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Nimax’s Burns Takes Over SOLT, Olympics Focus

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Nimax Theatres co-owner and chief executive Nica Burns (pictured) takes over today (3 July 2008) as the 29th president of the Society of London Theatre (SOLT), the industry body for London’s main theatre owners, producers and managers, which, amongst other services, organises the annual Laurence Olivier Awards and runs the tkts discount ticket booth in Leicester Square.

Squire, who succeeds Ambassador Theatre Group executive director Rosemary Squire, is only the third woman to hold the position in SOLT’s 100-year history. She will serve for three years until July 2011, combining it with her ongoing day-to-day responsibilities at Nimax, which she co-founded in 2005 when she and Broadway producer Max Weitzenhoffer purchased four West End playhouses – the Lyric, the Apollo, the Garrick and the Duchess – from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group (See News, 11 Jul 2005). The Vaudeville, which Weitzenhoffer already owned, brought the group’s portfolio of theatres to five.

Prior to the formation of Nimax, Burns acted as Really Useful/Stoll Moss’ production director, responsible for programming and managing all the shows presented in a dozen West End theatres, from 1993 to 2005; and ran the Donmar Warehouse from 1983 to 1989. She has been a major force at the Edinburgh Festival for the nearly 30 years and, since 1984, has been director and producer of the Fringe’s comedy award, now called the if.comedy awards, and formerly the Perriers.

As a West End show producer (See Features, “The Producers: Nica Burns”, 18 Oct 2004), Burns’ many credits over the years have included One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Swimming with Sharks (both with Christian Slater), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (with Kathleen Turner) and Medea (with Fiona Shaw). This week, she announced her latest project, an adaptation of the Oscar-winning film Rain Man, in which Hollywood’s Josh Hartnett will make his stage debut (See News, 1 Jul 2008).

Speaking about her new role as SOLT president, Burns said: “Being president of SOLT is a great honour. London is the world’s theatrical capital, a standard bearer in excellence across all art forms and a huge economic contributor to both London and the UK. We have three exciting years ahead of us in the run up to the Olympics, a change of mayor and a general election. The Society is a vital voice for the West End, and I look forward to keeping the spotlight firmly on all our stages.”

Burns has said that, amongst other things, she will look at ways to capitalise on the influx of London visitors heralded by the Olympics and will continue to campaign for public funding to help refurbish crumbling West End theatres.

Richard Pulford, chief executive of SOLT, commented: “Nica brings to the Presidency a wealth of experience of both production and theatre management, coupled with great enthusiasm for the role. The Society’s staff keenly look forward to working with her over the next three years. To have two female presidents in succession shows how far the profession has come from the days when the Society was not unreasonably described as ‘an old boys’ club’.” Rosemary Squire stays on as vice-president for the next three years.

Nica Burns’ appointment coincides with SOLT’s publication of its annual Box Office Data Report, which provides more detailed analysis of the headline figures released in January regarding the 2007 calendar year in Theatreland (See News, 18 Jan 2008).

Although 2007 was deemed a “miracle” year, with the highest number of attendances (over 13.6 million) since records began and a full ten percent up on the previous year, this week’s report sounds several notes of caution for 2008 and beyond. Last year was strongest in the first and second quarters, when 2006’s big musical openings – including Wicked, Spamalot, Dirty Dancing and The Sound of Music - were at their peaks of popularity, but tailed off at the end of the year, as the larger economic climate began to worsen.

Of the audience boom created by reality TV casting shows, the report’s authors noted there was little evidence to confirm that these first-time audience members will return to see other shows, and also identified as “disturbing” for the long-term health of the West End that, with the exception of the new production of The Sound of Music, subsequent TV cast musicals - Grease, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Cameron Mackintosh’s upcoming Oliver! - are all revivals of revivals “just taken out of storage and remounted”.

The report also “new writing, be it musicals or plays, seems to appear on the West End stage less and less often” which “does not bode well for the future” and that ticket prices which, with exchange rates, now exceed those on Broadway, may have “reached a psychological barrier”.

- by Terri Paddock


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