Posts Tagged ‘dress circle’

Well, the Dress Circle Benefit concert is tomorrow night, and I really wish I could attend, but true to the story of my life as an American fan of British theatre, I’m stuck on the wrong side of the ocean.  Still, I wanted to address the “charity vs. business” issue again quickly because I’m still seeing a lot of those arguments online.  This will be short, because I’ve said most of what I wanted to say on this issue already, but here goes:

A lot of people seem to be questioning why all the artists involved in this benefit are putting so much time and effort into helping out a business when they could be putting that same time into helping various charitable causes.  I already mentioned in “Save Dress Circle 2” that many of these artists already do a lot to support charities and it’s not a case of “either/or”, but I thought of an analogy that I think might explain why a lot of these artists are doing this, and why I and many other theatre fans are supporting this cause.  The bottom line for me is that it’s not about helping a business vs. helping a charity.  It’s about helping a friend.  If someone has a good friend who owns a business that is struggling, would they just say “tough luck.  That’s the way things go these days, with this economy, and you should have worked harder to save it yourself. “ I don’t think most people would do that.  They would help their friend in whatever ways they could—they would patronize their business and tell other friends about it.  They might even donate their time and/or money to help their friend find ways to keep their business afloat.  If that friend has been there for them in hard times as well as in good times, they would want to return the favor.  This, I think, is what is happening with Dress Circle.  I can’t read minds, but what I see from the words and actions of the performers, fans and others involved is that they don’t see Dress Circle as just some shop.  They see it as a friend, and they want to do whatever they can to help their friend.

What has Dress Circle done, you may ask, to have all these people want to help them like this, as if they are an old friend?  Dress Circle has supported them when they needed support, in terms of selling and promoting performers’ solo CD’s when the big chain stores wouldn’t.  They’ve also been there to hold signings to help promote West End shows as well as the individual performers.  Also, they are there as a place to go for theatre fans and creatives to meet and promote whatever is going on in the industry, from small fringe venues to the West End and everything in between.  They see Dress Circle as a place with people who understand them and will work to promote them and the industry that they love.  It’s not just about someplace to buy CDs or books.  That is an important aspect of it, but there is a lot more to it than that.  These people—artists, creatives, fans and whoever else—seem to feel that this particular shop is more than just a shop.  Dress Circle has been there for them when they needed support in their careers, and they want to return the favor.  They love Dress Circle, and see it as a friend, and they would like to see their friend stick around.

That, to my mind, is why this effort is going on.  It is not about making a business into a charity or taking away funds and/or time that can be devoted to charities.  It is about real, genuine affection for an institution that has come to be seen as a dear old friend, and these people want to help their friend.  I see nothing wrong with that, and indeed I share the sentiment.  I have been to Dress Circle, the actual shop, only twice, but I’ve long been a member of their online message board, and I have seen all the efforts they have made to support and promote theatre and individual artists. I feel like this organization has been a real friend to the theatre industry and it would be a shame to see them go under, so I support this cause.  I really wish I could attend the concert, but there has been talk of a CD of the event and if there is one, I will gladly buy it.  I send my best wishes to all who are involved in this benefit and to Dress Circle itself.  This shop has been a true friend to the theatre community, especially in London but also around the world, and I hope it stays around for a very long time.

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Since I wrote my last “Save Dress Circle” piece, there have been some new developments in the situation, so I thought I’d address those here.  I’ve seen a lot more debate online on various theatre message boards, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc., mostly centering on the fact that there is now a benefit concert in the works, featuring quite a few big-name West End performers, to help raise money for the shop.  I thought this was a great idea, and I really wish I lived in London so I could go.  I never realized, though, that this was going to turn into such a contentious issue.  Most of the debate seems to center on the issue of “charity vs. business”—basically, that Dress Circle is a for-profit business, and all the various fundraising efforts are making it seem like a charity.  Some even go so far as to say that such fundraising efforts are wasted and that whatever time and money are put into this effort should be spent on actual charities.

I don’t know if this is a cultural thing, being American, but I see no problems with holding a benefit of this kind to help out a struggling business.  I have heard of similar cases in this country.  In the specific case of Dress Circle, it is not claiming to be a charity, and as far as I know the shop’s owner did not plan this benefit himself.  The point is that this store is more than just a store, and people can argue with that all they want, but the fact is that there is no other place like this shop, and they do a lot more than just sell CDs, books and other theatre-related items. Their efforts to support the theatre community and promote artists and productions via signings and other events cannot easily be done online.  I really wish we had a shop like this in St. Louis. It is well-loved in the theatre community in London, and these performers and the others involved don’t want to see it close.  They are not making these efforts at the expense of charitable organizations, though.  In fact, many of the performers reported to be involved in the benefit have been involved in many fundraising efforts for charities as well.  This is not a case of either/or.  It’s just one more cause that they are supporting because they care about it, even though in this case the cause is a for-profit business rather than a non-profit charity.

