By Graham Chalmers
The organisers of the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival have launched a massive fundraising appeal to bounce back from disappointing audience figures.
Having run successfully at Buxton for 20 years, this world famous event arrived in Harrogate last year for the first time with a great deal of excitement and a warm welcome from one and all.
But festival founder, chairman and artistic director Ian Smith said attendances over the 25 days of top quality Gilbert and Sullivan shows and events in 2014 had amounted to his “worst fears.”
He said: “When you uproot an event of this size, after 20 years in the same venue, you inevitably run a number of risks. Will your audience move with you? Will you attract a new audience in the new venue?
“Last year our worst fears were realised. A significant portion of our traditional audience did not move with us to Harrogate and although we did attract a new local North Yorkshire audience it did not compensate for the losses.”
The new appeal aims to raise £165,000 from the huge community of Gilbert and Sullivan fans, allied to a bid to win Arts Council funding.
Organisers say this renowned festival’s position of relying almost purely on ticket revenue made it more vulnerable than many other events.
Ian Smith said: “Although the visit was good for Harrogate hotels, guest houses, restaurants and other service providers we had heavy losses.
“Unlike many festivals we receive no public funding and we rely on ticket sales for 80 per cent of our income.”
With only two weeks until the launch in Harrogate of this year’s 22nd International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, organisers are ready to make hard decisions to secure its safe future, should they be needed.
One idea is to cut the duration of the festival from three weeks to two, rehaping the event’s format and reducing some of its huge variety of activities, as well as the actual performances of classic Gilbert and Sullivan shows.
After a tug of love between its original home in Buxton and organisers, whatever happens a pledge has already been made that there will be a festival in 2016.
Ian Smith said: “This year we have really gone to town to try to ensure that everyone in Harrogate and district is aware that the festival is in town from August 1 -23.
Our challenge in 2015 is to build significantly on our attendance figures for 2014.
“It took us six years of hard work to develop in Buxton successfully and last year was only our first visit to Harrogate.
“At the moment we are slightly behind last year but experience tells us that it is in the next 15 days that most people decide if they are going to the theatre or not.”
More information at www.gsfestivals.org