Proscenia presentation (English)

Proscenia - a new theatre
Building a home for our theatre companies
NTP – v.1.1f, RB / Aug 2014 - printed: 20141009 - 184847
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Who are GEDS and GAOS?
Our new theatre project is aimed at finding a permanent home for two of Europe's most
prominent non-professional theatre companies. GEDS and GAOS, both based in Geneva, have
long and illustrious histories and a dynamic and growing membership. Their members reflects
the demographics of their home canton rather than any particular cultural or linguistic group
although most members are anglophone. GEDS and GAOS are funded only by their ticket sales.
They have never sought public subsidy or corporate sponsorship. GAOS is a significant
contributor to local charity organisations having donated almost 200,000 to charitable
organisations over more than four decades of activity.
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Geneva English Drama Society
GEDS is continental Europe's oldest Dramatic Society, founded in Geneva in 1933 by Roger de
Candole and his colleagues at the ILO. Over more than 80 years of history it has performed a
wide range of plays from Elizabethan drama to modern comedy and works by local authors. The
group has a reputation for quality, picking up awards in European drama festivals and attracting a
faithful audience from all over the lake Geneva area. George Bernard Shaw's play Geneva was
written for GEDS, which gave the play its first public performance in 1938.
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Geneva Amateur Operatic Society
GAOS is continental Europe's largest non-professional Operatic Society with a growing
membership that has expanded to over 500 since the group's creation in 1971. The group
focuses on musical theatre and often employs an orchestra of up to 30 musicians, but it also
produces a traditional Christmas Pantomime with a smaller band. GAOS attracts large and
enthusiastic audiences to four full productions every season including one staged by the society's
lively youth group. GAOS also runs a program of choral concerts and musical evenings to raise
money for local charities.
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Our requirements
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Why a new theatre?
Our two theatre groups spend a very large amount of money on rent for theatres, workshops
and storage space. In recent years it has become increasingly difficult to find theatre and
rehearsal space, and what we do find is often of very poor quality.
Our storage and workshop premises are widely dispersed and often lacking in space, equipment
or basic amenities. There is no identifiable home that our audience can associate with our
productions, and most importantly, no social centre for our societies.
Because of this, we move our productions into and out of a new theatre every time. This is costly
and a huge workload for our technical teams. Some of the theatres we use are poorly equipped
and much time is lost resolving technical issues and equipment failures. The toll on our own
equipment is high and will only get higher with the advent of more sophisticated lighting and
sound systems.
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What do we need
A new theatre needs to satisfy the current needs of both societies, but also future needs, and
those of external groups. We require backstage and construction infrastructure as well as frontof-house facilities, meeting rooms, rehearsal space and administrative space.
This study proposes the high-level configuration below:
• Main auditorium
• Studio theatre
• Dressing rooms
• Workshop and storage areas
• Rehearsal space
• Foyer and bar
The central design goal is flexibility of configuration and usage.
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The theatre will need a management and governance structure.
One solution may be to set up a charitable foundation to build and operate the theatre and
provide its services both to internal and external clients.
This solution separates the financial arrangements of the theatre from those of the two societies
and allows an independent management structure with representation from the organisations
the theatre was built for.
Our application is typical of the type of operation these legal entities were created to serve and
there are numerous examples around, not least that of the Grand Théâtre.
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Main auditorium
The main space needs to offer the flexibility to host small conventional drama presentations as
well as large musical comedies, dance shows, and musical events. It should also be suitable for
typical external shows from stand-up comedy and corporate events to concerts.
The maximum capacity of the main auditorium is a determining factor in the design and cost of
the overall theatre. We need enough capacity to accommodate current but also future needs,
and we want to offer an attractive venue to third parties.
Most large GAOS shows use theatres of approximately 400 seats but this is largely imposed by
the availability of theatre spaces rather than by choice. For the pantomime, and popular modern
musicals, it would be preferable to have a larger auditorium. An orchestra pit is essential.
GEDS requirements are different, generally requiring spaces between 200 and 400 seats and a
more intimate audience experience with a thrust or proscenium presentation.
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Main auditorium
Satisfying these different requirements means designing a reconfigurable auditorium with a
flexible stage area. Internal panels and curtains can mask unused seating areas to provide an
intimate 250-seat drama configuration or anything up to a 600-seat musical configuration.
A modular stage construction allows a variety of staging presentations from proscenium to endstage, with or without an orchestra pit.
There are a variety of Geneva venues that achieve this: the Forum in Meyrin, for example, or on
a larger scale, the Arena.
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Studio theatre
Our societies host a number of events that require small venues: play readings, musical evenings,
choir concerts and various other meetings and events.
GAOS musical evenings use a church hall with a floor area approximately 8m x 12m (excluding
the area behind the bar tables). Using stackable chairs gives a high seating density. It is not
unusual to have another 40 people standing in the bar area giving a maximum audience of
perhaps 150 in total.
Play readings take place in a smaller space but with similar seating arrangements and a seated
audience of around 100.
Meeting these requirements with a good level of comfort might require a space approximately
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Studio theatre
Current play reading, musical evening and
choir group events would only occupy this
space for about 20 days in the year, so
clearly, whilst it has potential for external
events, it must also double as our main
rehearsal space.
Although the table suggests 20 weekends would be available for external bookings, many of these
would fall in July and August or over the Christmas period. On the other hand, if the main stage were
to be free, rehearsals could be moved there to liberate the studio theatre for a sufficiently lucrative
external booking.
To work as a rehearsal space, the studio theatre needs a flat auditorium but there may be solutions
to provide a space that can be reconfigured to be either completely flat or give a slightly raked
auditorium with a raised stage.
Neither musical evenings, held on Sunday evenings, nor play readings, held on weekday evenings
should conflict with normal rehearsal schedules.
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Foyer and bar area
This is the main audience holding area together with the audience bar, toilets, FOH office, ticket
counter and theatre information desk.
The space should also double as a rehearsal area and an events room for after-show parties and
so on.
Provision might be made to add kitchen facilities at a later date.
The area needs to accommodate up to 600 people during the interval of a large show so a total
surface area of more than 300m2 is needed.
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Rehearsal space requirements
The best rehearsal space we ever had was the old Crossroads building with its huge hall and
raised stage and several classrooms that served as breakout areas for principal rehearsal or
costume try-outs. If we aim for this baseline, the theatre should provide a full-sized rehearsal
space as large as the main auditorium stage giving about 120m2 (the studio space), a second
partitionable space of at least 100m2 which would also double as the theatre foyer and bar, and
two smaller break-out rooms of 20m2 each. These latter would be able to function as music
rooms, meeting and conference rooms or to host quiet auditions, for example.
Total available rehearsal space would be about 300m2.
It is obvious that this also constitutes a very useful conference facility that would be attractive to
commercial users for hire during office hours when unused by ourselves.
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Workshops, dressing rooms and storage
A new facility needs to provide a good-quality workshop area for scenery construction, props
manufacture and storage, painting, equipment storage and costumes storage. Long-term scenery
storage can be located in an unheated external facility to avoid clutter in the workshop and
reduce costs.
A workshop needs 200m2 of surface area, parts of it subdivided, and some of it providing 5m
headroom. It needs access to a loading ramp for materials and direct access through oversized
doors to the stage.
The workshop needs to be large enough to allow construction of a GAOS show and a GEDS show
simultaneously, so a covered outside overflow area should be provided. This can also be used for
painting large surfaces.
Lighting and sound will require some storage space, though much of the equipment will be
permanently installed in the theatre – 60m2 should be sufficient.
Costumes will also require storage. This analysis estimates 100m2 but this will need to be
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Other space requirements
There is a requirement for further administrative space for the theatre:
• A small office with some storage space – 20m2
• Space for the TIE booking office – 20m2
• Additional office – 20m2
• Front of house storage space – 10m2
• Technical and plant rooms (HVAC, LX, water, cleaning materials etc. – 50m2
The theatre will clearly need access to a car park whose size will depend on the location of the
site chosen, and the availability of public transport. Ideally, the location should be near a public
or private car park that has space available outside normal office and commercial hours.
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Operational finance
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Funds available
Between them, the two groups spend over 139,000 per
year on rent, an amount that would finance the interest on
a commercial loan of about 7 million. Taking into account,
even very conservatively, the potential revenue generated
by a theatre, the opportunities for corporate sponsorship,
and some capital self-funding of our project, it is obvious
that a substantial amount of money could be raised.
1) Based on last three years of shows – from treasurers reports
2) Musical evenings, play readings, choral group, after show
parties, events
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Revenue available
Since our two societies’ shows would
occupy the main stage of the theatre for
less than 30% of the time, there is spare
capacity that can be sold.
The table at right shows a conservative
scenario with about 110 days of hires from
7 shows and 10 corporate events. The
main stage would thus be occupied 59% of
the time.
1) Single day events with prep time – excluding equipment hire, staff and services
2) Based on an external audience of 10,200 total, and using GAOS' usual bar sales data (average
net profit 3/Seat)
Obviously there are also revenue
opportunities from the studio theatre and
the rehearsal space, and possibly from
other sources too.
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Owning and operating a theatre clearly comes with costs
attached. It seems essential to have a designated facility
manager, probably paid on a part time basis. Other costs
will include utilities and insurance.
1) This is an incremental cost, both societies already pay building
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Overall operating budget
Bringing the numbers together, we have an operating
budget that yields a positive cashflow of about 175,000
per annum.
