Local AmDram groups “in exile” over Fairfield’s charges

Fairfield Halls, once south London’s leading arts and entertainment venue, has been accused of driving Croydon’s amateur dramatic groups into exile from the borough by charging more than £13,000 for a week’s run.

Empty stage: At £13,000 per week, the Fairfield Halls has priced local AmDrams off the premises. Meanwhile, it continues to promote derivative tribute acts who attract fewer than a hundred ticket sales

Empty stage: At £13,000 per week, the Fairfield Halls has priced local AmDrams off the premises. Meanwhile, it continues to promote derivative tribute acts who attract fewer than a hundred ticket sales

For the average AmDram group, made up of occasionally over- enthusiastic volunteers who devote their time, blood, sweat and tears into producing often outstanding short-run productions, the Fairfield’s charges mean that they have to clear at least £3,000 per night on a typical four-night run just to avoid making a crippling loss on their hard-pressed funds.

Even if the company was to charge £20 per ticket – almost twice what most amateur groups feel able to ask their families, friends and other audience members to pay – that means that they have to sell 150 tickets per night, and every night, before they even cover the hire costs.

Performance groups in Croydon already struggle to find suitable rehearsal space. The Fairfield’s £13,000-a-week charges probably price out of using the venue some of the borough’s excellent choral societies and amateur operatic groups – hardly very community minded of the publicly funded Halls which too often relies on staging tribute band nights to audiences of just a few dozen.

“We won’t be back performing in Croydon until Fairfield Halls welcomes AmDram groups back into the fold and stops charging more than £13,000 for a week’s run,” one leading light in a local group told Inside Croydon.

The Fairfield, or “Favoured Halls”, together with its resident (though rarely performing in Croydon) London Mozart Players, already benefits from more than £1 million a year in public subsidy from Croydon Council.

The somewhat down-at-heel 50-year-old venue is about to get a £27 million Croydon facelift, paid for from council funds, a decision reached by senior Tory councillors who also sit on the management board of the Fairfield or the Mozart Players, and who chose to flog off part of the borough’s publicly owned Riesco Collection of Chinese ceramics to pay for their indulgence.

Croydon Council’s move earlier this year to take over the running of the Fairfield Halls – effectively to put all-in wrestling, psychics and acts like Roy “Chubby” Brown on the rates – is being looked into by the Charity Commission because of the glaring conflicts of interest between the management board of the Halls, a registered charity, and certain members of Croydon’s Conservative-run council.

Despite the council’s financial backing, the Favoured Halls – which includes the main concert hall and the smaller Ashcroft Theatre – continues to have gaping holes in its underwhelming performance programme.

As Inside Croydon highlighted when the September and October programme was published, the delights coming to Croydon this autumn include:

Hats Off to Led Zeppelin: “The Official UK No.1 Tribute to the greatest rock band ever! You’ll feel like you’ve travelled back in time,” they say, not realising that that is precisely what it feels like when anyone enters the Favoured Halls.

Them Beatles: “Experience the UK’s hottest tribute to the ‘Fab Four’ live on stage… an international reputation as one of the top tribute bands in the world with authentic instruments”, presumably meaning that they use guitars and drums.

One Night of Elvis: for which we should be grateful it is not two nights.

Acts offering any genuine originality, such as Morgan and West, magicians who perform in Croydon next month, are a rarity on the Favoured Halls’ schedule.

When decent acts are booked, the demand from the Croydon public is high. Take a look, for instance, at the bookings for top-flight comedian Reginald D Hunter, who is to perform in the vast concert hall on October 26.

Seat bookings for Reginald D HunterThe bookings’ chart for Hunter’s show was taken from the Fairfield Halls’ own website this morning. The white squares represent seats in the main body of the hall that have yet to be booked. Even nearly two months out, with tickets at £25.25 (including a “booking” fee), Reginald D Hunter has successfully pulled in the sales.

Compare that, though, with the bookings so far for the October 11 performance of Think Floyd (yes, seriously… Think Floyd).

