Fund-raising in the round

Rather than rely on handouts from the state, the rebuilt Globe Theatre has made a play for corporate and private donations
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WHEN Robert Erith first became aware of the Globe Theatre project, the prognosis did not look good. It was the early 1990s and he was seated in his office at Swiss Bank Corporation on the north bank of the Thames looking across the water at what looked to be an idle building site with a curious model at its entrance.

Closer inspection revealed that the model was of William Shakespeare wearing a hard hat, and that the Bankside site - supposedly actor-producer Sam Wanamaker's vision of a rebuilt Globe - was little more than a hole in the ground. "Things were at a pretty low ebb," says Mr Erith, the newly- appointed chairman of the Globe's development council.

Mr Erith, a notable City figure, was sufficiently fascinated by the unprepossessing project to persuade colleagues within and outside the firm that they ought to help create what could turn out to be a local landmark.

Just a few years later, their faith has paid off. Although the Globe is not yet finished, it is open for business. Last year, its second in operation, it exceeded its target of 180,000 visitors by more than 30,000. The open-air theatre, a loving recreation of the sort of stages for which the Bard originally wrote, has attracted near-capacity audiences over two seasons.

Mr Erith and others associated with the administration of the project feel the achievement is even more remarkable given that they have got this far without a penny of government money. True, the Globe has received a total of pounds 12.4m from the National Lottery and it has an application in for more. But Mr Erith stresses the organisation's determination to be self-financing.

Although the combination of ahead-of-budget attendance levels and attractive dining and party facilities means receipts are making a contribution, the Globe is not totally reliant on this source of funds. Rather, great efforts are being made to tap corporations, institutions, foundations and individuals for anything from a few hundred pounds to hundreds of thousands. It is Mr Erith's job to keep that money rolling in.

Indeed, it is only when the Globe management has raised the pounds 6.5m to fit out the cavernous "undercroft" space beneath the theatre and install a permanent state-of-the-art exhibition there that the Arts Council will release the tranche of Lottery funding earmarked for completing the Indigo Jones Theatre, which will serve as an indoor adjunct to the main stage.

Pointing out that he is casting his net in other countries as well as Britain, Mr Erith admits he faces a challenge when there are so many calls on both organisations' and individuals' charitable giving. Moreover, he accepts that it would probably have been much easier to raise money in the late 1980s, when the City especially was "awash with money".

Nevertheless, the fact that the Globe is now open for business and attracting more people than expected is a great help. Not only can would-be donors see what they might be getting involved with, they can see they are contributing to something viable.

"People are worried about giving to the arts. It's often seen as money down the drain because they can't cover their running costs. We will be able to do that," he says.

And in going out to attract the donors, Mr Erith - who combines the role with a number of non-executive directorships and posts associated with his position as an Essex landowner - makes plain his awareness that "if people give money they need recognition".

While mindful that some people will be happy to remain anonymous, he and his team have prepared a series of packages that they can tailor to the needs of particular donors.

Accordingly, there is a scale of charges whereby pounds 10,000, say, will get a sponsor's name on the spiral staircase in the exhibition hall. A donation of pounds 80,000 will put the name on the model describing how Shakespeare's plays were originally staged, and pounds 250,000 will bring sponsorship of a seasonal exhibition.

Those with more modest means can join the Thousand Club, named for those who have donated pounds 1,000, while people prepared to part with just a few hundred pounds can see their names on seats. A scheme where paving stones were engraved with the names of those who had contributed has been fully subscribed.

Mr Erith believes the educational nature of the exhibition - schoolchildren and older students make up a good proportion of the Globe's visitors - will make it attractive for many organisations.

He also feels that the audio-visual aspect will appeal to certain corporate donors and has let it be known that he would be prepared to entertain donations in kind - whether hardware or software - from suitably qualified organisations.

If the task was not stiff enough, Mr Erith and his team have also set themselves a tough deadline. They want the exhibition to be open by next September. The romantic reason is that researches indicated this would be the 400th anniversary of the first recorded visit to the original Globe.

However, there is also solid commercial sense behind the timing. As the appeal brochure points out, the team hopes the 1999 opening will enable it to gain from the opening of the nearby Millennium Bridge, or the similarly convenient underground station on the Jubilee Line extension link to the Millennium Dome.

With the neighbouring Tate Gallery of Modern Art due to open in the former Bankside power station the following year, Mr Erith is confident that a budget of 400,000 visitors a year is realistic.

And he is also hopeful of getting his money. "I think a lot of companies want to be good citizens," he says. "But directors want to be sure that shareholders would approve."

He reckons the Globe satisfies that concern because it is much more than a theatre. "It's a major educational resource," he says. "It's not at all a pastiche. I think people will be more willing to help if they understand that."