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Capital finance
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Financing construction
From a financial perspective, to build a theatre we need:
• A positive cashflow operation
• Some capital
• Land, either bought or donated
Obviously, the issue of land, its location and how we acquire it, is one of the keys to this project
and has a considerable effect on the financial model. Nevertheless we can make some
assumptions to produce a variety of financial simulations.
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Financing construction
The table at right is a simulation based on a
minimum amount of one-time capital through
self funding and sponsorship but with no further
sponsorship revenue during the life of the
building. It assumes a donation of land and a
building cost of 5.5 million with external
revenues of 106,600 per annum.
By raising more capital it seems possible to
finance the building and acquire land even
without external assistance. Equally, long-term
sponsorship would change the financials
considerably and allow a more ambitious building
program or a higher standard of finish.
1) Estimating the build cost of a theatre is no simple task. I have found data from one
public-funded Swiss project in Zurich which yielded a cost by volume of 500 per m3
for a small theatre space with no significant workshop areas and a masonry
construction to a high standard of internal finish. This also included all the theatre
technical equipment. Building Magazine (issue 16, 2005) put UK costs by surface area
in the range of GBP 3000 to 4000 per m2 including all technical theatre equipment
(much of which we already possess).
Various UK and Swiss sources suggest a simple steel-framed industrial building of
1200m2 with a basic level of fit-out and amenities costs about 1 million.
Several case studies are available from the links in Annexe II of this document.
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Raising capital
We can exploit several sources of capital including large corporate sponsorship, smaller
partnership deals, and crowd-sourcing. In this latter category for example, it could be possible to
pay for the auditorium seating by appealing to members to sponsor a seat with their name on it.
In a similar way, boxes (if the design supports these) could be sponsored, obviously for a higher
Large corporate sponsorship could be a significant part of the overall financial plan. A few
corporate sponsors might provide assistance of the order of 100,000 to 500,000 each in return
for prominent placement in and around the theatre, on publicity materials, tickets, programs and
We can explore these opportunities through contacts with local business federations as well as
through direct contact with potential sponsors.
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There is the possibility of finding a significant corporate sponsor in return for branding the entire
building. All sorts of possibilities could be open to a large corporate sponsor willing to provide a
multi-million sum over a 10 year contract period.
We will need to target significant local corporate businesses with pitches tailored to their needs:
there are a number of obvious candidates…
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Getting momentum
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In approaching donors or sponsors it is vital to have a completely professional pitch that is tuned
to their needs and expectations.
One of the first things the project needs to deliver is a communications plan with a package of
communications tools including video, web-based, print and TV/radio communications vehicles.
Using these tools we can progressively build support for the project by leveraging prominent
personalities and institutions until we have a critical mass of backing, both political and financial.
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At this point we will be ready to lobby local authorities and seek a site and preferably a donation
of land.
The project must by then present the image of a fully integrated part of Geneva's cultural scene,
with materials in French and high-profile French-language speakers pitching that material. We
should quickly obtain the services of a significant local media personality to take on this role.
Putting this package together will take experienced media people, as well as time and money.
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We have the opportunity to partner with local institutions or businesses to provide building
services to the theatre during construction.
There are many possible ways we can seek to obtain products or services through contacts or
through charitable donations.
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Appendix I - Summary of floor areas
Excluding external, unheated, unserviced storage area
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Appendix II - Links and case studies
Repton school theatre
An award-winning project with a state-of-the-art 315 seat auditorium including a height-adjustable floor, a
studio theatre, workshops, a kitchen and bar with a dramatic glass foyer area built around an existing building
shell. Budget: 3M. Winner of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors Design and Innovation Award and the
Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists Gold Award for Technical Excellence.
The J.C.-Carrière theatre
A large and remarkable theatre with full infrastructure and a restaurant, built on a 7.9 million budget.
Theatre by the lake
Architecturally and functionally brilliant: a 424-seat main stage, 100 seat studio, large workshops, offices and
restaurant, exhibition space and rehearsal space plus conference rooms, full technical infrastructure and high
quality build in national park environment - 9.4M
Théâtre de Carouge
TDC wants to build a large theatre complex in the centre of Carouge with multiple performance and rehearsal
spaces, office accommodation for 20 full time staff and considerable workshop and storage space. The budget is
over 50 million, of which 20 million would come from the Ville de Carouge.
The Theatre de Carouge claims an annual audience of 50,000. Ours would be over 20,000.
Theatre architecture
Steel building costs
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Appendix III - Conceptual layout
This conceptual building layout explores the feasibility of fitting our required volumes into a very
simple building shape with a footprint of about 1200m2 and a volume of 14,000m3.
The model allows for, but does not detail, circulation space,
plant, office space, and technical equipment areas. The first
floor position of the studio theatre comes with functional
Building dimensions
Width: 25m, length: 50m, height: 10m, stagehouse height: 15m
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