Exeter theatre company saves itself from brink of disaster

Exeter Little Theatre Company's production of Nativity! The Musical - Dec 2023
-Credit: (Image: Simon Day)

An Exeter theatre company faced with financial ruin following the coronavirus pandemic has saved itself from the brink of closure and is now gearing up to celebrate its 70th anniversary. Just over a year ago, amateur theatre company Exeter Little Theatre Company (ELTC) found itself in a 'desperate' situation having lost almost £33,000 over the previous three years and its membership was at an all-time low.

Against all the odds, its loyal members and new committee have instigated an amazing turnaround in fortunes with almost all of its losses recovered, one of its groups doubling in size and winning a prestigious award. With plenty now to smile about, it would appear the timing of ELTC's 70th anniversary couldn't be more apt.

ELTC was established in 1954 and was based in Colleton Crescent until 1998 when it moved to its current clubhouse in the Exeter West Quarter in Presto Street which provides a space to rehearse, build sets, store costumes and meet each week. It is also hired out our rehearsal space to other local groups as well as Exeter College.

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The company has both an adult and a youth group with the majority of its productions performed at Exeter's Barnfield Theatre.

The home of Exeter Little Theatre Company
The home of Exeter Little Theatre Company -Credit:Google Maps

Isobel Court, chairman of ELTC, recalled: "The possibility of losing our company and premises was almost inevitable, had it not been for the incredible hard work and dedication of the new committee and dedicated members to turn things around. Major changes had to be made to secure the future of the company.

"Like so many amateur companies, the pandemic had a huge impact on our company. Our first venture back into the theatre was in April 2022 with Calendar Girls The Musical but illness among the cast caused us to open two days late and then the MD was taken ill immediately before a performance.

"We lost three performances, and coupled with the fact that audience numbers were still low following the pandemic as many were cautious about attending, we lost a significant sum on the production. The company had already begun to lose money prior to the pandemic.

Exeter Little Theatre Company's production of The Vicar Of Dibley - June 2023
Exeter Little Theatre Company's production of The Vicar Of Dibley - June 2023 -Credit:Simon Day

"Many of our shows hadn’t been selling as well as in the past, people were being careful with money and seemed to only want to see certain types of shows. By our AGM in July 2022, membership had reached an all-time low of just 20 members and, as such, support for productions took a massive hit.

"In 2021 and 2022 we tried to cast our annual pantomime, however, with membership so low and members not wanting to commit to the three week run over Christmas and New Year, having been unable to spend it with their families for a couple of years, it was time for a change."

At that time, ELTC had generated a loss of around £33,000. The committee of just five members called an emergency meeting in December 2022. Luckily, it was well attended by both past and present members.

Exeter Little Theatre Company's production of Little Shop Of Horrors - Sept 2023
Exeter Little Theatre Company's production of Little Shop Of Horrors - Sept 2023 -Credit:Simon Day

Isobel recalled: "We explained our financial situation and asked members for their input. Various solid suggestions were made and we set about putting together a programme of shows that we judged should sell well and that our members were excited about, as well as carefully planned budgets.

"By January 2023, there was a change of leadership and several new committee members. I’m extremely pleased to say that over the last 12 months, we have almost recovered all our losses, have regrown our membership and doubled the size of our youth group.

"We were also recognised by the National Operatic and Dramatic Association (NODA) at its recent awards ceremony with nominations for all three of last year’s productions. We are extremely proud to be award winners of their Best Comedy Production award for our record-breaking, sell-out production of Nativity! The Musical last December."

The company's next production is Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None which is being performed at the Barnfield Theatre from June 25 to 29. To celebrate its 70th anniversary milestone, next month ELTC is hosting an anniversary summer ball on July 13 at the Rougemont Hotel in Exeter, for current and former members.

Exeter Little Theatre Company's production of Little Shop Of Horrors in September 2023
Exeter Little Theatre Company's production of Little Shop Of Horrors in September 2023 -Credit:Simon Day

Isobel said: "Although we are back on track, we still have some way to go to get the company back to full health. We have also managed to increase our youth group so rather than losing money, it is now making a small profit.

"We have also increased hiring of our premises and, thanks to our treasurer, we have looked at all outgoings including utilities and how our money is invested to make sure we are getting the best value. With our exciting programme of productions and changes made to the timing and length of run of our Christmas production, as well as reinstating regular social events and workshops for members, our membership has now grown to 140.

"It is made up of people from all walks of life, with ages ranging from junior members of seven years old to our more mature members in their 70s and 80s."

For tickets to see And Then There Were None, please click here. For further details about ELTC, please click here.