Whenever you are associated with a world class organisation, you gain so much in terms of knowledge and confidence. It is therefore with extreme pride that we can announce that Shaping Portsmouth and the Kings Theatre are to become partners in our joint pursuit of our objectives.
When Stef interviewed Terence Carvalho & Fiona Gibbins, they spoke about their important place in our city. You will see what a fantastic team they are, and what an exciting future they are planning for the venue and its customers.
We are looking forward to building a long and positive partnership with the team at one of our best venues.
Stef Nienaltowski: Good afternoon! I'm sat in the wonderful Kings Theatre talking to Terence, the House & Corporate Manager, and Fiona the Marketing & PR Manager. Good afternoon both.
Fiona Gibbins: Hello
Terence Carvalho: Good afternoon.
SN: So, this wonderful theatre is, as we know, over a hundred years old. What, Terrence or Fiona, are the main challenges in running it?
TC: I think the number 1 challenge is maintaining the customer experience. As you said, it's over a hundred years old, it was 110 on September 30th [2017 - Ed] and the hardest thing is maintaining this building. We have a beautiful auditorium, yet we have bars that are too small to cater the audience numbers that we have in. At full capacity we can have 1,622 people in the building. And you've seen the size of the bars, they can fit maybe 200 and we're absolutely rammed. But when the building was built of course, women weren't allowed in the bars, so they didn't have to be that big. Also, we don't have a car-park (which is very well documented!), toilet facilities, we need more toilets: when the theatre first opened we only had five toilets in the entire building for ladies, we now have 22 and it's still not enough. So, there are a lot of challenges which we face as a business itself, but there are also objectives there for us to even better ourselves, and there's big plans coming up in the future to expand, and make all those things happen one day.
SN: Fantastic. Now, I am a customer of yours, and you know I've said before how much I've enjoyed the productions here, but as a customer, how do you decide what productions to get or to bid for, in order to make the programme exciting?
FG: We've got a wide and varied programme at the moment, we want a wide and varied programme that caters for all audiences, so they'll come to one show, and maybe come back to see another one. We had a new creative director start back in 2016, and his main objective was to bring first class world-touring productions down to the South Coast, which in 2018 he's definitely achieved: we've got some fantastic shows coming up this year. But we've also got some amateur dramatic societies; the Kings Theatre is well known for having the Portsmouth Players, and South Downe Musical Society, as well as lots of high-class tribute acts as well.
SN: Is it a bidding process, or do you get people coming to you saying we'd like to bring our show here?
FG: No, they come to us, or we go to them when we know what's on the tour, so we go to speak to them about coming down to the South Coast, but it sometimes has to fit in within other programming and what other acts we've got going on at the same time. We don't want two musicals back to back, or you don't want two magic shows, because we're not going to be able to target audience people, or market to two magic shows in the same month.
SN: So again, interestingly, it's not just the number of bookings, you want to separate them, so you have different things following each thing so you get a variety?
FG: A variety of events throughout the year, exactly.
TC: I think it depends what else is on in the City as well. We've had shows before when, let's say, other venues around, or around Southampton, may have exactly the same show on, so we're not going to then have that show the next month, or the month before, because it would defeat the purpose, for both venues. But also, on that, I think it really is a great feeling, when you have other companies who've been here before, and they want to come back, they want to come back to the Kings Theatre. They have other choices, but they genuinely want to come back
SN: Choose you
TC: So, that's an amazing feeling, especially when comedians come here, say next year I want to come here again. It's a great feeling.
SN: It is indeed. Which leads me nicely on to, obviously I come from a business background, so for me if I'm in a business, if I've got competition I try to outsell the competition. In your cultural and creative industry, do you see yourselves as and having competitors in the City, or do you just try and work to complement each other?
FG: I think we work to complement each other, I think we've all got our own niches to a certain extent, the Guildhall and the New Theatre Royal, but we also work collaboratively, we worked on a collaborative project to drive traffic over from the Isle of Wight this year, and that worked really well. So yeah, we definitely complement each other; we can't be in direct competition all the time. We might try and fight for the same poster site, but no, we complement each other.
SN: Which is great to hear. Terence, you talked earlier about the age of the building, and some of the interesting statistics about facilities and whatever. If I absent myself from this thought process, but what do today's theatre-goers want from you, both in terms of shows, and facilities?
TC: It was interesting, because there's always been this perception here that it's parking and toilets. I can tell you on show nights when we have 1,600 people in the building, that's definitely the case. The amount of late-comers we have, the toilet queues we have are horrendous. However, marketing recently did a survey, sent it out to [to Fiona] how many people?
FG: Well, all of our database, but we also did it to the people of Portsmouth via the Portsmouth News
TC: And the one that was, what 70%, it was high wasn't it, show quality. The quality of the show, or what the show was. And where Fiona said about 2018 being an exciting year, the likes of Sound of Music, Flashdance, Madagascar...
FG: Mama Mia
TC: Mama Mia coming to Portsmouth for the first time. They are top-notch shows. But then you have the amateur societies like the Portsmouth Players doing The Full Monty. My first year when Portsmouth Players were here, I didn't really know about theatre in general, but an amateur society did Hairspray here, and sold 1,200 tickets. That was nightly, that's amazing for an amateur society. Then South Downe did Legally Blonde, sold 900 - 1000 tickets, Portsmouth Grammar School when they come here still sell an incredible amount of tickets, so it's amazing. People still come, not just to West End shows, but quality shows put on by quality organisation.
SN: Indeed. Apart from the wonderful pantomime, which I said to you earlier I had the pleasure of being here for in December, how do you attract younger members to come, and then come back, to the theatre? You've mentioned some of the Portsmouth Players, and South Downe, but have you got a strategy apart from Pantomime, where you've got dedicated shows during the year to attract the younger people?
FG: Well yeah, we do, so today we've had Peppa Pig. So, we've definitely driven a much younger audience in today! And we've got David Walliams' Awful Auntie later on in the year, and Madagascar. But we also have started to introduce, in fact tomorrow is the first one, toddler tours, where parents are invited to bring their children to do an interactive tour around the theatre, and the toddlers are able to go at their own pace. And we also have a really thriving, vibrant youth theatre as well. They meet once a week, and they do an annual production which is absolutely fantastic, and again we have some really good productions on the stage from them.
SN: And I guess quite popular, and ticket sales are quite good for that as well?
FG: They are indeed, because everyone wants to see their son or daughter on stage.
SN: Indeed. Therefore, do you work out school holidays when you do your calendar and say, right that's the school holiday, let's get more of a youth flavour production there, or how does it work?
FG: I think that we definitely look at the school holidays, because people are away, they're not necessarily always going to be in Portsmouth, and we're always trying to drive people back into Portsmouth. But people who work in Portsmouth, live in Portsmouth, and maybe are at the youth theatre, don't necessarily want to come be here during the school holidays.
SN: Whoever's listening to this particular interview, and wants to donate time, energy, or maybe even some money, to the theatre, how can they get involved?
TC: There are hundreds of ways to get involved in this place. Cleaning alone, that takes a very long time. But in terms of volunteering just for show nights, we have volunteers in our front of house department, on stage, our archivists are also volunteers. We also have things like a Kings Card membership which allows Patrons to get a discount on particular shows, or they get 20% off their pre-ordered interval drinks. We have corporate sponsorship which you know about. Portsmouth Football Club, Gunwharf Quays, Love Southsea have signed on in 2017, and there's going to be more exciting partners coming in 2018. You can sponsor a seat in the auditorium, so be able to have your name on a seat in that auditorium is quite a thing, and then of course something just as simple as bucket collections at the end of the show; every penny counts. We want to make improvements to the theatre, and that's how we're going to do it; people giving us money, and giving us time, and even if it's a little thing: coming in in the summer and stripping wall-paper, or mending seats, it all helps. Every penny does count in this place.
SN: And every hour that they can donate! And how's the best way of getting in touch with you if people want to get involved?
TC: In terms of shows, if someone wants to volunteer to become an usher, they can contact me; all our key staff are available on the internet, you can see our e-mail addresses. In terms of volunteering we do have a volunteer co-ordinator, called Clare Brown, and her email address is also on the website. Corporate sponsorship is me, seating plaques is me, bucket collections that's not really me, but I'm here for that, and then everything else, the Kings Card, the group bookings with discounts that we do, that's Box Office, so that can be a general enquiry, just calling up.
SN: So, it's all on the website?
FG: Yeah, all the information's on kingsportsmouth.co.uk
SN: Lovely. Well, Terence and Fiona, I loved meeting you at the end of last year, I know we've got some great plans to work together. Thank you for today.
FG: Thank you very much
TC: Thank you