The Millennium Forum, has added some impressive notches to its belt recently, welcoming its 5 millionth customer last autumn, and showcasing its Titanic Dance production to a TV audience of 750 million during China’s biggest arts festival in 2016.
The achievements were realised as part of the Forum’s multifaceted efforts to build its audience locally while also raising Derry’s profile nationally and internationally.
This has led to the theatre contributing roughly £14million per year to the local economy, according to the theatre’s Chair, Martin Bradley, and its Chief Executive, David McLaughlin, who presented to Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Business and Culture Committee on Tuesday.
The theatre chiefs explained how the Forum has been making a major splash abroad with its Titanic Dance collaboration with KSR Productions, a dance show based on the final voyage of the ill-fated Belfast-built liner.
“Titanic Dance showcased at the China International Arts Festival in Qinghai in August 2016 where it was seen by a live TV audience in excess of 750 million,” Mr. Bradley told the committee.
“Tours to the USA followed in 2016 culminating in a highly successful UK/Ireland/China tour in 2017 where the production played to nearly 50,000 people from Beijing to Belfast including a large outdoor performance at a major festival in Shanghai,” he said.
The committee heard how the Forum has now also toured its in-house productions to every city in Ireland and that this was an important part of enhancing the city’s reputation as a centre of the arts.
Messrs. Bradley and McLaughlin explained how turnover at the theatre increased from £1,347,334 when it opened in 2001/2 to £3,245,404 in 2016/17 - a 141 per cent hike. It’s now contributing £14m a year to the local night time economy.
Despite this growth the number of people employed at the Forum has fallen. In 2001/2 there were 112 staff working at the theatre but this has dipped to 107.
Mr. Bradley explained that this was due to a surplus of backstage positions being recruited when the Forum opened in 2001.
The committee heard how the theatre has become more self-sustaining over the past two decades.
The ratio of earned income versus grant income received from the local council improved from 70/30 to 86/14 per cent between 2001/2 and 2016/17.
The Forum is enjoyed equally by people from the cityside, the Waterside, Donegal and other parts of the North West. Of 311,500 people who attended the Forum in 2016/17, 24 per cent were from the cityside, 22 per cent were from the Waterside, 19 per cent were from Donegal or the South, and 17 per cent were from Strabane/Limavady/Omagh/Coleraine collectively.
Intriguingly, the type of entertainment offered at the theatre has changed over the years.
Between 2001/2 and 2016/17 drama’s share of stage time declined from 10 per cent to nine per cent. Dance/ballet has also dropped from eight per cent to three per cent and the percentage of musicals also fell from 22 to 17.
The rate of light entertainment, by contrast, rose from 22 per cent to 35 per cent, and the share of children/family events hosted by the theatre increased from 24 per cent to 25 per cent.