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A game of Risk & too many breakfasts

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I go to quite a lot of networking breakfasts around East Anglia. Its good for connections, although very bad for the waistline… but I do it for my art, of course. What is fun is that I almost always find someone with whom, at first, I have little connection, but with whom – after a little work – we can find a common ground position, and I can celebrate the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds.

This week I was at the Bury 4N (for networking) group and for anyone who likes meeting fascinating people who could help their business, and vice versa, I would recommend 4N. But back to the story. I was standing next to two healthy besuited 6’2” 40yr old investment brokers. I was the small, older, fluffy, not-suited oddity in the room. And I challenged them that my business was more risky than theirs… within a moment of consideration they agreed.

The arts, especially regional presenting, producing, and mixed programme theatres, is notoriously risky. The downside is terrible (losing your shirt, job etc) and the upside is negligible (not much profit if breakeven is 70% and you hope and pray for 75% business). Add to that the fact that we present at the Theatre Royal, say, 250 risky things a year – every one is different; you can’t do trial runs, and there’s never really a repeat.

OK we produce plays, but is a new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (opening this Sept) similar as a “product” to a national touring actor muso-drama about an essex rapist, Dick Turpin, which played the same slot last year. Not that similar I think.

I was sharing my business challenges with these two investment managers and, despite the millions of pounds of your money they may play with, they said – its madness, we make three really risky decisions a year, and we can test them if we get them slightly wrong. You make 250 risky decisions, for little or no profitable outcome, and every decision is for a different product.

We talked more, and what was fun was that two besuited gentlemen increased their interest in the arts ten fold, because they saw understanding our business as a professional challenge. We don’t call our biz “show business” for nothing.

So, if you are an investment banker, financier, or just a normal grown-up business person – think twice about the arts being created by a fluffy load of crazies, and just wonder whether there’s something in the fact that we have to balance our books with most of the profitable cards removed from the pack.

We often run buildings, large part-time/volunteer/paid staff, rely on high volume sales with low mark-up, and you can never sell the product half price after its sell-by-date.

If you’re a struggling arts manager (or one of the 10-12 arts managers who are not struggling) then think about the joy you can give a besuited business manager by challenging them to a game of Risk – my risk is bigger than your risk…not the Naomi Kline world domination risk game.

I’ll continue to head to my 8am (and sometimes 6.45am) breakfasts, and slowly coax the gentle folk of suit-land, to try our show business world of fluff and fancy. 4N is a great tool to reaching new audiences – give it a try.


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