AUDITIONS start this weekend for Longwood Amateur Operatic Society’s next big show which opens in the autumn.
But as a cast is chosen and rehearsals get underway for the society’s production of Godspell at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in October it will be against the backdrop of some of the toughest decisions the company has ever had to face.
Putting on high quality musicals means months of hard work for the whole society, on stage and off. But it also means a massive financial commitment.
And though the society had initially chosen to do one of the smash hit West End musicals, Me And My Girl this autumn, a close look at the society’s balance sheet resulted in a change of heart.
The sums are stark. For many it will come as a surprise that staging a major musical at the Lawrence Batley Theatre would cost Longwood about £30,000.
“We need ticket sales of at least £26,000 to break even, the remainder of the costs being met by fund-raising, members subscriptions, programme sales advertising and raffles,” said the society’s president Tom Mair.
Eighteen months ago, Longwood staged a hugely popular version of Calamity Jane and followed that up last autumn with another show, Half A Sixpence, which they felt would be just as big a hit with audiences.
But despite being well received, Half A Sixpence didn’t pull in the size of audiences the society is used to.
The first signs perhaps of people tightening belts as the extent of the country’s economic problems started to hit home?
“The committee believed that Half A Sixpence, with its mixture of well known, lively songs, dancing and humour, would be as successful as Calamity Jane had been,” said Tom.
“But for whatever reason, we sold 500 fewer seats and where we anticipated at least “breaking even” or maybe making a small profit, that dip in ticket sales costs us a loss of many thousands of pounds.
“That reduced our reserves to the point that in the eyes of the committee, it would have been foolhardy to embark on another high cost show such as Me And My Girl without the resources to protect the society from another possible disaster which might well have sent us to the wall.
“Were we the first victims of the financial cuts?” said Tom. “Who knows.”
And the society took the inevitable decision to opt for a show that would be fun and entertaining but which would not run up quite the costs of something as big as Me And My Girl which has a large company and demands expensive costumes and sets.
Tom and treasurer Trevor Poulter went on to spell out the costs involved in a show.
“The royalties we have to pay to the rights holders to put on a show are about £4,000 depending on audience size since we pay between 13 and 15% of box office takings plus VAT.
“The LBT costs us over £3,000 in standing charges plus 20% of our box office and VAT which can total between £8,000 and £9,000.
“In total it cost us about £30,000 to put on a show. Last year, our ticket sales were only £18,500 which resulted in a very large deficit.
“If amateur theatre does not get the support of the public, it will not be able to continue in its present form,” said Tom.
Auditions start within days for the society’s production at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in early October.
Longwood is know in the town for its high quality shows and for its friendly, welcoming family atmosphere.
The group started in 1924 and staged many shows in the Mechanics Hall in Longwood.
The society took big step, moving shows to the former Venn Street Arts Centre where it continued to put on musicals until the centre closed in 1994.
The Lawrence Batley Theatre has been the group’s home ever since and it prides itself on being the first amateur operatic society to perform in the new theatre.
Longwood aim to continue for many more years to come but say it is vital that people support them if live theatre is to continue at its current high standard in a town renowned for its music and arts skills.
Anyone wanting to get involved with the society or to audition for Godspell, should contact the society’s chairman, Granville Stead on 01484 452308.
Jane Davison, who will direct the show, is raring to go and she and her team are determined this will be another fun, high quality show from Longwood. There’s a real buzz about the show and a determination that it will do well.
Auditions will be held this Sunday and on March 20. Godspell is a Seventies musical packed with feel good numbers and bags of dancing.
The first London production starred David Essex, Marti Webb and Jeremy Irons and various touring versions have continued to delight audiences ever since. It will doubtless do the same here in October.