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Russian Ballet speaks out against 'unjustifiable' merchandise commission at Port Macquarie Glasshouse

IMPERIAL BALLET: A performance of Swan Lake by the Imperial Ballet. Photo: Russian Ballet Ltd.

IMPERIAL BALLET: A performance of Swan Lake by the Imperial Ballet. Photo: Russian Ballet Ltd.

Feathers have been ruffled after the Imperial Russian Ballet called out what they believe is an excessive commission on merchandise sales charged by Port Macquarie's Glasshouse.

The complaint comes after the company's performance of Swan Lake at the facility on October 16.

Merchandise and souvenir programmes were withdrawn from the Swan Lake performance with the theatre company claiming Glasshouse commission fees are 50 per cent higher than all other comparable venues in Australia and New Zealand.

Director of Russian Ballet Limited, Dennis Brown, told the Port News that a 15 per cent commission charged on merchandise is an "unjustifiable price escalation".

"We have decided not to have merchandise on sale for our performances at Port Macquarie simply because the venue charges 15 per cent and all other comparable venues throughout Australia and New Zealand charge 10 percent," he said.

"We make an announcement (before the second act) to the effect that due to the requirement to charge 50 per cent more than any other venue we play in, the merchandise has been withdrawn.

"Either we absorb it and eat it, or we put it onto the person purchasing it. We think neither is acceptable."

The Swan Lake performance is presented in two acts by 40 dancers from major Russian ballet schools and headed by Bolshoi Theatre soloist Gediminas Taranda. It costs between $65 to $95 per ticket in Port Macquarie.

The company has previously hired the 588-seat theatre at least 10 times since its opening in 2009.

Last year I said 'I'll eat this hat if you can show me anywhere else that's charging 15 per cent for merchandising'.

Dennis Brown

"The Russians bring in merchandise such as handmade Russian dolls, ballet shoes, scarves and quite a display," said Mr Brown.

"They have merchandise which goes up to $250 because they have home-made teapots and a range of items, so on those items it is quite significant.

"For the last three times I've visited Port Macquarie I have asked them (the Glasshouse) to look at this commission because I know there are promoters who don't play here because they say it is the most expensive place in Australia."

The theatre company was contacted by Port Macquarie-Hastings Council prior to their venue hire booking for Swan Lake on Wednesday, October 16.

The company was advised in an email that the 15 per cent merchandise commission rate is not negotiable. They were also reminded that venue hirers are contractually obligated "not to do or omit to do anything which is of a nuisance or annoyance to Glasshouse Management or other users".

IMPERIAL BALLET: A performance of Swan Lake by the Imperial Ballet. Photo: Russian Ballet Ltd.

IMPERIAL BALLET: A performance of Swan Lake by the Imperial Ballet. Photo: Russian Ballet Ltd.

Council director of corporate performance Rebecca Olsen said the merchandise commission rate of 15 per cent has been in place since the venue opened in July 2009 and has never been increased.

"The fee covers the provision of equipment, retail space and merchant facilities within the venue, and is a standard industry charge for performing arts venues Australia-wide," she said.

"The fee is part of council's adopted 2019/20 Fees & Charges, and was also listed in the ticketing agreement signed by the NZ-based promoter for this event.

"The merchandise commission rate forms part of the Glasshouse fees and charges, which are reviewed annually and adopted by Port Macquarie-Hastings Council.

"All hirers of the venue (Commercial and Community) are required to pay the same rate.

"The merchandise fee is benchmarked annually with other venues Australia-wide, and sits within reasonable industry parameters.

"The Glasshouse did contact the NZ-based promoter prior to the arrival the Imperial Russian Ballet at the venue stating the merchandise fee, and reminding the promoter of his signed Venue Hire Contract.

"Glasshouse management also expressed their concerns on the evening about the intention to make the announcement and the impact of the announcement on the experience of patrons in the venue."

The Newcastle Civic Theatre charges a merchandise rate of 11 per cent and the Dubbo Regional Theatre 10 per cent.

Port Macquarie and District Eisteddfod Society dance director Wendy Stewart said hiring the Glasshouse for events like their annual Eisteddfod is significantly more expensive than other similar theatres in the region.

"The fees are way higher than other theatres we have compared to such as Taree or Dubbo," she said.

"It's a lot more expensive to hire the Glasshouse than the Dubbo Regional Theatre, which is a newer theatre. They also have a better community rate than we do."

The Glasshouse provides $2 million in annual income and costs around $4.5 million per year in operating deficit, loan interest and capital repayment, according to Deputy Mayor Lisa Intemann.

"Ten years on, the debt has been reduced by over half to $17.5 million with loans expected to be repaid by 2027," she said in July this year.

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