Audience development manager, Jamie Potter, writes about the pressures of putting a pantomime on-sale – and what it means for our family tickets.
Back in early 2020, before the pandemic upturned everything, we were evaluating The Little Mermaid and how well it had gone. In particular, we had some questions about our family ticket offer, which gives people a discount when they buy two standard and two children’s tickets.
We learned from audience feedback that while the offer was very popular, not all families have two parents and two children. Single parents – especially single mothers – are excluded from any kind of discount and some people simply don’t have families.
That didn’t sit well with us, so we spoke about it, a lot.
We were aware how much that discount was appreciated, especially when, despite our best efforts to keep prices low, £16.50 for an adult is still an expensive ticket in a place like Hull.
But we were also uncomfortable with providing a discount that favours one particular social group to the exclusion of others.
And there was no other way to provide discounts to different family types, other than by keeping prices low across the board.
So that’s what we decided to do: keep our ticket prices as low as possible and discontinue the family offer, as the most equitable way forward.
The Little Mermaid (2019)
Before we could go on-sale however, Covid-19 struck and in 2020 our panto went online, for free.
Fast forward eighteen months and we’re able to announce a new production, Rapunz’ull, on an actual stage, in front of a fleshy, bony audience, back in our spiritual home on Humber Street.
First though, we had to go through hours, days, weeks even, of planning and forecasting to try and make the budget work. And it still looks tight. Like, really tight.
Aware of the financial pressures people are under right now, we revisited our family ticket discussion. However, we worked out that if we reinstated the offer, the discount would roughly double our expected loss in our best-case sales forecast.
That’s not a typo. We were already expecting to make a loss on panto.
Even if we sell every ticket this year, to a total audience size similar to previous years, but amid the uncertainty of Covid-19, we will still not cover production costs.
This is where the hard reality of panto finance crashes the Christmas party: making theatre is expensive and our panto is no exception.
The Little Mermaid (2019)
Unlike the rest of our work, we receive no additional funding to stage panto, now in its tenth year, so it must always wash its own face through box office income.
Whereas in large venues Christmas shows often subsidise work the rest of the year, for Middle Child it’s the other way round.
That puts us in perennial conflict between balancing production costs with the price of tickets.
What we’ve done then is trim the budget the best we can, while still paying people properly, and made the show as small as we’re comfortable to take it without losing its essence of a messy, anarchic, musical night out.
We’ve also applied to the third round of the Culture Recovery Fund, to cover against any potential losses from Rapunz’ull.
Success here would make a huge difference, but we still need to make a workable budget in-case we are turned down, and all the while remembering we will face the same puzzle in 2022.
Despite our work on the budget, we are still forecast to make a loss, though it’s one we’ve managed to reduce to a figure we can absorb. Nonetheless, it’s still a risk.
The Little Mermaid (2019)
Every year there is at least one moment, in planning, when we ask the dreaded question: “Should we even do panto anymore?”
But the answer is always yes. Because Middle Child is panto.
It’s our most popular show, with our largest audience, who return year-after-year.
Panto is an entry point to theatre for so many people and it encapsulates our entire approach to form: the spirit of panto – loud, fun, audience-centric – runs through our work all year round, not just at Christmas.
Why are we telling you this?
To be honest and open about the realities of making theatre, especially a production that is so loved by audiences in Hull, as well as by the dedicated people who make it.
The Middle Child panto is incredibly rewarding for all involved, but it’s a thin and wobbly tightrope that we must walk to ensure it can happen. Hence the transparency about the decisions we make.
Through all of this we are still very aware that 2021 has been and continues to be very difficult for many financially.
That’s why, before we discontinue the family ticket, we’re going to make one last revised offer – a Friends and Family offer – available for one week only. This will give you a fiver off any four tickets bought together, when you buy at least one adult and one children’s ticket.
It’s a little compromise we’ve decided to make, as we balance on that tricky tightrope during a year that the entire theatre world has found difficult to navigate.
Beyond all the budget chin-stroking, we’re enormously excited to be back on-stage with panto, after two years away thanks to lockdown.
And this year it’s not any old stage – we’re also back in the warehouse, albeit with a different name and a lick of paint or two, where it all began in 2011.
Social on Humber Street is our spiritual home, not just for panto, but for countless Middle Child shows over the past ten years.
The script is hilarious, the cast and creative team are super talented and the tunes we will cover are some proper bops, so we can’t wait to see you there at Christmas.
Is there anything else – apart from buying tickets, of course – that you can do to help?
Become a Middle Child Mate. This is our monthly pay what you can supporters’ scheme, in which you receive a free tote bag, pin badge and exclusive bi-monthly newsletter from the team, plus other occasional perks.
Sponsor us. We have a number of reasonable packages available for local businesses, with a series of benefits including shout outs on social media, inclusion on print and thank yous in our 20 shows. Contact Hattie for more information.
Buy a Solidarity Ticket. Every year we give away tickets to charity and community groups working with people in Hull, who otherwise wouldn’t be able to see a Christmas show. These are funded by a post-show collection on the door and this year we are now able to accept donations when you buy a ticket online.
Cross your fingers. And your toes, that we’re successful with our application to the Culture Recovery Fund.
Rapunz’ull runs from 16-24 December 2021, at Social on Humber Street, Hull