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Sean Sadler on being the interim finance manager at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester

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What does the role of financial manager for a theatre involve?
It is very varied and changes from day-to-day and week-to week. Although there is the regular work associated with producing the monthly management accounts and the quarterly VAT returns, there are a lot of ad-hoc projects to complete and questions to answer.

There are also the trustees of the theatre to keep informed, and regular meetings are held with them. I need to be the point of contact for any finance-based question which the other two members of the finance team cannot answer!

How does it differ from similar work in non-artistic organisations?
There are definite similarities in the financial debits and credits and in producing accounts for any organisation, but the underlying business is, of course, very different to that of most other organisations.

The complexities of making our own theatre productions as well as taking touring shows, co-productions, amateur theatre and one-nighters are just one element – and that’s before you add in the running of the bar, ice cream and programme sales together with merchandise.

We even have a gallery where art is exhibited (and sold) and sometimes sell off sets after we have finished with them (which recovers some of the cost and avoids throwing some things away).

What do you see as a priority for the Mercury Theatre?
Our priority is to continue with the interesting and varied programme which has been built up over a number of years, whilst maintaining the good financial position of the theatre in a difficult economic environment.

We need to continue to create quality work and to show that we are giving good value for money to our audiences, our supporters and the wider community.

Does the Mercury differ from other theatres where you've fulfilled a similar role and, if so, in which ways?
The other theatre I worked in was similar in size and produced eight of its own shows a year, but did not do any touring shows, co-productions or one-nighters. Thus the broad appeal at the theatre here is more obvious and that is very interesting. The Mercury also has it's own company of actors – the Mercury Theatre Company – who work on the stages as well as in the community, which I have not encountered before.

What do you envisage as your next career move?
I have been brought into the Mercury Theatre to look after the finances during a period of transition after the executive director has moved on until a replacement is found. I have enjoyed my experiences working in the theatre with the excitement and variety that it brings but I cannot be sure that my next role will be in the theatre or even the arts.

I am a chartered accountant and, since leaving that profession, I have worked in two theatres, a number of charities and a variety of types of organisations including four FTSE 100 companies. I just hope, when I finish at the theatre, that I find a new role that is as interesting and challenging as mine is proving to be at the Mercury with a friendly set of people who love what they are doing. If that just happens to be at another theatre, then I would be very pleased indeed.


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