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Wollongong’s Merrigong Theatre Company Aims for Best Practice Venue Management With New Central Bookings System.

Introduction

The Merrigong Theatre Company manages one of Australia’s busiest regional venues, the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre (IPAC) while producing and presenting its own diverse selection of theatre, dance and children’s programs each year.

Located one hour south of Sydney, IPAC is Wollongong’s premier performance venue, host to touring theatre productions, comedy and music shows, and other special events. In June 2014, Merrigong expanded its scope, taking on the management of Wollongong’s key civic and community venue, the Wollongong Town Hall.

Key Challenge – Wanted more flexibility and ease-of-use

Between IPAC and the Town Hall, Merrigong is responsible for four performance spaces ranging in size from 80 to 800 seats, numerous meeting and rehearsal rooms, foyers that are available for events, a cafe and a restaurant forecourt.

Demand for the venues is high.  The main auditorium at IPAC is in use more than 80 per cent of the time, while usage of the smaller theatres sits at around 50 per cent.  Even the Town Hall, which Merrigong is yet to begin fully marketing, is booked 20 to 30 per cent of the time.

In addition to physical space, Merrigong also hires out crew to support shows along with a wide range of back-of-house facilities including lighting, power, staging and audio-visual equipment.  This means that almost every booking requires input from a variety of Merrigong’s 20 full time staff.

Until recently, the theatre company used an on-premise software system to manage venue bookings which had met the organisation’s prior requirements but what with an increase in events staged and a drive to improve operational productivity, a decision was made to review new platforms which could realise potential business benefits.

Trevor Ahearn, Director of Operations, Merrigong Theatre Company, explains, “When I arrived here 12 months ago, I found that there were a number of inefficiencies in our venue booking software as information could exist in half a dozen Excel spreadsheets that were held on IT systems spread around the building. Although the software was highly capable, it was also underutilised by staff.

“I quickly realised that we needed a program that could be used easily by multiple people across the business for many different things.  We wanted a central repository of knowledge for all events,” says Ahearn.

Aware also that mandatory use of the software wouldn’t solve the problem, Ahearn decided to replace the solution with deployment of the cloud-based, user friendly and simple to use Priava venue and event management software.

“Priava had the kind of functionality and reporting we needed.  Apart from being far more suitable for our needs, it also gave us impetus. By bringing in new software, we had an opportunity to look at how we deliver our business and to consider new ways of doing things.  We could introduce new processes,” Ahearn notes.

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