The Big Interview: Edel Magill, Executive Producer, Prime Cut Productions
How’s business? Good. Prime Cut has to be managed just like any other small business. We are a non-profit distributing limited company and our number one priority is the professional production of live theatre of excellent quality that satisfies our audiences and leaves them wanting more.
Like any business we have to know and develop our market and promote our brand and product in the most cost-effective way.
Any exciting projects in the pipeline?
We certainly have. We are currently running a production of the classic Greek drama Antigone in a bold and contemporary version by the award-winning Belfast playwright Owen McCafferty. We are delighted to return to Belfast’s Waterfront Studio after our successful production of Scenes From The Big Picture, also by Owen McCafferty.
What are the long-term prospects for your organisation?
I am very optimistic — the next few years will no doubt be a great challenge in economic terms, but
from 2010/11 the theatre landscape in Belfast will be transformed. The new Metropolitan Arts Centre (The Mac) in the heart of Cathedral Quarter and the refurbished Lyric Theatre will provide new state-of-the art performance venues.
This is good news for us as producers and great news for audiences who now expect from entertainment venues a high spec in terms of ambience and comfort to match the quality of performances on stage. These new venues will add a further dimension to the overall experience of the audience.
What are the biggest challenges facing your organisation?
The same as any other — competition, market share, brand recognition, efficiency and viability. I don’t just mean competition from other theatre producers but a more fundamental competition within the wide range of entertainment choices audiences now have. This includes video games, film and TV, comedy and music gigs. A big challenge is to make theatre less of a ‘minority sport’. People sometimes perceive drama as ‘elitist’ or ‘not for me’, and yet time and again, our audience research bears out that first-timers at our shows are surprised at how much they have enjoyed the experience.
\[Mark Sterling\]It is convincing people to take the risk and we do ask that of our audiences. When you fork out hard-earned money for a ticket to anything you want it to be worth it. We therefore strive to ensure our productions continue to be of the absolute highest quality standards. Satisfied customers will come back for more. Our kind of theatre, encompassing a wide range of issues and often introducing marginal and not immediately sympathetic characters, can move and inspire people on an emotional level, a human level, as well as being entertaining and thought provoking. Our challenge is to convince non-theatregoers to come to experience our product. We are confident that when they do, they will come back.
Could government help you to do business better?
Yes, by doing more to increase the profile of arts and culture generally — not just paying lip service, but fostering a genuine belief in the value of drama and theatre to help us to question, challenge, understand and celebrate ourselves. I think there certainly has been progress on this front over the past couple of years. Investment, however, must continue and increase. The creative sector is growing at twice the rate of other industries and contributes significantly to the wider economy.
\[Mark Sterling\]A key area where government agencies can help is in the encouragement of arts and business partnerships. Bodies like Arts Council, City Council, Invest Northern Ireland and Arts & Business need the full support of government departments to provide real value incentives to promote strong working partnerships between the corporate sector to match those currently offered by the major trusts and foundations.
Why would someone work for you?
Prime Cut is one of the island’s leading independent theatre companies and we bring some of the best contemporary and international theatre to local audiences. I’d love to say come and work with us and make a quick fortune, but that isn’t the nature of what we do. However, I can say that working with Prime Cut Productions is an enriching experience.
Your views on the economy please.
The financial markets in the past few weeks have been like watching a dramatic theatre performance unfold. The big challenge for organisations like ours is the squeeze on consumer spending and the squeeze on government spending. However there is good reason to believe that when times are tough people change their leisure habits and that theatre can be a beneficiary.
\[Mark Sterling\]In the longer-term, I am confident that prospects for the Northern Ireland are extremely good. It’s imperative that our politicians put in place the building blocks to ensure Northern Ireland is positioned to achieve its potential when the current global downturn passes. Continuing to invest in the arts is an important part of that.
The business climate good or bad?
I don’t think there’s any denying that the business environment is currently extremely challenging and that this has a knock-on effect on the arts sector. Ulster Bank has provided welcome support for the Belfast Festival at Queen’s, but that aside, attaining private sector backing for the arts in Northern Ireland is a major challenge in the current climate.
What ambitions do you have at a personal level?
To continue enjoying life with my family, friends and colleagues and to continue working with the team and board at Prime Cut to keep the company at the forefront of independent theatre in Northern Ireland. I’ve four children in their 20s and it’s just great to be around them.
What do you get up to in your spare time?
The concept of spare time is not something I recognise — there’s just time and what you do with your little bit of it.