Another case that is being made is that the fundraising efforts will not really save the store, and in one sense I do see that point.  I know very little about running a business, but I do know that it takes more than a lump-sum of money to keep a business afloat for the long haul.  I’m sure that there are a lot of factors contributing to the shop’s current financial struggles and I think a lot of those are not the owner’s fault.  The store is located in a very high-rent district of London, and many people now buy their music online to get the best prices.  These factors will not go away, and no matter how much money the benefit raises, those funds won’t last forever.  The shop’s business plan does need to be revisited and modified if the shop is going to survive for years to come, and Murray Allan, the shop’s owner, has indicated on the Dress Circle website’s message board that he is in the process of doing just that.  Also, a long-term investor will most likely be needed to keep the shop going, as Allan has also admitted and is actively seeking.  In fact, Allan has recently spoken on the subject in a short interview that is up on YouTube. See what he has to say here:

Still, despite the business issues that need to be dealt with, I think a benefit concert and other fundraising efforts are worthwhile for several reasons.  First, the current efforts have served to raise awareness of the shop’s situation, and apparently business has picked up as a result.  The efforts will also help to advertise the need for and attract the attention of potential long-term investors.  Also, the funds raised will help to meet the shop’s immediate financial needs and give the owners more time to address the long-term issues.  The benefit is not a magic cure, but it is a start, and if I lived in London I would attend.  I hope they make a DVD of the concert and sell it to help raise further funds. If they do, I will buy it and encourage others to do so.

The bottom line is, I think Dress Circle is a valuable asset to the London theatre community, and many performers and other theatre professionals, as well as fans, agree with me and are involved in the efforts to save it.  Some people either don’t like the store or disagree with the idea of raising money to help a business.  These people don’t have to support the efforts, but those of us who do support them will not change our minds.  I wish the benefit every success and hope the shop remains open for many years to come.

Addendum–To keep up to date with the fundraising efforts and other issues regarding the shop, you can follow @dcbenefit on Twitter and/or join the Facebook page I linked to in my last post on this subject.  Dress Circle also has an official Facebook page here and they also have a Twitter @DressCircleShop.  The main Dress Circle website (from which you can order their merchandise online) is linked in the Blogroll on the right side of this page.

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Steph Fearon signs CDs at Dress Circle

This post is more of a vent than anything else.  I saw the news on Twitter this morning about one of my favorite shops in London being in trouble, and so even though I don’t think my blog gets enough readers for this to make much of a difference, I had to write something about it.  In  a nutshell, Dress Circle is a wonderful theatre shop that may have to close if they don’t find some investors within the next few weeks. Here’s the story from The Stage, a London theatre newspaper and website:

Dress Circle is a musical theatre book/music shop in the heart of London’s theatre district, the West End.  It is a very small two-level space with a cozy atmosphere, and practically every square inch of wall space that is not occupied by merchandise shelves is covered with theatre posters and paraphernalia.  You don’t even have to talk to anyone to feel the theatre-aficionado vibe that oozes out of every nook and cranny of this place.  It is so much fun to browse the many shelves of popular and hard-to-find cast albums and performers’ CDs, as well as engaging in conversation with the highly knowledgeable staff and customers (well, mostly overhearing it on my part as I browsed the shelves).  I went there twice on my recent trip to London and I still count it as among the highlights of my time there.  I’m sure that if I lived there, I would be a regular customer, and although I have no clue when I will ever get back to London, the idea of this shop’s not being there when I do return is very sad.

I’ve read a few comments on some theatre message boards that have bothered me a little, because they seem to miss the point.  Basically, some people are saying that this shop was bound to close because of how the times have changed and the fact that more people are buying their CDs and books online at cheaper prices.  Some still seem sad that the shop may close, but others are more callous.  The thing is, a lot of these people don’t seem to get the idea that this place is much more than just a store to buy stuff.  It’s a gathering place for theatre people—fans, performers, composers, writers, and anyone else involved in the world of musical theatre in London.  It’s fun to hear and participate in the conversations that go on in the shop about various shows and theatre happenings in the city.  The shop also often hosts CD signings and special performances, and it’s a great resource for finding out what’s going on in the London theatre scene, with its many posters, flyers and magazines.

When I was there in March, I had the pleasure of attending a CD signing event for Stephanie (“Steph”) Fearon, who was a semi-finalist on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most recent  BBC talent show Over the Rainbow.  There was such a fun buzz in the shop as the small area was packed to the rafters with fans, as well as some of Steph’s friends and family.  We were treated to a short performance as well, and as all the people lined up outside the store and headed down the stairs for the signing, various conversations about musical theatre were going on around me and there was such a general air of excitement.  The shop has hosted many such signings over the years, featuring both well-known established performers and young up-and-coming talents.  It would be wonderful if these events would be able to continue.

Earlier in the week, I had visited the shop with a friend and had a much quieter but still extremely enjoyable experience as I was able to take time browsing the shelves and taking in the atmosphere of the place.  I ended up buying four CDs and picking up some show flyers and theatre magazines, and I had a much more fun time than I would have had if I had just ordered the CDs online.  There’s just something about a small, independent shop like this that so supports the thriving theatre industry in London that is such a joy to be a part of.  It’s a small, unassuming place, but it is a real treasure.

If anyone who reads this would like to help get the word out, you can follow @DressCircleShop on Twitter, as well as joining the “Save Dress Circle” page on Facebook and sharing these links with your friends.  Also, if you’re in London, go there!  Browse for a while and buy something.  Dress Circle is a London institution and a truly unique place.  I encourage theatre fans everywhere (whether in London or not) to help spread the word so that maybe they will find the financial support they need that will allow them to stay open and continue providing such great merchandise and delightful atmosphere to theatre fans from around the world. I love this shop, and I hope it will remain open for many, many years to come.

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