23/07/2008 - 22:00

Theatre merger not in the script, yet

23/07/2008 - 22:00

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Sharing premises could lead to more than just rubbing shoulders for Western Australia's two leading theatre companies, though no-one wants to write the 'm' word into the script, just yet.

Sharing premises could lead to more than just rubbing shoulders for Western Australia's two leading theatre companies, though no-one wants to write the 'm' word into the script, just yet.

Black Swan Theatre Company and its smaller cousin, the Perth Theatre Company, have been moving geographically closer to each other for years; a trend that will culminate in them both being the inaugural tenants of the Heath Ledger Theatre, which is currently under construction in Northbridge.

The proposed proximity of the two companies has led to the signing of a memorandum of understanding to look at new ways of cooperating.

But both organisations denied a full-blown merger was on the cards at this stage.

PTC chairman David Gray said the pair was going into exploratory territory with the MOU.

"It made sense to us to at least have talks with them about synergies and opportunities to do things together," Mr Gray told WA Business News.

A merger between the two groups was raised as a possibility in the late 1990s when the Nugent Report into arts funding proposed consolidation in the sector; but even though both Black Swan and PTC were even more heavily reliant on state and federal funding then than they are now, a merger did not eventuate.

Both groups said that there was no current pressure from government funding bodies to push them together.

Mr Gray added that neither of the two companies was pushing such an agenda, either.

"It is not being driven by one side or the other."

Black Swan chairman Richard Duldig said a merger was explored and rejected at the time of the Nugent Report.

He said the new MOU was simply a way of looking at assessing the logistics of fitting both groups, with around 15 combined staff and about 11 productions a year, into the same space.

"In terms of a merger, that has been suggested from funding bodies but it is not on the agenda at the moment," Mr Duldig said.

"That would clearly be the Black Swan Theatre Company view.

"There is no commitment to merge, we are looking at working closer together.

"Once you get that close in proximity, we both need to manage our costs and available space so by the very nature of being in one place you have to have discussions."

"Who knows what happens as it gets closer to the time you have to work together."

The two companies have remarkably similar philosophies, with visions to develop local productions; though Black Swan has become bigger in recent years as it has sought to supplement its traditional product with other more mainstream and less commercially risky productions.

The prompt for merger talk in the industry is the expected move to shared premises in the new Northbridge performing arts venue.

The venue has already received criticism by some in the sector over its proposed name and for failing to adequately cater for storage and rehearsal needs of the local industry.

If a merger of the two organisations is ever put more directly on the agenda, the companies' chairs certainly offer the business skills to drive such a change.

Mr Gray is the managing director of long-running family business David Gray and Co, an industrial products and agribusiness supply group, while Mr Duldig is deputy executive director of the Australian Institute of Management's WA chapter.

Black Swan Theatre was established in 1991 and is currently based in Crawley.

Perth Theatre Company started life in 1983 as SWY Theatre in Fremantle, but has been resident in Perth for more than 20 years.

Its current headquarters is the Playhouse Theatre.

Mr Duldig added that the 2009 season for Black Swan had already been committed to, as had development of the 2010 season.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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