An investigation into the funding of stage shows in Oxford has revealed that unaccountable student companies have kept money intended for re-investment in University drama.
Most plays put on in Oxford are underwritten by Cameron Mackintosh, a West End production company that promises to reimburse students for any losses they may incur.
In return, the shows’ organizers must sign a contract agreeing to re-invest any excess profit in future productions.
However there is little formal supervision to ensure this takes place. Oxford University’s Drama Officer, Sam Sampson, acknowledged that he “[is] aware of the problem.”
In response to Cherwell’s allegations, he said: “contractually, producers are obliged to put the money back into the system. Unfortunately, they don’t always do this.”
Sophie Ivatts, a member of the University Drama Society’s committee, said: “there probably does need to be a more accountable framework in place to check how the money is used. If students sign a contract with Cameron Mackintosh, they are using that underwriting facility to cover any potential losses, so they shouldn’t then use the system for personal gain.”
She admitted that “the issue has been raised at committee meetings. However, it only affects a small proportion of plays, since many make a loss – and of those that do not, only those staged at the Playhouse have a chance of turning over more than a couple of hundred pounds.”
Toby Pitts-Tucker, who has been managing a production of The Tempest this term, said: “I think it’s up to the JCRs and other societies to decide what to do with their money. After all, they are free to debate whether the production deserves funding. However, I agree there should be more safeguards and accountability in an ideal world.”
The University Drama Officer told Cherwell: ‘I’ve been making an effort to contact all those finalists who’ve had production companies, to encourage them to re-invest in Oxford drama, or donate to college and University funding bodies.”
Pitts-Tucker, however, suggested that this was not always the case. He said, “I see the drama officer every week, but he doesn’t have much to do with the financing of my play. Though he does provide fantastic and invaluable advice to many other productions.”
He continued: “I think [Sampson] does more to scrutinize the accounts of plays staged at the Playhouse, who have a chance of turning over a large profit.”
However, another second year producer, who did not want to be named, claimed: “there’s plenty of informal oversight of all producers’ actions in Oxford. The Drama Officer is very thorough in following up on people.”
The student continued: “people who want to get into drama have an incentive not to keep hold of the money.
“They want to be trusted and sow the seeds of a future career. Most producers I know have re-invested money in future shows.”
Furthermore, Ivatts pointed out that “students who do not have underwriting are entitled to keep the proportion of any profit they make from their own investment. The problem comes when your company has been set up ‘to further the cause of Oxford Drama.’”
When asked whether there were any producers that he was currently watching, Sampson responded: “I’m not going to name any specific examples, but there are people I’m in contact with. I think it’s a problem student drama has always had, and will probably continue to have.”