When the House is Home

What sort of relationship do the big performing arts venues have with the major performing arts companies? This is a question often raised, but not easily answered.

When the House is Home


Venues and performing arts companies’ operational models draw on government backing, philanthropic support and ticket sales. Each has cultural responsibility and ambitions that can complement or compete. Balance is not easy; there are real costs and commercial imperatives to consider.

Formally recognising the interconnections and inter-dependency is a useful foundation stone, especially seeing the state and national resident companies are major hirers of the major state venues—but financial agreements, economic outlook and operational structures all affect the real value of a joined vision of the future.

The Sydney Opera House, for example, has worked very publicly over the last 12 months to build healthy relationships with its flagship resident companies, seven of which are AMPAG members—the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Bangarra, Bell Shakespeare, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Opera Australia, the Sydney Theatre Company and The Australian Ballet.

Of the Sydney Symphony’s relationship with the SOH, its CEO Rory Jeffes, says, ‘We share a mutual ambition to build audiences, operate efficiently and deliver artistic excellence.

‘What has become apparent is that while the House is the body, the resident companies are the heartbeat of this iconic building. Building our relationship on that basis makes it possible for us all to achieve our goals.’

Craig Hassall, CEO of Opera Australia, says, 'Every opera house needs an opera company. The relationship between Sydney Opera House and Opera Australia is a unique one in the world. In most cases, the opera company also manages the building. Happily, Sydney Opera House is closely aligned with Opera Australia and there is a great partnership between our two organisations. We happily capitalise on the confusion as to who is who!'

‘Of the 1.4 million people who attended a performance at the Opera House during the year, 685,000 attended the artistically diverse works presented by our wonderful resident companies—704 performances,’ said Louise Herron, CEO of the Opera House.

The SOH’s 2013 Strategic Vision recognises the performing arts as central to its mission and states it will present programs that ‘complement the work of resident companies and add to our artistic and financial success’.

So what does a shared vision mean on the ground? Will both organisations sell tickets? Who owns the data? What lead time is reasonable for fee increases? Who decides on booking priorities? A bumped booking or shortened season can have a devastating impact on a company’s audience levels, and therefore its revenue. (Of course the reverse may be true).

An AMPAG review in 2013 of member companies’ relationship with major venues across Australia found that in the previous four years, while policy and structural challenges remained, there were some improvements.

The SOH, for example, has created a more consultative environment. Rental fees at the SOH are based on a percentage of box office. This motivates its own marketing efforts for resident companies’ seasons. It now has a strategy for discussion and monitoring patron experience, maintenance issues and marketing issues—at the annual ‘presenter satisfaction’ meeting.

Tim Calnin, CEO of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, said that on becoming Managing Director of the Sydney Opera House one of Louise’s priorities was to enhance the House’s relationship with its resident companies.

‘Our dealings with the SOH are now done in an environment of collegiate understanding and cooperation.

‘She has recognised the resident companies contribution to the life of the House—and this has resulted in high visibility of our programs in SOH’s marketing campaigns, and a proactive approach to resolving scheduling difficulties.’

The Arts Centre Melbourne has started to make encouraging moves, appointing Ian Roberts as interim chief executive as it ’resets’ its relationship with its resident companies, all of which are AMPAG members—Melbourne Theatre Company, The Australian Ballet, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Opera Australia.

Roberts is a former trustee of the Victorian Arts Centre. He has been general manager of the Melbourne Festival and most recently was chief executive of the Harold Mitchell Foundation. A permanent chief executive will be appointed after an international search.

According to The Australian (7 Jan 14) the appointment coincides with the delivery of a confidential review by KPMG to Victorian Arts Minister Heidi Victoria of the venue's business model.

Victorian Arts Centre Trust president Tom Harley says the venue needs an additional$8 million to meet maintenance and running costs.

‘The outcomes from this (review) will hopefully be some recognition that we are underfunded,’ he said in The Australian.

A West Australian Government review of the Perth Theatre Trust is under consideration with the management contract held by Ogden’s expiring at the end of this year. The review of the Trust was done by Michael Chappell, consultant with Pracsys Consulting Group. Performing arts companies are keen to improve customer experience, efficiencies in operations and create a nimble progressive performing arts venue environment in WA.

Ticketing will also be further scrutinised with the Trust planning to carry out a complete review of its ticketing operations before deciding on the arrangements to be put in place when the present contract expires in 2015.

By and large, the resident companies are the people’s performing arts companies. They teach their children, support their artistic community and celebrate their stories. To maximise the potential of these companies within the cities’ leading venues is not simply a nice way to operate—it’s in the best interests of the audience.


Major Matters