Soho Theatre is one of London’s most vibrant venues for new theatre, comedy and cabaret.
Soho Theatre originated as a theatre company in 1969 before acquiring and developing a permanent home on Dean Street in the heart of London’s West End in 2000. Since then it has developed an international reputation for new writing theatre and stand up comedy, and seen many household names perform across its three stages, including some of the biggest comedy stars from around the world. Alongside developing and producing original work and supporting emerging playwrights, comedians and artists, Soho Theatre runs several youth programmes that enable young people to access the arts and develop their skills.
Soho Theatre has a reputation for producing and presenting high quality live comedy, and has consistently grown its audiences. It is a charity and social enterprise, and earned income from its mainstream programme helps to subsidise its youth theatre programmes and more risk-taking theatrical work.
Soho Theatre had undertaken two years of R&D through a government funded Knowledge Transfer Partnership with the University of Westminster, exploring different business models with a focus on drawing on its in-house facilities and staff, and knowledge of the comedy industry to produce high quality digital comedy content before approaching the Arts Impact Fund to help finance the next steps of this initiative. It requested £300,000 to produce an initial 12 episode run of stand-up comedy within a trading subsidiary, Soho Theatre Productions. The rights to broadcast this content will then be sold to broadcasters, digital platforms and distributors, providing a new source of income for the theatre.
Digital filmed content will enable Soho Theatre to target new audiences outside London and other main metropolitan areas in the UK and internationally, and will attract new diverse audiences to its London venue. The partnerships formed through the project will also contribute to positive artistic outcomes for Soho Theatre’s live comedy and theatre work and will create new touring opportunities and increased exposure for artists.
Any revenue from the new venture will support and expand the charity’s artistic and social activities. Funds generated through digital trading activity could help to widen the educational opportunities provided, including work with young people in schools and from hard-to-reach backgrounds, focusing on transferable skills development and employability. For instance Soho Young Playwrights, a schools playwriting programme for primary school-age children, and Soho Theatre Young Company working with around 350 participants each year targeting Westminster and Waltham Forest in particular. There is strong alignment between Soho Theatre’s artistic mission and social outcomes aspirations – whilst the outcomes develop skills important to all areas of life, the programmes themselves cultivate new artistic talent. As part of the investment, the Arts Impact Fund team will work with the company to formalise its theory of change.
The Arts Impact Fund has offered Soho Theatre an unsecured loan of £300,000 to be repaid over four years. The investment will allow Soho Theatre to explore the potential of a new way of engaging audiences digitally, with the potential to become more financially resilient. It is a great example of using social investment to strengthen the company’s cross-subsidy business model by using the potential of its artistic activity with the ultimate goal of creating more great work and reaching large audiences, especially outside London and internationally.
Image credit: Soho Theatre. Photo: The Other Richard (http://www.theotherrichard.