Fairfield bookings 2...Every white square represents an unsold – unwanted? – seat. This shows a different level of demand altogether. It is an entirely typical picture of ticket sales for far too many of the Favoured Halls’ bookings.

With no seats being sold in the balcony, there appears to be fewer than 70 tickets booked, at £20.25 (including booking fee) for this derivative prog-rock offering on October 11. Of course, when Floyd fans get back from the summer festivals, there might be a rush at the Fairfield box office. But we won’t be holding our breath.

And all this is what Dudley Mead, the deputy leader of the Tory group on Croydon Council, and his self-serving mates have decided is worth flogging off the priceless Riesco Collection.

Meanwhile, community-based drama and music groups are being priced out of the Favoured Halls. Does that make any sense to you?

  • Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough – 262,183 page views (Jan-Jun 2013)
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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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15 Responses to Local AmDram groups “in exile” over Fairfield’s charges

  1. Jonathan Law says:

    As a local fan of live music I find the problem we face is that we don’t even get to hear about the events – unless we are on the mailing list for the band. I turned up one night a band was due to play (Supersonic 70s) and to my disappointment to find the venue closed and empty. Apparently at last minute the gig was pulled – maybe due to a lack of ticket sales.

    But I don’t see that Fairfield does much to promote its events and doesn’t seem to use social media in a big way which seems to be the way forward these days.

    Inside Croydon already knows my feelings that a borough as big as Croydon needs something like a website dedicated to telling people what’s on in Croydon – from boot fairs to live music etc – almost like a Time Out for the borough. It needs to be independent of the council and venues but give equal exposure to all sorts of stuff and be a singular place where folks can check whats on locally. I know that there is a cost implication but there are enough businesses in Croydon that each paying a small nominal fee would cover a salary and web hosting for someone to run the endeavour.

    By The Way – Hats off to Led Zep are a great band to see !

    • There’s already a Time Out for Croydon. It’s called Time Out.

      And we and Croydon Radio, who both have our headquarters in Croydon, readily and regularly carry notices of up-coming local events.

      • mraemiller says:

        Time Out is the walking dead these days – 14 comedy gigs a week … I can remember when they used to plug 90 odd over 2 weeks. That said still get ticket sales through them even though their website is impossible to navigate. Putting up listings is a thankless task, even semi-automated and pointless unless the site also has content.

        • The magazine’s plight is symptomatic of 21st century digital world. That’s why there’s no TV Times any more as well: why pay for a weekly listings magazine when you can find most of what you’re looking for online on your mobile phone or tablet?

          And a lack of comedy gigs in Time Out? Well, unless the editors are deliberately keeping content out of the magazine, then maybe their listings volume reflects the true level of activity. Which would suggest that an uber-specialist magazine just for Croydon might be a very small magazine indeed.

          • mraemiller says:

            Time Out online is okay, but their paper copy just struggles for space – they simply can’t list everything. Also in the pre-internet days it used to be a service for acts to contact clubs – this is redundant in the digital age so less need to list every gig. Even specialist sites like Chortle struggle to cope with the listings even with automation. It’s not for a lack of gigs – quite the reverse. In the old days booking acts by phone was extremely time consuming. Today it can be done much faster by email – result lots of gigs running on tiny budgets …or in some cases a budget of less than nothing. It’s a two way thing – no point in being listed in a publication no one reads.

            Definite downturn in the number of people going out to all clubs but that’s a different story. The promoters who’ve left the Fairfield Halls are still around – they’ve just decamped to other venues with lower overheads.

  2. mraemiller says:

    The golden rule of promotion is: NEVER pay for a room unless you can absolutely avoid it.

    If you cant be sell over 150 tickets a night you shouldn’t be in a proper theatre but a room above a pub. That said what are art centers for if not to put on …er …art. It probably depends which weeks of the year you want of course … supply and demand?

    The Concert Hall is 1800-seat capacity and Ashcroft Theatre 750-seat capacity. That size of room cannot be reasonably given away for free. But still they’d be better off in a smaller room? Not their fault there isn’t one any more.

