The WA Symphony Orchestra is stuck in a pit of frustration over having to provide the music for the WA Opera and WA Ballet seasons at His Majesty's Theatre for 16 weeks each year.
The obligation to perform in the orchestra pit restricted the orchestra's annual schedule and came at the expense of opportunities to improve its own income stream with more performances at Perth Concert Hall and elsewhere, WASO chief executive Craig Whitehead said yesterday.
This block in the schedule was the key strategic issue affecting the long-term viability of the orchestra, he said.
All four WA flagship stage companies have released their 2012 annual reports and raised concerns about the fragile marketplace amid economic uncertainties.
The WA Ballet revealed an operating deficit of $780,000, 17 per cent above expectations in the most exceptional year of change in its 60-year history.
WA Opera, Black Swan State Theatre Company and the WASO all revealed surpluses. WA Opera made a $816,850 profit in what general manager Carolyn Chard said was a challenging and successful year, financially and artistically. Black Swan reported a surplus of $163,126 despite a 7 per cent drop in ticket sales.
The WASO 2012 annual report revealed a "respectable" surplus of $288,423 in a challenging year as the economy and consumer sentiment continue to ebb and flow.
Mr Whitehead said uncertain conditions would continue in 2013. "The sentiment in the community is a little wary," he said. "Single ticket sales are retail sales. Like any other retail organisation, we feel the brunt of it."
He predicted another WASO surplus at the end of 2013 but said "every concert is a hard slog".
Performances were limited over summer, so being locked into the orchestra pit at His Majesty's Theatre for another four months - for six seasons in total by the WA Opera and WA Ballet - compounded the problem of earning box-office income, he said.
"When we are actually able to put a concert on, you are looking at half the year when we are able to generate income."
The issue has been a bugbear for the orchestra since 1989, when it received $250,000 extra a year to amalgamate with and take over the pit duties of the WA Arts Orchestra. Mr Whitehead said the WASO bore the vast bulk of the costs of the service in the pit.
"The cost of our musicians' time is $2.5 million a year which is significantly more than that the total funding we get from the State Government ($2.28 million)," he said.
"We have the greatest respect for our colleagues at these two fine companies, but with government funding continuing to fall in real terms, this barrier to WASO increasing earned revenue has become the key strategic issue affecting the long-term viability of the orchestra."
Any resolution must not be at the expense of colleagues at the opera and ballet and the WASO remained committed to working with them on a viable solution, he said.
"It is not 'We don't want to do it anymore. You are on your own, guys'. The opera and the ballet also have aspirations to grow their season and it is an issue where only one of the three largest arts companies in WA can perform at any one time."
WA Ballet is feeling the pinch after a significant period of change during which it amped up its repertoire, increased its troupe size and moved into its new $12.5 million ballet centre in Maylands.
Ballet general manager Steven Roth said in the biggest year in its 60-year history, the company had projected a planned operating deficit of $667,000, drawn from accumulated reserves, to fund extra dancers ahead of a boost in Federal funds for the purpose and to invest in the new ballet Pinocchio.
Mr Roth attributed the higher operating deficit of $780,000 to a 25 per cent budget overrun for Pinocchio, escalating back-of-house costs and the impact on ticket sales of difficulties with the changeover of ticketing provider from BOCS to Ticketek during the opening weekend of Pinocchio. After drawing down on reserves, and recognising capital campaign donations of $1.8 million, the net loss for 2012 was just $2652.
Mr Roth pointed to an overall increase in box-office of 26 per cent over the past five years but tempered this with concerns about the 2013 outlook.
The combination of a crowded "family" entertainment marketplace (Cirque du Soleil, Jersey Boys, Disney on Ice, St Petersburg Ballet Theatre), the economic downturn and Federal pre-election uncertainty was hitting box office sales in the first quarter of 2013, Mr Roth said. "We hope that confidence will pick up in the second half of the year."
Both the WA Ballet and Black Swan State Theatre Company have received extra Federal funding.
Black Swan's second year at the State Theatre Centre in 2012 was one of consolidation, company chairman Mark Barnaba said.
"While the economy impacted patron attendances, subscriptions still grew by 5 per cent with gains of 50 per cent in corporate sponsorship and 27 per cent in cash philanthropy income," he said in Black Swan's 2012 annual report.