Meet Your Local FM: Northcote Theatre’s Andrew Mansfield on managing creative spaces

by Helena Morgan
0 comment

When attending a concert at a theatre, moseying around an art gallery or museum, passing by the local PCYC or experiencing child-like wonder at the zoo, have you ever stopped to ponder who is in charge of the management and operations of this bustling and beloved facility?

This year, Facility Management launches a new editorial series called ‘Meet Your Local FM’, where we talk with the facility and operation managers, technical service and safety operators, and sustainability officers of iconic Australian institutions.

We’re diving deep to reveal a facility’s inner mechanics, along with the who and how of what it takes to keep these special spaces running so smoothly. We’re putting a face to a facility and debunking any assumptions surrounding this essential profession which many don’t know a lot about.

Andrew Mansfield is general manager of the beloved and 112-years-young Northcote Theatre – grand in scale and dripping with charm and ornateness – in Melbourne’s inner north. For Mansfield, ascertaining balance is the key to longevity and endurance in hospitality management.

A veteran in hospitality and operational management, Mansfield entered the industry via working in security for large-scale concerts and events, and says his career trajectory has been marked by “non-traditional business education”. 

His duties and responsibilities as general manager and co-owner of the heritage-listed Northcote Theatre – that welcomed a reopening in July 2022 – are a fusion of many years in operational, hospitality and live-music management. Mansfield is also the former managing director of another treasured High Street dwelling, Northcote Social Club.

A melting pot of creativity, socialising and culture 

Mansfield and various departments such as booking, marketing, ticketing, production and security, work tirelessly to deliver memorable and safe experiences for staff and patrons.

The general manager relishes the cyclical nature of the theatre’s purpose – it was always intended to function as a hub for socialising and creativity. 

Melbourne’s inner-northern suburbs play host to many vibrant and unmissable social and cultural events, yet the certainty of seeing fantastic local, domestic or international artists on any night of the week is a true gift – one that Mansfield is elated to play a part in providing. 

Although he admits that managing the Northcote Theatre is perhaps not as glitzy or “glamorous” as some may perceive – rarely getting to sneak a peek at shows like recent headliners Kevin Morby, Alvvays and Allah-Las– he adores absorbing the intersection of music, art and culture in a historically rich building.

Facility Management: Tell us about your career background and trajectory and explain what led you to be the general manager of the Northcote Theatre? 

Andrew Mansfield: I started in the hospitality industry back in the late 1990s, and initially came into venue and operation management through the security field. I was involved in many large-scale concert events for a security company and then managed security in smaller venues. I eventually settled with a hospitality group and worked exclusively for them. 

Over time, I learned more about bar operations and graduated into bar and venue management. My partner and I bought an ownership stake in a venue and I oversaw operations as the managing partner. 

For me, my career has been a route of non-traditional business education. I don’t have a tertiary business qualification or formal event management schooling. I have undertaken educational upskilling in areas I felt deficient in, such as accounting and completing my Certificate III in Commercial Cookery and Certificate IV in Training and Assessment. My role at the theatre as general manager and one of the owners leverages my operational and live music experience.

What does your average day look like?

A non-show day is typically a nine-to-five stint and involves email correspondence, fielding show enquiries, rostering, maintenance, reporting, meeting with our venue managers to discuss stock levels and working on future show revenue modelling. 

I also meet with key stock suppliers and promoters, strategise logistics for upcoming shows across all departments and review ticketing data. There are weekly staff and production meetings and the occasional liaison with local councils or other regulatory bodies.        

Show days tend to be much busier depending on the nature of the show’s set-build, yet still very structured. I do a walk-through of the venue on a show day morning before the crew and band arrive. The music manager and production staff will have advanced the show with the promoter, and the discussions regarding show logistics in our weekly production meetings hopefully iron out any issues or complications that may occur. 

Kevin Morby performing at the theatre in October last year, photography by Julia Enter

I go into a show day with a clear understanding of timings, production and build requirements, staffing, stock changes and security needs. I manage these elements as they play out and ensure staff who hold specific responsibilities in these areas feel confident and prepared. 

