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www.glos.info Interviews Mark Goucher, Chief Executive of the Everyman Theatre
Producer Mark Goucher took over as chief executive of the Everyman Theatre last year and, since then, has increased ticket sales, brought in exciting new shows and helped boost the fortunes of Cheltenham’s leading theatre.
Glosinfo caught up with Mark to see how things are going 18 months in, with a summer season of new shows lined up and plans already in hand for a revived Christmas pantomime.
Glosinfo: How did you find yourself in the position of CEO at the Everyman?
Mark Goucher: “I’ve never run a theatre before so therefore for the board to give me this theatre was incredibly brave. My principal job is an independent commercial theatre producer for the last 25 years, producing shows for the West End and tours for the UK and throughout the world.
“I asked the previous CEO Geoffrey Rowe if he’d let me know if he ever decided to leave and, much sooner than I expected, he rang me and said he was going and was I still interested. I had to make a decision whether the time was right.
“I told the board I couldn’t be there 24 hours a day as I would have to split my time between my producing job and the theatre, but they have tremendous aspirations for the theatre to become more high profile, so I guess with my connections I was their ideal candidate.
GI: How has the team at the theatre taken to your arrival?
MG: “I expect that when I first arrived they thought how the hell is this going to work and were quite nervous and a bit worried about what I was going to do. But I hope that through showing tremendous support for them and encouraging them and making them feel that they’re part of all the decision-making processes, they have accepted me. And I hope they in return watch out for me when I’m not here. So far, we all seem to be getting on well.
GI: Your production company is in London. Do you live there or in Gloucestershire?
MG: “About 20 years ago, I bought my first very small cottage in Gloucestershire and I have gravitated from being in London five days a week to being there three days a week and working from home down here.
“I very much fell in love with the county and being in the countryside; it is very much more my spiritual home than swanning around Covent Garden where my office is. And, of course, a lot of the shows I produce have come here so I know the theatre incredibly well. I used to pretend I was coming down to oversee shows but it was more because I could stay at home more!”
GI: How have things been going so far?
MG: “In the first year of me being here, ticket sales are up 18% and financially we are up 14%. These are quite big numbers and they reflect the fact that the main thing that I did when I got here was to get us better shows through my contacts in the theatre world. I pleaded with them to bring their shows here rather than going to other venues.
“We have also invested a lot more time, money and strategic planning into our marketing, promoting ourselves wider and more comprehensively.”
GI: Tell us more about the shows you have brought in and why they are so successful.
MG: “One of the shows that I produce is Hairspray, which showed recently at the theatre. There is no way that would ever have come here unless I was the chief executive because it couldn’t have afforded it as we don’t have enough seats. That show on the road costs me more than £100,000 a week to run but I was determined to make it work and as soon as we put it on sale it sold out.
“I’ve done deals with other producers to bring other shows like The Full Monty, opening up the theatre in the summer. The Beatles musical is also opening here before it starts a big tour, so I’m using my contacts to encourage them to bring them here and now we are selling more tickets.
“A comedy play is coming in November called The Messiah with Hugh Dennis and Lesley Garrett and it’s opening here a week prior to the West End.
“We have to sell 600 or so seats on most shows every night for it to work financially, and before that didn’t usually happen, but if we can bring the shows that will do that and work very hard in selling the tickets, then it will work.”
GI: Is there a kind of show that Cheltenham audiences prefer?
MG: “Despite the rather stuffy view of Cheltenham, if we put on a show that has a younger feel to it, particularly musicals like Hairspray, it’s a show that people have heard of, it’s a brand, and they want to come and see it.
“When I first arrived we had Rent The Musical which I didn’t programme myself and I was surprised Geoffrey had brought it in, but we worked hard to sell it and in the end it succeeded our financial target, so there is a market for musicals.
“There is also a market for plays that people know; it’s all about brand recognition. If producer Bill Kenwright brings Blood Brothers, it will do extremely well. An Inspector Calls is the same.
“Audiences also respond to plays that have well known names in them, such as The Dresser, which starred Ken Stott and Reece Shearsmith. They are both very well known and that play was directly en route to the West End and it sold out here.
“So in that sense, Cheltenham is no different from any other town that we go to. People respond to brands or big star names very well. If you have mediocre drama by middle-sized theatre companies, which we have to take to provide 52-weeks of the year programming, it is more difficult to sell. We are more likely to be selling 350 a night rather than 650. So, it’s a balancing act.”
GI: What about family shows? Is there a demand for those?
MG: “Family shows are very strong here. For instance, we had Gangsta Granny, David Walliams’ play at Easter, and it sold out. Tweedy is in our panto again, we’ve already sold 15,000 seats this year and the target is to sell 40,000 seats. The family brands that are well known do very well. We are bringing Dinosaur World here, which includes animatronic dinosaurs. It’s very important to us that we bring in as many children and families as possible.”
GI: How did you end up in theatre?
MG: “I don’t come from a theatre background at all; I wasn’t even really taken to the theatre by my parents. I went to Leeds University to study theology but realised after the first term that was a terrible mistake and all the people I’d fallen in with were doing English and drama. So, I managed, by some remarkable sleight of hand, to change to the same course.
“After university, some friends and I decided we were going to go to the Edinburgh Festival and put on a show as an ill-fated student theatre company. Of course, it was a complete disaster, but I decided after that maybe I should put shows on and I carried on doing festivals year after year.
“After one festival in 1989, Timothy Spall, who I’d cast, came up to me and said, ‘you know what you are? A producer’. And that’s how it started. In 1991 I produced my first show in the West End. It was incredibly tough, frightening financial times, but I wasn’t equipped to do anything else so there was no giving up.”
GI: Can you tell us some other shows we need to look out for?
MG: We have a new version of Dracula coming from Singapore in September, that’s quite multi-media and visual, and quite a departure for us. Ian Hislop’s new play, Trial by Laughter, is also touring here before it goes into the West End.
GI: And what about the pantomime?
MG: “Well, I’ve brought in a new director, Peter Duncan, from Blue Peter fame, who is a wonderfully physical performer. Tweedy and he get on extremely well.
“This year it’s going to be Aladdin, and we will be casting it slightly further afield. It will still be traditional, but we felt it was looking a little bit samey and tired and wanted to bring a fresh approach.”
GI: Would you say you’re a workaholic?
MG: “No. I do work hard and like to have a lot going on, but I am quite good at switching off and am not one of these people who’s constantly looking at their phone. At the end of the day, showbusiness is really just people dressing up; we’re not actually saving anyone’s life, although I do admit we can change lives. At the weekend I pretty much switch off and try to get a bit of proper time.”
MARK’S FAVOURITE THINGS
Comedy: The comedy that I’m most proud of producing is Jeeves and Wooster, which is going to Broadway next year in March.
Actors: I’m a tremendous admirer of Henry Goodman and David Haig, who played Yes Minister with me.
TV: I’m not a huge watcher of TV so I’m always a bit behind, but I liked The Bridge, and I love Friday Night Dinner.
Books: I love Jeffrey Archer. I know him and I genuinely like him, I don’t care what people say. I think the plot lines and twists and turns are really good, and if I want to switch off, that’s who I read.
Restaurant: We now live in Painswick, and I love the Painswick Hotel, where I stayed for a while before we moved in. The food’s good and it’s such a lovely place.
Pub: The Bell at Sapperton, near where we used to live.
Hobbies: I ride horses, and I enjoy gardening; I’m pretty good at that.
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