Big CEO Interview: Catherine Mallyon – Royal Shakespeare Company
PUBLISHED: 16:13 20 February 2015 | UPDATED: 16:13 20 February 2015
Having completing a £113 redevelopment in 2010, the Royal Shakespeare Company continues to invest, led by executive director, Catherine Mallyon
To misquote Cassius from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar as I am sure many have done before: The Royal Shakespeare Theatre bestrides the town of Stratford upon Avon like a colossus. When a new play opens, the attendant traffic can properly snarl up the road system, causing more than a few local residents to moan.
But the local chippy doesn’t grumble, according to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s executive director, Catherine Mallyon who arrived in post in 2012. She joined at the same time as the company’s current artistic director Gregory Doran and their first production was the nationally acclaimed Richard II, with David Tennant in the lead role.
“The fish and chip shop across the road increases staffing around our performance schedule, which is pinned up in the shop,” she says.
It’s not the only business to benefit from the thousands of RSC theatregoers, as was apparent when the main theatre closed for a £113 million redevelopment in 2007 (it reopened in 2010). Then local banks reported a spike in requests for bridging loans and support for local businesses as visitors numbers dropped. Now the theatre is open again and the local economy is flourishing.
Catherine has commissioned a new economic impact study on the theatre’s contribution to the area. Before the redevelopment, the RSC contributed around £50 million to Stratford’s local economy every year. When the new survey is completed, she confidently expects a significant rise, possibly up to £75 million.
“We try hard to engage locally,” she says. “Wherever possible everyone on our senior management team participates on bodies supporting the running of the town. We have lots of employees who are school governors and our commercial director is chair of the Stratforward business group. We also have ticket offers for people who share our postcode.” Catherine is also on the board of the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership.
“We are a huge building in a town with a population of just 27,000. In one sense that’s disproportionate but in another sense it’s not, after all this is the home of the world renowned Shakespeare. There are real positives about having us and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust here.”
Catherine was appointed executive director at the RSC from her previous role as deputy chief executive at the Southbank Centre in London. “I’ve had a lovely sequence of jobs,” she says. “I was at Reading Arts and Theatres which included co-producing WOMAD before it moved.” (to Charlton Park, near Malmesbury). She also worked at Oxford Playhouse, and still lives with her partner in Oxford, commuting weekly to Stratford upon Avon.
However, Catherine’s first job was a few leagues away from the artistic world she moves in now. She was a credit analyst and arbitrage trader in the City of London. “When I left college I needed a regular income, so I went into banking and stayed five years. It was a great experience and as I was in the centre of London I could visit lots of arts institutions.” However, when she began to tire of the City, she got a grant from the Arts Council to train in general arts administration. “I sent back the sports car and now I drive a Skoda,” she says.
Her experience in the City gave her an understanding of the corporate world. “It’s not so different from the arts, after all we have a turnover of £60 million a year and there is a lot of business to be done alongside the creative process.”
Doran and Mallyon arrived not long after the multi million pound refurbishment completed by their predecessors. So what is there left to do?
Lots, apparently. Funding is in place to redevelop The Swan Theatre wing, which will host permanent exhibitions. Money is being raised to redevelop The Other Place to provide a new studio and rehearsal rooms, and space to display the RSC’s costume collection.
There are plans to refurbish the costume workshops and armoury (“I never thought I’d work anywhere that had an armoury”, says Catherine), and the RSC owns numerous houses and workshops across the town that need constant investment.
That’s a lot of money to find when Arts Council funding is dropping and the RSC, in common with other large arts organisations, has lost around 25% in real terms.
“Their view is that we have lots of assets from which to generate income,” she says, agreeing with them to a point. “Though there comes a time when it gets harder but with a finite pot of money, somewhere along the way there has to be pain and it’s important that funding levels are kept up on other regional theatres. We need to advocate for the right level of government funding into the arts in the first place, not argue over its distribution.”
Invest in the arts, and economic benefits will follow, she says. Theatres shouldn’t be apologetic about receiving Government funding: arts organisations can make as much of a difference to communities as manufacturing companies, and the Government invests millions on supporting industry and infrastructure.
The RSC generates three quarters of its income from box office receipts, fundraising and royalties (the musical Matilda, born at the RSC, is one of its biggest ever international hits) with Arts Council funding delivering around 25% of total annual income.
“If you took art away from daily life what would you be left with?” asks Catherine. “No TV dramas or soaps, creative advertisements or music. Life would be a grey place. While there is a whole access discussion around what we offer, a lot of what we offer is free.” And that includes in the burgeoning digital arts world, where the RSC is working with the world’s biggest technology companies. In 2013 it attracted over 30 million viewers through Google Plus, watching Doran’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream played out in real time across midsummer weekend.
The RSC is also working with the British Government on its GREAT campaign, showcasing the best of what Britain has to offer internationally, because one way into British business is through cultural activities.
So what drives her? “I want the work we produce to be the best it can be for the benefit of as many people as possible, including overseas. My job is to make sure the conditions are right to make that happen. We want to do more new things, introduce new ideas and ways of doing things. Greg and I are joint chief executives, separate roles but neither can exist without the other. We do it best by working well together. Greg defines the artistic content and I get the books to balance.”