The sad decline of Maltings Theatre

PUBLISHED: 12:18 08 October 2009 | UPDATED: 14:30 06 May 2010

SIR — I applaud Simon Grover s assertion that the Maltings Arts Theatre s annual cost of £150,000 is a good deal (Herts Advertiser, October 1). MAT has been part of St Albans culture for over 21 years. When SADC took over in 2006, I was privileged to s

SIR - I applaud Simon Grover's assertion that the Maltings Arts Theatre's annual cost of £150,000 is a good deal (Herts Advertiser, October 1).

MAT has been part of St Albans culture for over 21 years.

When SADC took over in 2006, I was privileged to serve there as marketing manager and, until July 2009, saw daily miracles worked with a tiny budget that provided professional theatre, concerts and weekly children's classes.

Business manager Angela Varley and myself significantly increased MAT's local profile, striving continually to improve the service.

Some things worked, some things didn't, but we boosted ticket sales alone to a record figure of £89k in 06/07 and then to £115k in 07/08 and 08/09, holding fast despite the recession.

MAT is the little theatre that could. And should. But it I fear it won't...

During this period, SADC expressed antipathy towards the venue, failing to harmonise its staff to SADC terms and conditions, and suggesting that there was an over-subscription of theatre in the city (but Trestle's too far out; the Arena's not a theatre; and the Abbey is amateur, and as a theatre lover I'd no sooner watch amateurs act than have amateur surgeons remove my appendix).

Inexplicably, I was even chastised for my proud advocacy of the venue during the 2009 St Albans Festival launch.

Now SADC cite the venue as a burden that costs us 2 per cent of our Council Tax - but what price culture?

And how much will City Vision cost us? Or Westminster Lodge?

Probably less than expected if SADC can siphon MAT's professional theatre budget into them...

I was unexpectedly made redundant from MAT this June.

SADC had decided that the venue "no longer needs a marketing manager".

Prior to this, MAT boasted weekly press, magazine and radio coverage.

Since July, I've seen but one article and have yet to be reminded by advert or brochure about the new season; posters and flyers for upcoming shows no longer form part of the foyer/bar area of the venue, having been replaced by that scourge of tacky cafés - art for sale.

SADC now seems unable to market effectively to even its "captive audience" - despite engaging an independent marketing consultant (cheaper than a £15k staff member?) - but the fact that MAT's 21st birthday slipped by without mention two weeks ago suggests that someone is deliberately trying to render the venue invisible again...

Note also that last week saw the MAT's long-serving operations manager reluctantly but quietly 'relocated' into Museums.

This presumably means that when the MAT closes down its theatre operation, SADC won't have to pay him 18 years of redundancy money?

A cynic might suggest that a long game has already been played and won here; that it's a done deal that MAT will be run as a 'cinema' from January 2010.

If this means that St Albans is about to lose the jewel in its cultural crown, I urge anyone who ever enjoyed an event there to step up and speak out against SADC's short-sighted and primitive attitude towards live theatre.

ELTON TOWNEND JONES

Former Maltings Arts Theatre marketing manager

Telford Court, St Albans

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