But yesterday, Edinburgh's Festival Theatre went several months better than detailing their line-up for autumn/winter 2012. They announced a couple of special highlights for Spring 2013 (look out for the return of the those all-male dancing divas, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, and the only Scottish dates for Cuban ballet star, Carlos Acosta's own show, On Before) while confirming that early 2014 sees the Festival Theatre listed on the UK tour schedule of the multi- award-winning National Theatre's production, War Horse.
If Duncan Hendry, chief executive of Festival City Theatres Trust –which operates both the Festival and King's theatres in Edinburgh -–declares himself "delighted to be bringing these three world-class productions to Edinburgh", he's also proud and happy that these exclusive events are like the icing on a "new recipe" cake that sees both venues undergoing forward-looking changes.
In essence, both the King's and Festival theatres are part of a carefully-worked-out rebranding exercise that aims to highlight the respective strengths and individual character of each space. "We're looking to give each of our theatres their own clearly identifiable programmes," says Hendry, who only recently came into post after 12 years as chief executive of Aberdeen Performing Arts. But from the way he describes this intention to develop specific, distinctive profiles for each theatre – profiles that will be reflected on the new website, edtheatres.com – it's clear that he's keen to address the variables that can influence ticket sales.
"Audiences can have quite fixed ideas about venues," he reckons. "They associate certain kinds of shows with certain theatres. They build up a perception of that theatre that includes whatever kind of experience they had at the box office, or of booking online, and they remember, basically, if they felt comfortable in the theatre and generally if they had a good night out. You can't guarantee that everybody's going to enjoy every show you put on in either the King's or the Festival Theatre, but you can make it easier, more pleasant for them to find out what's on, to book a ticket and then feel welcome when they walk into your foyer for that performance. And that's very much at the heart of what we're trying to do with this new initiative."
One tremendous step in that direction is the current unveiling of the first phase in the ongoing restoration work at the King's. Hendry points out that this work "came in on time and on budget", and we both muse on the possibility of this being a punchline in any tram-related gags that bring topical local humour to the King's 2012 panto, one of that venue's year-on-year popular successes. The refurbishment so far has meant new seating in the stalls and the renamed Dress Circle, better ventilation as well as improved disabled access, and a brand new box office, all designed with customer comfort in mind.
As for the programming, Hendry outlines a vision for the King's that focuses on high-profile, quality drama with lots of popular appeal –classic hits such as The Mousetrap, The Ladykillers and The Vagina Monologues are part of the autumn/winter line-up – along with an emphasis on productions for children and young people. None of this, however, will compromise the existing relationship the King's has with local amateur groups. "Those shows are very much a part of what defines the King's as a venue," says Hendry. "There's a very strong tradition there, and wonderfully loyal audiences who don't just support those amateur groups: they also support the King's as 'their' theatre. We're looking to respond to that with our programming choices."
And what of the Festival Theatre? Hendry is quick to point out that with the largest stage in Scotland, and the third-largest in the UK, the Festival Theatre is the nation's ideal home for ballet, opera, contemporary dance and what he describes as "event theatre" and occasions that have a whiff of red–carpet glamour to them. And for sure, the prospect of Carlos Acosta on-stage and dancing in his own hand-picked selection of contemporary choreography, is an event not to be missed – not least because the two performances of On Before at the Festival Theatre in April 2013 are his only Scottish tour dates.
In Edinburgh recently for the world premiere of his major film debut in Day of the Flowers, Acosta took time out to speak about On Before and how it shows a different side to him as a dancer. "People do expect me to be this classical ballet dancer, doing the kind of roles I've done with the Royal Ballet," he explained, "and so maybe they feel some surprise when they see me on stage in these contemporary works by living choreographers. But I hope that the moods we create, the story we tell in On Before, the dance itself, all reach out to our audiences and maybe surprise and also move them."
Before then, of course, the Festival Theatre will have offered audiences a season that includes Matthew Bourne's new re-imagining of Sleeping Beauty, our own Scottish Ballet's autumn triple bill and then Ashley Page's Nutcracker before the Trocks (as Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo are affectionately known) sashay into town with another display of bravura pointe-work and ballerina-burlesque.
Add in I Dreamed a Dream, the warmly-acclaimed musical about Susan Boyle, Scottish Opera's new Magic Flute and a Christmas run of The Snowman, and Hendry's belief that the Festival Theatre has a role to play in attracting (and entertaining) audiences beyond Edinburgh is well founded. And that's before we even contemplate the kudos of having War Horse in 2014. By then, the Festival Theatre's new studio at Potterow should be up and running – ideal for visiting companies to rehearse in, but also intended as a community resource for workshops and as a performance space.
A year ago, as the King's and Festival Theatres were contemplating the figures for 2010/11, they faced a substantial trading deficit (in the region of £3/4 million), compounded by the closure of the King's for seven months while refurbishment went ahead. The latest annual report now registers a surplus of some £250,000, with increased ticket sales a reassuring indication that taking note of what audiences want really pays off.
"I feel I've come into post at a really important and exciting time for these two theatres," says Hendry. "There's always been a commitment to providing dynamic local, national and international arts programming to the widest possible audience. Our challenge now is to use that programming to celebrate what makes each of these venues not just distinct, but special."
Details of future programmes at Edinburgh's King's and Festival Theatres are on the new website at edtheatres.com.
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