Steve Potts, the man behind the smash-hit season of entertainment at the Broadway Theatre over Christmas 2013 – and Bill Kenwright’s right-hand man – tells The Moment magazine how he’s going to do it all again this Christmas, with a new set of incredible shows
LET’S START AT THE VERY BEGINNING…
‘BKL had taken shows to the Broadway Theatre Peterborough in previous years, prior to the 2013 season. As we all know, the Broadway had to close due to mismanagement – a third party had come in and they just didn’t know what they were doing, amongst other things. It’s always a shame for a theatre producer when a theatre closes down because a) it’s a missed opportunity and b) that particular region or city is deprived of certain types of entertainment – the business reason and the social and cultural reason, too, if you like. I’d always kept the Broadway in my mind, and late one evening Bill and I were planning for the rest of the year, and Bill spotted that there was a pattern, or a route, to extend some of the shows we had on at the time, if only we had the theatre to put the shows in. I said: ‘What about Peterborough?’ and he said, ‘Remind me…!’ At the time BKL was first involved with the Broadway, we were very encouraged by ticket sales and so forth, until things went pear-shaped. Bill said, ‘Yes, go ahead and do it,’ so I contacted the landlord, got the lay of the land, and then over the period of a few weeks I got in touch with Kevin Tighe at Vivacity and various local people including newspapers and the council, to see what appetite there was for us coming and doing it. In that season we had Will Young in Cabaret, Marti Pellow in Evita, all in all a fantastic line-up – so we went for it!’
IT’S FUN TO HAVE FUN, BUT YOU’VE GOT TO KNOW HOW…
‘When you’re both operating the theatre and putting the shows on, it’s a burden doubled, as you’ve got to put the infrastructure into the theatre as well as run the shows. The staging at the Broadway is quite a challenge as it has a very shallow stage, so it needed certain modifications, which cost several hundred thousand pounds. The first season was a mixture of what fell nicely into which week, with a bit of jiggling to give the season continuity so there were no gaps. We put it all together, crossed our fingers, got to first night… and it was a success! The artists had a good time there, we had a good time there, everyone at Vivacity was so supportive with marketing and local information. We did the Christmas lights – the council got us involved with that – so we had a terrific season that first time round. Ever since then I’ve kept my eye on the Broadway and kept in touch with the council. My feeling is that there’s a potential for the Broadway to operate all year round, and I think this season may go towards proving that as a business case. The thing I’m thinking at the moment, and I’ll know more about this soon, is that we may be able to expand on what we’ve booked this season, and even extend it by a few weeks
I HAVE CONFIDENCE!
‘One of the things a production studio, like we are, aims to do is ‘make a living, not a killing’. The glamour of being a theatre producer is if you get a big smash hit and make millionaires out of everyone involved, but day-to-day the aim is to do a lot of work, spread it widely, and hope that it will be commercially viable. So, the first time round, we came in, it was a challenge, but it proved to be viable – that helped inform the season this time round, and basically the thinking was: there are new productions here, there’s an appetite in the city for high-quality, West End shows – it all stems from there. Some shows will make money, some won’t, any surplus goes towards the infrastructure, but what we look for most is growth – my strong feeling was that second time round we could build on the first time round, and so far that’s looking positive.’
WHAT’S THE BUZZ?
‘What we’re offering is entertainment, giving people a really good night, something that they’re pleased is on their doorstep that might otherwise not be. It creates a buzz, and an interest in going out and seeing live shows. My own pet theory is that the more our lives are screen-based – computers, iPads and DVDs – the live experience is the antidote to that. Seeing a live performance is such a buzz, but we know that if you don’t maintain the quality for every performance you put on, you damage that reputation, not just for yourself but for the potential theatre-goer. Quality control is a big part of the operation here at BKL, and whatever we do, it’s of a certain quality.’
A FEW OF STEVE’S FAVOURITE THINGS
‘For me, to see Tommy Steele on stage with a 16-piece Glenn Miller orchestra, playing all those Glenn Miller hits, is just wonderful! I used to be a musician, so it’s a double treat for me, I have to say. The start of the season is very, very special – I think that Jesus Christ Superstar is one of the most innovative musical theatre scores ever written. I took my daughter, who’s eight, to a dress rehearsal, and later that week there was some Prokofiev on the radio, and my daughter said: ‘Oh, that’s a bit like the music we heard in rehearsals, isn’t it?’ I thought about it, and some of the orchestration that Andrew Lloyd-Webber uses in Superstar is really sophisticated instrumental writing, as well as the melodic and song-based writing he’s so famous for. That’s a special one, too, for me – but I love them all, really!’
‘Theatre starts with the community. It’s as simple as that! There’s a lot of talk in all sectors about advertising, about where to spend your money best, whether it’s print media or social media, but what we know in our game is that it’s absolutely word-of-mouth, and when you open, if everyone can be raving about the night out they had at your theatre, that’s invaluable. So, community is where it starts, for me, and where it always has started. Peterborough Sings are putting on a show called Christmas Magic, and we’re also talking to one of the groups about collaborating with a show, possibly more than one. I would say to any theatre operator: start with the community, and involve them! Whether you are putting on a blockbuster musical or an amateur dramatics show, the community is who you are serving.’
The new Bill Kenwright Ltd season at the Broadway, Peterborough, begins on Tuesday, 17 November and continues until Saturday, 16 January 2016. Shows include Jesus Christ Superstar, The Sound Of Music, The Glenn Miller Story and Blood Brothers. For more information, visit thebroadwaypeterborough.co.uk