After the show is built and we’ve completed the sound-check, we might have VIP’s or meet-and-greets to facilitate before general entry. The style of show, patron demographic and proceedings for the next day, determine how late I stay at the theatre.

It’s important to see the space in full operational flow to build relationships and be available to the show staff – when the venue is under show stress, you become aware of the little things you could do better next time. 

Longevity in hospitality is very much about balance. I have a partner and kids, so if I am able to work structured business hours, it allows for maximum availability at the theatre to manage business relationships, alongside being present at home. 

I have definitely done my time burning the candle at both ends with early starts and late finishes, and it still happens if the need arises, but I try to be realistic and manage my time effectively.

What are your responsibilities and who are your stakeholders?

My key responsibilities are to oversee ongoing operations and day-to-day business and compliance requirements. My primary stakeholders include my business partners – who also have extensive hospitality experience – and our hirers, as we must ensure that we meet the expectations of the clients that hire our venue. 

Additionally, I aim to fulfil the expectations of patrons, and deliver an experience that meets their visions regarding sound, lighting, safety, accessibility and service. I am also accountable to the local council, Victoria Police, Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission (VGCCC), the Victorian government, Music Victoria, Northcote Business Association and contractual partners. 

What other departments at the theatre do you work with?

Outside of general operations with our venue manager, I work regularly with booking, music and events, marketing and promotion, ticketing, production and security. 

Are there any misconceptions about venue and operation management you’d like to address? What do you think people envision when you say you’re the general manager of the Northcote Theatre?

I’m not sure people have misconceptions per se, but I do suspect people think it’s a more glamorous job than it is.

I often get asked what my favourite artists or shows have been, however, I don’t really see shows – I see logistics exercises to solve. That said, it is an exciting and dynamic workplace, and it does revolve around live music, which makes it a lot of fun. 

What do you think the Northcote Theatre, and others like it, give back to Melbourne, particularly the music scene of the inner northern suburbs?

Running live music venues is rarely the most financially rewarding way to use a large licensed space. 

We, at the theatre, love and support live music, and have heavily invested in providing a space for it to exist, and flourish. For artists to grow, live music demands spaces and venues that cater to all capacity levels. 

We sit amongst other great rooms in Northcote, which means our local area offers music at all levels of development. I’m glad that the Northcote Theatre – a building that was envisaged over a 100 years ago as a place for public gathering – is back doing what it was made for.

What are some highlights of working at the theatre?

We began the process here during COVID lockdowns, so getting the place renovated and open was an achievement. 

I’m proud we’ve built a venue that has worked with Australia’s best live music touring festivals and promoters, in addition to international artists, and their crews and management. 

Another major highlight is that there’s always new art, new audiences, and new things to learn. 

What are the biggest challenges and obstacles of your role as general manager? The theatre is a heritage-listed site featuring awe-inspiring architecture, however, are there difficulties when conducting standard maintenance tasks and also needing to preserve historical richness and authenticity?

Expenses are the biggest challenge. 

The costs of running large-scale venue operations is exorbitant – alcohol excise increases, insurance premiums, licensing costs, infrastructure costs and accurately gauging labour needs and cost are all major obstacles to work with.

These costs to businesses are increasing at a rate that far outstrips the ability to sell them to consumers via pricing, particularly in tough economic times when people are being careful about their discretionary spending.

Old buildings require a lot of upkeep and events can be hard and taxing on spaces, so there’s always things that cost money in the realm of general repairs and maintenance.

What do you love the most about your job?

The variety. Every week can vary wildly in terms of patron demographics, genres of music and logistics. It keeps you on your toes – being surrounded by music, art and culture forces you to stay alert and experience new things.

Arts spaces often witness, or facilitate, changes in societal thinking and prevailing morals and values, so being around that is engaging and I think it keeps my brain young.

Photography supplied by Northcote Theatre unless otherwise stated.

Thuch Ajak manages a home of hope for the Dandenong community.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More