The Hawke’s Bay Opera House has a new management structure … and an ambitious strategy for the future. Roger Coleman, General Manager of the facility, takes us behind the curtain in this exchange.

How would you describe the mission of the Opera House? What is its “promise” to the general public?

The mission statement in the Hawke’s Bay Opera House Strategic plan is “to provide Hastings with an iconic, vibrant and thriving theatre, performing arts and conference facility of national significance.” The promise to the general public is to ensure that we deliver this mission statement with focus on financial sustainability, community ownership, creating a hub of performing arts and community activity while also providing excellent customer service.

Until recently, the Opera House was under direct Hastings Council control. How has this changed, and what are the benefits of the new arrangement?

The Opera House in July officially moved out from under the wings of the Hastings District Council to become a council-controlled organization. Though municipalities still maintain total ownership of CCOs, the businesses operate separately and more like private companies. Parliament gave councils the ability to create CCOs in 2002 as one way to improve local services.  Run by independent boards of directors, CCOs have greater flexibility and independence than council departments and can take greater risks.

Being a CCO makes it possible for us to do things that otherwise would have taken far longer, if we could have done them at all.  We can take more initiative, even bring in and market acts in exchange for a percentage of the profits, if we choose. It’s a great innovation.

The core business of the company is being driven by an independent board of directors who report back to Council. The independent board of directors of John Buck, Anna Jepson, Cynthia Bowers and Dianne Abraham have arts, entertainment and business acumen.

Of course, the Council (i.e., the ratepayers) still contribute to the operating expenses of the Opera House. What is the annual contribution from HDC? And how are you held accountable for its use of public funds?

The Hastings District Council have allowed $739,000 for the first year of operation, with the expectation that this level of contribution will decrease considerably over the years.  This level of financial support is comparable to other regions’ conferencing and arts facilities of this level. The Hawke’s Bay Opera House must submit semi-annual and annual profit and loss statements, like private companies do, and explain discrepancies between what was budgeted and what was actually spent.

Should ratepayers view the Opera House as a profit-making enterprise, or is that simply not in the cards for an “arts and culture” institution?

As a conferencing and arts facility, it is imperative that the Hawke’s Bay Opera House management team make the best financial decisions to ensure that the complex continues to run efficiently. However, because this facility also has a mandate to ensure community arts and community arts organisations are represented, the ‘profit-making’ aspect becomes more difficult to obtain. That said, the ability to put free community events alongside national and international money-making events makes both arts and profit-making possible.

A good example of this was the Hawke’s Bay Ukulele Festival held at the Opera House last October. Because of the success of this event in involving the community, while also being able to make a profit, it will become an annual festival at the Hawke’s Bay Opera House.

What is the strategy that guides your choice of events and performances for the Opera House? What, if anything, is “new” about this approach?

The programming strategy for events at the Opera House is based on the strategic plan: to ensure that there is a diversity of events from local community organisations and national and international events to ensure that all members of the public have access to the HBOH.

What is new is that, because we are now a company, we are able to do shared-risk events with community organisations and promoters to ensure that financial loss is minimal for both parties, and that we are able to present interesting and diverse events and shows that would otherwise not be able to come to the Opera House.

Do you have a “target audience” in mind for the Opera House, or are you trying to satisfy everyone?

The Hawke’s Bay Opera House’s aim is to provide entertainment for everyone in the community. Our audience development plan focuses on growing new and existing audiences by offering a varied programme of events that will appeal to different demographics throughout the region.

Is there a difference between the type or range of events you are booking for the Opera House and those on offer at Napier’s Municipal Theatre?

Because the Hawke’s Bay Opera House can now proactively create a programme of events, we are able to complement other events on in Hawke’s Bay. Therefore we are able to help ensure a balanced programme of entertainment and events with all other venues in Hawke’s Bay.

If a community organisation wants to use the facility, how do they go about that and what costs might they expect?

A community organisation can contact our assigned Community Events Manager, who will identify the needs of each organisation on a case-by-case basis. It is imperative for the Hawke’s Bay Opera House to make sure that the venue is financially accessible to the community, and therefore we have exceptional community rates available to all non-profit community organisations in comparison to the commercial venue charges.

Another new community initiative is Project SOS (School’s On Stage), which was piloted in 2009. The concept behind this is to make the theatre more accessible to Hawke’s Bay schools by keeping the venue and production costs to a minimum. This project achieves this by simply charging the school/client a per-seat charge that is based on all direct costs associated with the hire of the venue.

What is the Encore Club all about?

The Encore Club is about creating a “Friends of the Opera House” group, enabling members to have access to discounts on many of the events at the Hawke’s Bay Opera House. It also offers loyalty benefits like discounts on drinks at the bar and opportunities to meet performers and attend special events at the Hawke’s Bay Opera House. The Encore Club is about growing and developing our audience and making sure that members of the community know what is happening here, and therefore helping to continue to create a connection to this community facility.

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