    Trouble is get a smaller room in an arts centre (say they had a smaller properly equipped room in the Fairfield) and they’ll put you up against the biggest draw they can find for the largest room. I notice at least 2 comedy promoters have left the Fairfield recently – room price negotiations or fed up with being in competiton with the big acts in the Ashcroft? Too big and small – story of the venue.

    Still ….”£3,000 per night on a typical four-night run” …..surely that’s just ridiculous. Is everyone paying that or did they see you coming.

    Take as a financial template Underbelly at the Fringe where demand for space is sky high … even they only charge no-profile acts £3000 for an entire 3 week run (rising to £8000 on a doorsplit if they break even) for a 100 seater.

    100 capacity space for 24 days “Guarantee to us of £3,456” – from their website (rises to £8000 on a fixed fee doorsplit system if you selll all tickets… that is a piece of …erm …financial genuis) …but still …let’s not get into Fringeonmics. All the same taking that as a model I came up with:

    About £144 a day for a 100 seat venue in the most competative market in the UK.
    For the Ashcroft at that rate-per-seat would work out at £1128 per night = £144 * 7.8.

    So if you’re paying £3000 a night I think you’ve being done by a factor of about £2000 or at least £1000.

    You may now tell me I have got my maths wrong and am an idiot.

    There must be a better suited cheaper room somewhere in Croydon.

    If not Ring Charlie Woods and see if he will loan you an inflatable purple cow with no heating?

  3. Anthony Miller’s piece on theatre hire is really informative.
    Now can we please hear from the am dram groups about how they justify wanting to take a performance space they have no chance of filling.
    Sounds like a lot of ego to me.
    Surely they would do better to lobby all the political parties for an election promise to re-open the Braithwaite Hall.

  4. vasilo79 says:

    As a member of one of the local amdram groups I would point out that our shows used to out-sell the professional shows in many cases.

    In fact we sold out the Ashcroft (including the balcony) on a number of occasions.

    I understand that the Fairfield has their over-heads and can totally respect that, however part of their remit to Croydon is to support local arts.

    You can’t support them if you hike the prices up so high that no one can use the space.

    There needs to be a happy medium.

    Also, the Fairfield need to do MUCH better on their marketing and they need to modernise and re-vamp their very out dated website. Venue hire is only part of the total cost for productions. Even doing productions “on the cheap” it’s difficult to justify the high ticket prices necessary to cover everything.

  5. If you can fill the Ashcroft Theatre then you don’t have a problem with hire charges, unless there are huge production overheads.
    Basis economics dictate that you make the performance space fit the size of the likely audience. For better or worse, the days of huge arts subsidies have gone. Asking performers to be realistic is not an attempt to stifle talent.
    Who subsidised Bill Shakespeare?

    • vasilo79 says:

      My group was lucky in that we were able to make money on most of our productions, but we have also lost money, regardless of ticket sales, due to the high rate of hire.

      Production costs are also a big part of it, yes, but a past production I had experience with the hire charge at the Ashcroft was over 60% of the total show budget. You can’t really compare current productions to those of Shakespeare’s day as audiences these days expect more from productions at venues such as the Ashcroft.

      Don’t misunderstand me though, I completely understand why the Halls have to charge for hire as they have their overheads too, but you ask the public how much they are willing to pay to see an amateur show, no matter how professional the quality of the production, and they will respond with a figure that is much lower than that of a professional show. So even a sell-out could potentially lose money.

      I agree that if there were another space in central Croydon which was smaller, cheaper to run, and more like a studio space as we had with the Warehouse, the amateur groups would have somewhere to go and wouldn’t need to raise the kind of funds required to hire out the Ashcroft. We are starting to see local groups use Matthew’s Yard, but the space there is only really able to support smaller productions. We have also performed in Stanley Halls and Selsdon Hall, but it is very difficult to get Croydon residents to these venues even if the ticket prices are “cheap as chips”. What ever happened to the Council’s plan to re-vitalise the old Pump House in central Croydon and turn it into a studio theatre space run by volunteers? Wouldn’t that solve the problem?

