Friday, September 25, 2009

Do you know what's going on at the Curve theatre?

At the risk of being accused of being anti-Leicester and failing to support the regeneration of the city, I've got a question to ask.

What is happening at the Curve? What makes me ask that? The awful PR dull-speak that came out of the theatre this week announcing the departure of its chief executive, Ruth Eastwood. In common with other parts of the media, we received a press release (printed in full below) from Kate Gambrell, Freelance Media Consultancy (I would link to her, but if she has a website, I can't find it.)

In this, Ms Gambrell told us that Ruth Eastwood was stepping down later this month (next week?) "to take a break for herself and to focus on her future personal development." I guess, at least, that's slightly more imaginative than the reason given by politicians who nearly always seem to want "to spend more time with their family."

Nevertheless, I can't help thinking that it's just guff.

This opinion is reinforced the next day when a senior insider tells us that there have been long-running issues between Ms Eastwood and the chairman of the trust that runs the theatre, Mr Anthony Lawton. The situation was bad enough for the Ms Eastwood to issue a grievance against the chairman, although this was later dismissed by the board.

However, nobody official is going to add anything to the annodine quotes in the press release - if I was a betting man, I'd put money on the fact that this was because of a confidentiality clause in whatever deal has been struck between the theatre and Ms Eastwood. Has there been a pay-off? Well, you wouldn't think so if Ms Eastwood had resigned ... but look again - the press release doesn't say she has resigned, just that she is stepping down.

And this is where the PR starts to unravel in my mind. If she was going because she wanted to take a break and focus on her future personal development, that sounds as if she was resigning, in which case she should not be getting a pay-off.

If, on the other hand, she is going as part of a deal following the fall-out between her and the chairman, then the theatre is almost certainly paying her off and she's not going for the reasons given. Obviously we asked, but this is how we reported the response:
"A spokesman also said that because they were an independent organisation they had no obligation to release information they feel is commercially sensitive, such as details of any pay-off Ms Eastwood could get."
That provokes two thoughts. Firstly, if there was no pay-off, the spokesman would have said so. And, secondly - you can file this in the drawer marked: red, rag, bull - 'an independent organisation with no obligation to release information?'

Independent of the city taxpayers who forked out £35-million towards the cost of building the theatre?

And then there's the running costs - it's pretty obvious that the theatre is not running at a profit. But how much is it costing to run and who's paying that?

I was surprised at how little information I could find on this in the public domain. I found something on the website of East Midlands Arts suggesting it was paying upwards of £2-million a year, but I couldn't find anything else in the hour I spent searching, other than our recent article that said the theatre had applied to the national Arts Council for £750,000 to help it through difficulties caused by the current economic downturn. It's odd how little I could find.

Hence my question in the headline - do you know what's going on at the Curve? Have you seen the business plan? There was lots of talk of success in the press release, but measured against what? We were told that there have been 120,000 ticket sales in the first year. Is that good? Is that what they were expecting?

I'll be asking somebody at the office to put together an article detailing how the running costs are being paid ... so any help would be greatly appreciated.

PS I can already feel the establishment reaction to my questions. This is not a criticism of the Curve, it is simply me asking a question I ask often - how is public money being spent? Why won't the public bodies say how much they are spending and tell us why it is worthwhile? I'm all in favour of public funding for art, but I hate it when it is hidden away as if the authorities were ashamed of it.

Here's the press release in full:

Leicester Theatre Trust Chief Executive to step down

After leading Leicester Theatre Trust (LTT) through three of the most challenging and exciting years in the organisation’s history, Ruth Eastwood will step down as Chief Executive later this month to take a break for herself and to focus on her future personal development. During her tenure she ensured the successful completion and opening season of Curve, the city's new state of the art theatre.

Curve opened in November 2008 and since then the venue has attracted over 120,000 ticket sales for Leicester Theatre Trust productions (Lift Off, Simply Cinderella, In-I, The Pillowman, As You Like It, The Light in the Piazza and the large scale community production of His Dark Materials), visiting national and international work and shows produced by Leicester’s many vibrant community arts groups. Under Ruth’s leadership Curve has also hosted a range of conferences and commercial events including this year’s Arts Marketing Association annual conference.

Ruth comments: "I am immensely proud of what we have achieved over the last three years and the fantastic success of our first season in Curve. It has been a very exciting and very intense period and I now feel that as Leicester Theatre Trust gets into its stride and moves into its second year, I can take the opportunity to step back, take some time for myself and focus on my future personal development. The team at Curve has worked tirelessly and with huge commitment and dedication to make this wonderful facility really 'sing', it has been a pleasure and an honour to have led them on this amazing journey. I'd like to thank them all, the Board and our partners and wish Curve all the best in the future.

Anthony Lawton OBE, Chair of Leicester Theatre Trust said

“On behalf of the Board and all involved with Leicester Theatre Trust I would like to thank Ruth for her hard work in successfully leading LTT into a new era with a new cutting-edge building, her efforts have given the organisation at Curve a fine start. I wish Ruth all success and happiness in her future endeavours.”

Laura Dyer, Chief Executive, Arts Council England, East Midlands added

“We are sorry to hear that Ruth Eastwood has decided to leave Curve and we would like to take this opportunity to celebrate her great achievement in taking Curve through its build phase and completing its first season, which included some stunning work. Curve is poised to build on the strong platform she has helped to create and to meet the challenges of establishing itself at the cultural heart of Leicester, the region and the Country.”

Paul Kerryson Artistic Director, Leicester Theatre Trust added

“It has been a real pleasure to work alongside Ruth who has led the company through an immensely challenging and inspiring time. She has given magnificent support to the artistic endeavours of Leicester’s unique and wonderful Curve experience.”

Stella McCabe, Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Communications, and Paul Kerryson, Artistic Director will lead the organisation in the immediate coming weeks supported by the Chair, Board of Trustees and senior executive colleagues. A further announcement regarding the recruitment of a new Chief Executive will be made in due course.


For further information please contact:
Kate Gambrell, Freelance Media Consultancy: