Assembly Theatre runs Assembly Festival at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, tours nationally and internationally with the ‘best of’ the Festival programme, and hosts theatre, music, comedy and events at the Assembly Roxy throughout the year.
In 2001 the organisation was heading for closure. Much of their revenue was based around the four weeks of the festival, then fell off a cliff for the rest of the year. In addition, the artistic programming, while brilliant for nurturing new talent and bringing new experiences to audiences, wasn’t generating sufficient revenue. New sponsorship guidelines meant that the contribution the business had relied on for so many years had suddenly dried up. The challenge was to balance risk-taking programming while still ensuring there was a financially stable organisation to take those risks with.
Gary and fellow entrepreneur Luke Johnson devised a rescue package and within twenty-four hours injected the cash needed for the organisation to survive. It wasn’t just about money though. The entrepreneurs joined the board and set about turning things around.
Working with the Artistic Director, William Burdett-Coutts, his assistant, Mary Shields, and the rest of the Board, the two put in place a structure to pull them out of the cycle of financial difficulties:
Assembly Theatre has gone from strength to strength and is an incredibly successful machine. In 2019 it sold four million tickets and now runs 16 different venues showing a mix of programming across the spectrum of comedy, theatre, music, dance and performance, as well as touring nationally and internationally. Assembly is now the most popular part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, playing to an audience of 575,000. This makes it one of the largest event management companies in the country.
Gary sums up the project in his own words. “It was just a bump in the road where Assembly slipped up commercially, lost their sponsorship and were perhaps too focused on the artistic programming without necessarily considering whether it could get a big enough paying audience. Of course, there’s a balance, and I hope what we did helped redress that conundrum. It’s still about taking artistic risks and bringing new work into the spotlight – which is important, it’s what Edinburgh is for – but it’s also about staying afloat, so you have a place that can continue to wow audiences with spectacular new work year after year.”