      One last point, a recent production done at a venue comparable to the Ashcroft: the total budget for the entire production, including the hire of the venue, was actually less than the hire fee of the Ashcroft alone. Food for thought. It is just a shame that Croydon residents that belong to am-dram societies have to leave the borough to find a space that is affordable.

      Maybe the Council and the Fairfield board need to actually speak to/seek advice from individuals in the field of professional arts venue management. Even members of professional touring shows have stated in the past the the Fairfield is where a show goes to die. Perhaps if we all worked more to end this stigma on the Halls things might improve.

  6. Could an Am-Dram group or community group really hope to even half-fill the Concert Hall for a full weeks (4 night) run? Very unlikely – except for the school shows. They could try to do so in the Ashcroft Theatre, as many do such as Younger Generation Theatre Group – and naturally pay much less than the hire for the Concert Hall as quoted. Also, most of the events mentioned in the article are for the Concert Hall, with little mention of the programme in the Ashcroft, except for ‘One Night of Elvis’ – which, if you had looked into it, fills an afternoon and evening slot after the regular Sunday morning/lunchtime Rhema church event – not enough time for a more theatrical show to get-in and fit-up. The rest of the Ashcroft Theatre programme, not really mentioned in the article, does indeed feature more Am-Dram and professional ‘artistic’ output (e.g plays – including Warehouse Phoenix’s ‘The Road to Nowhere’), partly subsidised by the hire fees from the other events… It seems to me that if Fairfield Halls really was ‘favoured’ (in comparison to other publicly funded arts venues and local council arts venues elsewhere), then it wouldn’t need to charge such amounts for hire fees…

    • Here’s how Croydon Council’s artistic equation does not work…

      The council closes (or stops operating) performance venues that it owns.

      It withdraws the modest annual grant to the borough’s highly regarded studio theatre, forcing its closure.

      The council makes a grab for the multi-million-pound grant that was due to go to the studio theatre.

      The council spends £1 million a year on the Favoured Halls’ operating costs.

      The council spends £27 million to give the Favoured Halls’ a makeover.

      The Favoured Halls, meanwhile, despite receiving significant public grants, charges significantly over-the-odds hire fees to local community groups.

      Yes, our report does focus on the more crass “artistic” offerings in the concert hall. That’s because they are quite so crass. But we do mention the psychic show that is in the Ashcroft – or should we be calling it the Riesco Theatre? – on September 17.

      The Ashcroft’s programme through the rest of this month includes three nights of “amateur” performance, by a theatre academy. No more than that. That’s hardly a significant part of the programme, as you seem to imply, Rob.

      • Well, whether or not an offering is ‘crass’ is subjective. These shows may not be to your taste, but Fairfield Halls has to cater for all tastes. Glenlyn Academy are actually in for the whole week, culminating in three nights of performance. The rest of the months leading up to Panto are filled with professional productions including Horrible Science, Time and Time Again, Teechers, The Road to Nowhere, The Mikado and Pickwick Papers – with a few single night bands and private hires to fill the gaps. Oh, and a week of maintenance in October. Essentially, there is no space to fit an Am-Dram group in for a week over this period as it is always one of the busiest times of the year at the theatre.
        The £1 million grant and supposed £27 million (still not confirmed!) for the refurbishment does still not make Fairfield Halls ‘favoured’. £1 million is not ‘significant’ compared to how much the council used to fund the venue before it became a charitable trust (e.g before they washed their hands of running it themselves). £1 million is also not very much to run a venue – that pays for approximately 50 staff assuming an average annual salary of £20,000 – and it takes many more staff than that to run a venue like Fairfield Halls! Hence, needing to charge ‘over the odds’ for the private hires… Remember – very few arts and entertainment venues (apart from the huge venues and group owned venues) are there to make a profit, and most in fact lose money or tread water.

        • It is not only our “subjective” judgement that the proliferation of tired tribute acts which dominate the Favoured Halls’ schedule is “crass”, Rob, but it seems to be the judgement of the general public, who find such shows unappealling and so they are not buying tickets in their droves. That’s why we illustrated our report with images of the ticket availability for one such show.

