Norwich theatre launches major funding appeal for arts education centre

Artists impression of the education building at the Theatre Royal. Picture: Supplied

Artists impression of the education building at the Theatre Royal. Picture: Supplied - Credit: Supplied

A five-year public appeal to raise money for a flagship new building to teach, coach and inspire future generations of schoolchildren has been launched today by Norwich Theatre Royal today.

Stage Two, a purpose-built education centre that is to be run by theatre, is currently taking shape next to the venue and is scheduled to open next autumn.

Already £2.3m of the £3.9m cost of the project has been raised and now a public appeal has being announced to help boost the project's coffers alongside public fundraising initiatives, and activities in the theatre such as bucket collections.

The announcement was made at the theatre's annual meeting today which also highlighted the theatre's existing educational work which will be further boosted by the opening of Stage Two. A total of 381 school parties attended performances, 49 workshops or educational events were attended by over 5100 students, and over 600 young people have been trained in theatre skills.

In addition, 170 pupils have performed their own versions of well-known operas on the theatre stage as part of the Norfolk Schools Project, over 1400 people have taken part in school and community group backstage tours, and there have been 49 week-long work experience placements.

The annual meeting also put the venue's performance over the past 12 months into the spotlight.

The meeting heard the theatre's net surplus before depreciation was £217,397, a decrease of £563,937 on the previous year.

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Peter Wilson, the theatre's chief executive, said two main factors contributed to the decrease.

He said: 'The first and greatest was a drop in retained box office income. Some, although not all, was due to the sales and expenditure of the visiting Wagnerian operas from Freiburg in June 2014 but there were also some disappointing sales elsewhere, although some of this impact was mitigated by the excellent pantomime results.

'Secondly we missed the income from the Houghton Revisited exhibition which had been fruitful for us in 2013'.

The theatre's highlights over the past 12 months included revivals of Cats and West Side Story which both almost sold out, Singin In The Rain which featured a top-class cast and 15,000 litres of water, the panto Peter Pan which was the highest-grossing in the theatre's history missing out on £1m of sales by just £4000, the challenging Two Worlds of Charlie F which explored the lives of veterans who suffered life-changing injuries in conflict, and Matthew Bourne's version of Lord of the Flies which featured local male dancers alongside the professional company.

Average occupancy through the year remained buoyant at 75 per cent, a three per cent year-on-year increase, and the number of Friends also increased from 12,408 to 12,765.

Norwich Theatre Royal also compared favourably in a comparison of 14 other similar-sized venues in a survey. The total of seats sold (387,165) is higher than the national average of 294,671. The Theatre Royal's average capacity of 75 per cent is also 19 per cent higher than the national percentage of 56.

'After the financial successes of previous years, the relative drop in surplus was a good reminder of how fragile the business of theatre is,' Mr Wilson said.

'We deal in 'theatrical futures' by committing ourselves many months in advance to hundreds of thousands of pounds of risk in the belief, backed by our expertise and supported by our Trustees, that tickets will be bought in sufficient quantities.

'That we have been proved right so often over the years is a tribute to the remarkable abilities of every one of my colleagues.'