Since 2016, the Old Fire Station has produced Christmas shows for grown-ups. We identified a non-panto niche in the city’s arts offer, and with a lot of help from Arts Council England, we made some fantastic new plays including Snowflake in 2018 (our first Mike Bartlett world premiere). 

We didn’t do one in 2020, for obvious reasons. In 2021 we produced Mrs Delgado, a new play from Mike Bartlett taking a humorous, sidelong look at the Covid-19 pandemic.  

This year, 2022, we aren’t doing one. Why? Because we didn’t get the funding. And while that’s an easy answer to give, we thought we should go into a bit more detail. 

How much does a Christmas show cost? 

The show we wanted to do was called Glacier by comedian Alison Spittle. It’s funny, and sad, and brilliant. We love it. It needs: 

  • Three actors 
  • A director 
  • A stage manager 
  • A lighting designer 
  • A sound designer 

Each of those people needs to be paid a fair fee. The play also needs a poster design and marketing campaign, to get audiences to come and see it. Our staff need to be paid. There’s insurance, and the heating bill, and rehearsal space, and accommodation for any of the actors & creative team who don’t live in Oxford. 

How much does a Christmas show make? 

Our theatre has 124 seats. This isn’t many. We charge and average of £15/ticket for a three-week run, and even if we sell out, we don’t make enough money from tickets to pay all the people mentioned above. This is why we need funding to make up the shortfall: to ensure the show goes ahead, people are paid fairly, and the end result is spectacular.

Why didn’t we get the funding? 

Arts Council England have limited money, and they need to fund projects which match their new strategic priorities. They want to fund community projects which have a big social impact, and support people who most need it. Our show didn’t have this aim. To be honest, we agree with them – and we knew when we wrote the funding application that it was a longshot. The production would be, in the eyes of many funders, ‘art for art’s sake’. But we’re an artistic venue, and to do everything else we do well – our support for artists, our inclusive work, building relationships with the community – the engine of it all is a high quality artistic programme, which is made accessible to everyone, and brightens up Christmas for our whole community.

What’s next? 

Even though there’s no new in-house Christmas production this year, we’ve packed out December 2022 with brilliant shows. We hope you can make it along to see some of them. 

Next year, we’d love to produce a Christmas show again. And that’s where you come in. 

If you’re interested in funding high-quality theatre about the joy, warmth and messiness of Christmas, we want to hear from you. We’d love to meet people who want to help us long-term with financial contributions towards making great art, and help to raise the profile of a local arts centre so that we can continue to grow and support everyone to realise their potential. 

Talk to Suzi to hear more: