Things must be grim in the performing arts when an outfit like the Sydney
Theatre Company starts crying poor.

The ever so mainstream and bums-on-seats obsessed STC has declared its first
operating loss in almost a decade despite having a gangbuster year at the box
office, including a hugely successful season of David Williamson’s last
mainstage play, Influence.

If a Williamson play couldn’t keep the STC out of the red, the harbourside
theatre company’s future is not looking flash, given that Australia’s most
bankable playwright announced his retirement last year.

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“Our costs are increasing at a rate that’s significantly faster than that
at which our funding goes up, so there’s a gap that’s beginning to appear,” the
STC’s general manager told The SMH

According to The SMH, the STC posted an operating deficit of $124,083
despite having one of its strongest years ever, with subscriptions topping $10
million and sponsorship up by 38%.

The STC’s financial woes don’t bode well for the future of one its more
interesting initiatives – the recent establishment of a full-time acting
ensemble. While there are plenty of sound artistic reasons for having an
in-house team of actors, it’s hugely expensive and hard to justify from a
bottom-line point of view.

The STC gets only 7.5% of its funding from the Federal Government, which
some might regard as more than reasonable considering the company could hardly
be described as cutting edge.

Nevertheless, if a company as audience-focused and sponsorship-friendly as
the STC is struggling, it shows just how tough things are in the performing arts
right now.

The Australia Council is conducting a major review of funding for flagship
performance companies, seven years after the watershed inquiry conducted by
banker Helen Nugent. There’s a broad consensus that the Nugent funding model has
outlived its usefulness, however it’s not easy persuading the Australia Council
of that when the bureaucrat conducting the new review was a key adviser in
drafting the Nugent report.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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