Opera House on course to balance books

Cork Opera House has stemmed crippling financial losses and is on course to balance its books this year.

However, while its financial health has improved, the future still depends on securing grants from key stakeholders, shareholders were told at the company’s AGM yesterday.

Board chairman Damian Wallace said that after recording losses of about €800,000 in 2010, and despite tough economic conditions since, losses for the financial year ended Mar 31 last were reduced to €180,070. “We are now well-positioned to balance our budget in the coming financial year,” he said.

Despite financial controller Dermot O’Driscoll outlining a company debt of €2.2m — comprised mainly of a city council loan and a Bank of Ireland loan — the theatre is in a position to meet all of its debt repayments as and when they fall due. The repayment of city council loans begins next year.

The AGM was told 133,512 patrons attended 386 performances during the year and that the first six months of the current year had been very positive.

The 920-seat venue was gripped by a financial crisis in May 2010 when Cork City Council, its largest shareholder, sanctioned a €1m interest-free loan to save it.

Shortly after, the theatre announced an enforced summer closure as part of a radical survival plan.

Following a major strategic review, it adopted a three-year business plan which cut €500,000 from its €3.5m annual budget. Staff took wage cuts and there were several redundancies.

The council extended its €1m loan by a further €250,000. It has also written off an €800,000 loan by converting it to grant aid, and guaranteed a €1.5m bank loan.

Since Mary Hickson’s appointment as the theatre’s CEO, early bird ticket deals have been introduced and programming has been totally overhauled.

Key promoters like MCD are working with the theatre again which resulted in The Script performing a sellout show at the venue last night. Mr Wallace said that gig demonstrated how far the venue had come, and he publicly acknowledged the staff’s commitment to change and their role in the recovery process.

Ms Hickson also revealed that Hollywood actress and former star of the hit US TV show The OC, Micha Barton, and former Neighbours star Ann Clarkson will star in Steel Magnolias in the Opera House later this month.

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