As a writer one gets involved in all sorts of things. You might for the purposes of research go places and do jobs you wouldn’t dream of doing so you can experience it. But, for my part, I didn’t think that writing plays would end up with me helping to run a theatre.
The theatre in question is Theatr Gwaun Fishguard. It was built in the 1880s as a temperance hall. In the 1920s it was converted to a cinema, with circle and stalls seating apparently (and rather unbelievably) 800. By the 1990s ticket receipts were falling and it was converted into a cinema/theatre, taking out some of the stalls to form a stage and removing the circle. In this form it was taken over by Pembrokeshire County Council who have been managing it for the last 20 years.
And, steadily, over those years, the revenue has been falling to the point where the word was that the council was planning to close it. At which point, I and a dozen like-minded people got together to form Friends of Theatr Gwaun with the object of increasing the audience as much as we could to try and stave off the possibility of closure. We reasoned that with better publicity and putting on shows people actually wanted, we could increase the audience. The council, on the other hand, seemed intent on reducing it.
Earlier in the year they had even stopped producing a printed programme of what was coming up, The council’s reasoning was that ‘since receipts had continued to fall despite their best endeavours, they could no longer afford to continue the marketing.’
We began a public relations campaign stating what to us was blindingly obvious. It was a classic self-fulfilling prophecy and would have been laughable if it wasn’t so idiotic.
So we set up a website with details of the events and films that council were putting on, together with ones we started promoting. One of the first of these, a comedy of mine about a group from Pembrokeshire who campaign to have the bluestones returned from Stonehenge achieved a full house. Proof that with a bit of promotion and a decent show, you could get an audience. And then the bombshell: the council announced they would be closing the theatre ‘when the present funding runs out’. Just when that would be they couldn’t say, but it could be as early as Christmas, We were not now just trying to increase audience levels, we were thrown into the situation of seeing if there was a way we might actually take over the theatre.
So, in addition to putting on events (all of which we’re pleased to say broke even at least) we started looking for finance and preparing a business plan.
In the event, the existing council funding was sufficient for the theatre to continue until March 31 this year. The council has now offered us a three year licence to manage the theatre rent and rates free. It’s not signed yet but (cross fingers) it will be. All being well we’d hope to reopen the theatre by June. And then the fun starts… I can see that the time for writing will be squeezed as the challenges of running a theatre increase. But just think of all the stories that could come out of the experiences. Just watch this space.