbourne Playbox’ artistic director Carrillo Gantner says, “Government funding has diminished in real terms,” and Anne McNeill, general manager of the Royal Queensland Theater Co. agrees.

“We went backwards,” she says. “Government funding is down. RQTC received $A1.035 million from the state (Arts Division, Premier’s Dept.) which is an increase of 1.6% but a drop in real terms of 6%. In the last two years we achieved so much. The shrinking resources have been a shock.”

McNeill says there will be a further “significant impact” on budgets – especially, she says, for companies like hers and the State Theater of South Australia which tour vast states – if Actors Equity wins a hike in travel allowances. In Sydney alone it could move the accommodation component from $A226 to $A714 a week (VARIETY, Dec. 3,1990).

Biggest 1990 earner for RQTC was David Williamson’s “Top Silk,” grossing $A197,000. Author was so pleased with Aubrey Mellor’s production he has given the company Australian rights to his next play, now in draft but planned to open in November.

A rare beast

Local hero Williamson scored again for the Sydney Theater Co. with his “Siren” ($A625,000) following home “The Importance Of Being Earnest” ($A680,000) and “Midsummer Night’s Dream” ($A750,000). “We had a good year considering the tough environment,” says general manager Michael Lynch. “We finished with a surplus which is a rare beast.”

Andrew Kay, general manager of the Melbourne Theater Co. – Australia’s largest subsidized operation – says “The Victorian economy is in pieces. It’s a struggle to maintain audience levels and boxoffice income.”

Sandra Bates, artistic director at Sydney’s Ensemble, pointing to a recession-driven fall in subscriptions, proposes royalty income for theaters taking world premiere risks. Bates says 1% or 2% over five years from a play such as Barry Creyton’s “Double Act” would be welcomed.

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