Cardiff Pulls the Plug on Festival of Musical TheatreDate: 18 January 2007
As London celebrates the 2006 deluge of musicals with the announcement of this year’s Laurence Olivier Award nominations (See Today’s Other News), the cause of musical theatre was dealt a serious blow in Cardiff. The local council has pulled the plug on the Cardiff International Festival of Musical Theatre (CIFMT), the event launched to great fanfare in 2002 (See News, 27 Mar 2002).
The biennial festival was founded to celebrate “the world’s most popular live art form”, with the inaugural event timed to bolster Cardiff’s bid as the 2008 European Capital of Culture (the title was subsequently awarded to Liverpool). There have been three festivals to date, held in 2002, 2005 (delayed from 2004 in order to coincide with Cardiff’s centenary celebrations as a city) and 2006.
CIFMT has been financially insecure ever since the first event, which, owing to an ambitious in-house production schedule, generated a deficit of nearly £600,000 which took four years to clear. Last year’s more modestly run event achieved attendances of 62% (with more than 46,000 seats sold) over the three weeks, from 15 October to 5 November 2006 (See News, 5 Apr 2006), but still resulted in a loss of approximately £50,000.
The past two festivals have cost approximately £1.25million each, funded primarily by Cardiff Council (contributing £400,000) and BBC Cymru Wales (£350,000). The remaining £500,000 needed for each event has been raised through a mixture of corporate sponsorship, grants and box office receipts.
The Council and the BBC have now withdrawn their support and, in a statement released today, Sir Roger Jones, chairman of the board of CIFMT, said that it has proved too difficult to attract the additional necessary funding to make the festival financially viable in Cardiff. The board is now considering opportunities to take the festival to another UK regional host city.
CIFMT chief executive Joanne Benjamin - who, along with the festival’s three other staff members, has now been made redundant – told Whatsonstage.com today she is determined to find a new home in time for the next planned event in autumn 2008. She is currently in discussions with six potential cities. London is not seen as a viable option because, according to another spokesman, there’s too much else happening in the capital: “London celebrates theatre every day of the year”.
In his statement, Sir Roger said that Cardiff had benefited hugely as the host city. “The Festival has truly pushed Cardiff to the forefront of musical theatre across the world – major producers on Broadway and in the West End now look to see what is happening at the Festival as an indication of where musical theatre is heading.” In addition, he said, “The Festival has now established itself in the worldwide arts calendar with visitors and performers coming from as far afield as Australia, the Far East, South Africa, Europe and America.”
The organisers estimate that in 2006, the Festival’s economic impact on the city was £1.4million, rising from an estimated £1.1million at the 2005 event. Benjamin told Whatsonstage.com that CIFMT, “brought a substantial amount to Cardiff, both in terms of income and kudos, so I’m disappointed in their decision. I’m disappointed that they can’t see the financial benefit. But I do understand it’s time to move on.”
- by Terri Paddock