King's brings down curtain on jobs and performances

ONE of Edinburgh's best-loved theatres is to drastically scale back its programme after announcing that it has started consultation about job losses.

The King's Theatre is set to reduce its programme from 24 weeks a year of productions this year to only 15 weeks in 2011/12.

The Festival City Theatres Trust, which operates both the King's and the Festival Theatre, also revealed it is looking to slash its wage bill by 300,000.

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Its decision has come after it saw audience numbers fall by up to 15 per cent across its two theatres, which it puts down to the economic downturn.

It has now started a formal 60-day consultation period with media and entertainment trade union BECTU, during which it will discuss how many staff will be affected and which roles across the two theatres will be hit.

John Stalker, chief executive of the trust, blamed the slowdown in consumer spending for the reduction in revenues it has suffered.

He said: "We have seen the frequency of attendance reduce and the size of the groups that attend also reduce. It gives an indication of how leisure spend has reduced.

"Reducing staff numbers is never a pleasant task because one of our key resources are our people. Theatres are a bit like families so when I had to tell people about this this morning it was a shock to everyone.

"We will discuss with the trade union the overall need to make savings and the level of these, then look at how we do that."

The trust is also facing a 24,000 cut to its annual council grant, which will see it receive 769,576 in 2011/12.

The Festival Theatre is set to continue to run a programme over 40 weeks a year, but the King's will see its programme drastically reduced.

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The annual pantomime and Edinburgh International Festival events at the King's will not be hit, with the main programme running only from the end of October through to the end of December. There is likely to be a big reduction in the number of touring productions.

The King's had been set for a 12 million revamp but council chiefs opted to only provide 2m of support instead of 6m. Hundreds of seats will be replaced at the venue in the first part of a 2m project starting in April.There remains uncertainty about when any wider upgrade will take place.

Mr Stalker said: "We hope that at some time we do see a refurbishment of the King's to make it a much more attractive place to visit and we hope that will take place some time in the near future, though that's the city council's decision."

Meadows/Morningside councillor Paul Godzik said: "It is hugely disappointing that they have had to look at these measures.

"We have had several commitments to investment in the King's and we need to make sure these commitments are still forthcoming from the (council] administration.

"It is a much-loved venue that is the home of panto in Edinburgh. It would be devastating for the local economy if there was any further reduction in programming."

Councillor Deidre Brock, the city's culture and leisure leader, said: "The council will continue to work to find a way forward for the King's and Festival theatres during this difficult period."

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