The Byre Theatre: can it be saved?

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Image: byretheatre.com

Yesterday, it was reported in national and local media that the Byre Theatre faces closure within the next ten days due to financial difficulties. The Byre’s Board has since released a statement, while a campaign has been set up to prevent the theatre shutting its doors for good. Here is The Saint‘s round-up of the latest developments.

‘Message from the Board’

Today, the Byre website displayed a statement from the Board of the Byre Theatre Ltd, which expressed the Board’s deep regret at the closure. The statement made the situation plain: “Following poor results, and advice from our own accountants, it has been necessary to obtain insolvency advice from Graeme Smith, Insolvency Practitioner, of Henderson Loggie of Dundee in respect of the financial position of the Business. Faced with the prospect of insolvency, the theatre had to cease trading at once.”

The details of the financial problems make for grim reading. The Byre had been struggling to cover costs since the new £5.5 million building was opened in 2001, a situation made “acute” when “the annual grant it had received from the former Scottish Arts Council ended in 2011.”

Efforts were made to lower expenditure, including cutting staff and taking on more volunteers, franchising the cafe and restaurant and applying for grants and donations (£375,000 received in 2012). Sadly, “this did little to help with the ongoing cost of running the theatre building itself.” And, although ticket sales and lettings have continued to do well, “ticket sales were never sufficient to cover all the overheads and staff costs.”

Image: Richard Browne
Image: Richard Browne

There was hope that the Byre’s planned participation in the new Fife Cultural Trust from 1 April this year could alleviate its problems, but this proved unfeasible. The statement said that the Board has “explored all other possibilities, including consultation with Creative Scotland and Fife Council, but there was no alternative to liquidation.”

The Board confirmed that this week’s shows ‘The Sound of Music-als’ and ‘Mind, Body and Soul’ will go ahead as planned, and had this message for the theatre’s staff and supporters:

“The Board of the Byre Theatre is extremely grateful to its highly professional and loyal staff, its many generous benefactors, including the Friends of The Byre, and to all those who have patronised and supported The Byre during its 80 years. We are greatly distressed to be announcing its closure and profoundly sorry for all those affected by so sudden a termination. We did all we could, but it was not enough.”

What the press are saying

The Scotsman reported yesterday that: “The Byre Theatre was closing, despite successfully hosting the launch of Creative Scotland’s Creative Place Awards on Wednesday.”

The paper also spoke to Grant Ward, head of Leisure & Cultural Services at Fife Council, who said: “the board [has] tried, in extremely difficult circumstances, to secure a sustainable business model for The Byre Theatre. Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, this doesn’t look to have been possible.”

However, Ward did offer some hope: “As owners of the building, we’ll be seeking an early meeting with the administrators, once appointed, to discuss next steps. We will also be working closely with Creative Scotland to explore other possible delivery models. Notwithstanding today’s sad news, we remain optimistic that there will be a future for The Byre Theatre.”

The Courier had spoken to the Byre’s Insolvency Practitioner, Graeme Smith, who confirmed that he had been approached by the theatre, to give financial advice. He had studied the theatre’s accounts, after which point he recommended that it enter creditors’ voluntary liquidation. He said he had held “a further meeting with the Byre’s 25, mainly part-time, staff yesterday to explain what this might mean.”

Smith added that the theatre, hit by “the Scottish Arts Council’s decision to refuse to continue flexible funding support” in January 2011, would likely go into liquidation in the next seven to 10 days.

The BBC added today that: “The building will close its doors on Thursday night for the last time.”

Can the Byre be saved?

The overall sentiment among students, town residents and others with an interest in the theatre has been sadness, but there is a growing determination that this shall not be the end of the Byre, in spite of the fatalistic tone of the Board statement.

Students are among those to have engaged in discussion through the ‘Save the Byre Theatre’ Facebook page  and ‘@SavetheByre’ Twitter account. The Facebook page, with its own press officer and over 2,260 likes as of 6pm, has already seen several suggestions made, such as holding fundraisers, seeking the advice of other Scottish arts organisations, setting up a strategic committee and strengthening links with Youth Theatre.

The Sabbatical Officers have been vocal in their support of the cause. Meg Platt, Director of Student Development and Activities, said: “my thoughts are with all of the staff at the Byre, who have been nothing but incredibly kind and dedicated to student productions and the Association throughout the years.”

She continued: “I would also encourage everyone to like the Facebook page ‘Save the Byre Theatre’ to get involved in learning about what we can do. At this early stage the best thing we can do is show the community how much we, as students, value this space as a centre for the arts.”

Amanda Litherland, Director of Representation, told student media: “I am so sad that this wonderful theatre is closing, and it just highlights the importance of funding for the creative arts. As a student the Byre has provided me with so many opportunities to watch and perform in productions, and has played a huge role in my life in St Andrews… I’m determined to try and save this brilliant theatre.”

The Saint also spoke to Cameron Kirby, Mermaids President, and Claire Rampen, On The Rocks Director. Kirby said that losing the only professional theatre in the town would be “a big blow” for Mermaids, which has hired the venue out for shows – such as ‘Hair’, ‘Party’ and ‘Baby Bottle Cosmo’ last semester – and sometimes borrowed technical equipment from it.

He said that the Byre had been very helpful in planning shows for the coming semester, although those plans look unlikely to be fulfilled, and added that the it is a “fantastic theatre” and its technical and front-of-house staff are “great people”.

As for the Byre’s cash flow problems, he said: “I knew they weren’t in the best situation financially, but I didn’t expect this.” Mermaids had already been looking for potential venues due to Union redevelopment, but this news means that process becomes more of a priority.

Kirby admitted that he was not yet sure if anything could be done, but said he would be talking to the Mermaids Committee this week to get ideas – “anything we can do, we will do.”

Claire Rampen indicated that the Byre is “very central” to plans for On The Rocks (OTR), the student arts festival which this year begins on 6 April. The Byre, being a five-star venue, has been used for OTR’s “flagship shows”.

The theatre’s closure had come as a complete shock to her, as she had been scheduling a meeting about OTR contracts when the news was announced. OTR do, however, have the money [the shows under the ‘OTR umbrella’ are self-funding] and venue options required for all shows to go ahead.

She acknowledged that the scale of the financial problems expressed in the Board statement appeared overwhelming, but said: “I would love to see something happen if we can rally together, as it’d be such a shame to lose it.” It was only right, she added, that the “incredible” St Andrews arts scene had a five-star venue to showcase its talents.

1 COMMENT

  1. The business probably cannot be saved, unless a white knight with a very large checkbook turns up very soon (Sean Connery, JK Rowling?) The building though, belongs to Fife Council and they have (by the terms of a grant they got for it) to use it for “cultural purposes”. What matters is they decide to take the necessary steps now (like buying the equipment from the administrators) to keep open the possibility of those “cultural purposes” being as a serious theatre. This shouldn’t cost a lot, but it will cost something, so pressure needs to be brought to bear on them to find the money.

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