          Shall we also deal with some objective facts, too?

          “The £1 million grant and supposed £27 million (still not confirmed!) for the refurbishment does still not make Fairfield Halls ‘favoured’” The £27 million for refurbishment has been in Croydon Council’s budget for the past two years, having been pushed through by deputy leader of the council Dudley Mead, who also happens to sit on the management board of the Favoured Halls. It is not “supposed” at all, but very real, and is why Mead and his cronies have been out, trying to raid the grants made to the Warehouse Theatre and flogging off the publicly owned Riesco Collection of Chinese ceramics.

          ” £1 million is not ‘significant’” You seem to have very expensive values, Rob. A £1million annual grant towards running costs for a venue is considerably more “significant” than, for example, the £30,000 council grant to the Warehouse Theatre, which the council cut because they said that that venue was not viable.

          “Essentially, there is no space to fit an AmDram group in for a week over this period as it is always one of the busiest times of the year at the theatre”.

          So you’re suggesting that the Favoured Halls just can’t fit AmDram groups in? Funny, then, that the AmDram groups we’ve been in touch with say that they are not performing at the Favoured Halls out of choice, because they regard the hire charges as too high.

          “Oh, and a week of maintenance in October”?

          You need to make up your mind – is this period one of the busiest of the year, or is it not? What competent theatre management opts to “go dark” in the middle of what you suggest is the busiest season of the year, in the build-up to Christmas, when there were ample opportunities to close down the venue for maintenance during the less busy summer months?

          Of course, arts venues need some public subsidy to survive. We contend that more venues in Croydon should benefit from grants, from the council and from the relevant Arts Councils and Lottery bodies. The fact – note, for it is a fact – that there is no other arts venue in the whole of the borough of Croydon that receives anything like the level of public subsidy from our council that the Fairfield Halls does renders it the Favoured Halls.

          That’s our subjective opinion. Based firmly on objective fact.

          • I agree that the tribute acts are crass, but not everybody does, or they would not be booking them! They do no harm as they are merely there to fill in the gaps anyway. They do not prevent other, more artistic work being booked.

            If the £27 million is definite then we have not seen much progress in the last two years. As far as the Fairfield staff are concerned the refurbishment is far from confirmed – the only reason I can think of that would mean staff do not know and events are still being booked in is that the council haven’t actually handed any money over yet… The Warehouse grant pales into insignificance compared to the costs of running Fairfield – £30,000 kept the Warehouse going, but would only employ two low level staff on minimum wage at Fairfield. As I said, £1 million would just about cover 50 contracted full/part time staff – then you’ve got the casual staff to pay, the fuel bills, the Health & Safety costs, the insurance and I’m sure much more — all this costs many millions to keep up. Therefore, whilst £1million IS significant to a small fringe studio theatre, it merely gives a small helping hand to a large multi- venue entertainment, and subsequently is NOT significant in the grand scheme of things.

            We were talking above merely about the Autumn programme as you described which is indeed ‘full’ for the Ashcroft Theatre at least. The dark week in October is due to a national tour of a play being cancelled just as the programme was publicised in August – too late for an Am-Dram booking unless they happen to have a show planned but with nowhere to go! No longer is the summer a time for dark days and maintenance – now it is the Murder Mystery season, Summer School and Younger Generation. Maintenance fits in around this, but you can’t beat a full consecutive 5 days worth such as the one now available in October…

            So fair enough, Fairfield is ‘favoured’ because it receives more money than any other arts venue in Croydon – that it it is the biggest venue, employing the most staff and with the widest programme of events and entertainment. It receives significantly less from Croydon council than many arts venues of similar sizes receive from their boroughs and counties across the UK. Remember – it was Croydon Council who washed their hands of running the venue when they offloaded it to a charitable trust. That same council then reduced the grant it received year on year to ZERO for many years – leading to chronic under-investment in the venue, leading to todays problems and requirement for a £27 million refurb. That was not the fault of Fairfield Halls. It is also not the fault of Fairfield Halls or it’s hard working staff that the council has reduced grants to other venues in the borough.

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