by Jez Bond
“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen” I began “I'm Jez Bond, Artistic Director for Park Theatre”. It’s a title that used to sound alien but now comes as second nature. I’ve given countless speeches at tours, presentations and meetings that I’ve become incredibly comfortable in talking on all aspects of the theatre. Today I was at the Finsbury Park Regeneration Conference addressing forty or so residents, business owners and councillors across the three boroughs of Islington, Hackney and Haringey.
The key topic I was asked to discuss was why, of all the gin joints in all the world, we had chosen Finsbury Park...
There are many answers; the excellent transport links, the current influx of new developments and conversions, the income of classy restaurants, the previous lack of arts provision, the huge number of theatre practitioners. But there’s on other thing that I often remark but rarely expand upon. The hoards of suits exiting the tube station at rush hour.
Ten to twelve years ago I worked as Associate Director at Y Touring Theatre Company - who were at that time based on nearby Lennox Road. What you see now that you didn't see then are the hundreds of young professional couples dressed in suits walking out of the station at rush hour. This change is indicative of an area on the up and this very fact is vital to our success. You see, the trouble with new audiences is that they take years to cultivate. The truth is that without a core audience of more affluent theatre-savvy people, we wouldn't survive.
So how do we reconcile this truth with one of our key aims to pull in new and diverse audiences?
Well unless we have the finances in place to operate with empty houses and to spend vast amounts on marketing to people who won’t even think about coming until long after we’ve chained shut the doors forever, we need to generate some income quickly in order to survive. We need to survive in order to thrive – and we need to thrive in order to invest time, money and a great deal of energy into developing new ways of attracting those who haven’t been to the theatre before.
It’s through our success in generating ticket sales from a ‘safer’ audience plus through finding the right balance in programming that we will begin to address the issue.
People often talk of the negative effects of ‘gentrification’ of an area – and indeed where the wealthier come in, the house prices go up and the poorer are forced out of their indigenous neighbourhood that’s not a good thing. However there’s a balance to be had – one where the wealthier communities and the less advantaged live together, where the more affluent take care of the poorer.
Park Theatre can be a facilitator between the two. It will take years to build but it’s worth every effort. New audiences are key, young audiences are our future and a worthwhile theatre simply must be rooted in the community in which it sits.