Theatre accounting trailblazer Anna Ganjolla holds the stage

Anna Ganjolla, director – theatre practice at Moore Kingston Smith, tells Zoya Malik how her AAT qualifications have contributed to her career path and led her into a niche-yet-critical field of accounting within an arts sector that has suffered major setbacks globally under the pandemic

Zoya Malik: What interested you in embarking on a career in accounting?

Anna Ganjolla: From a young age I enjoyed logic puzzles and games, and excelled in mathematics.

Keen to pursue a career that met with my interests and skills and involved engaging with people on a personal level, I approached a college enquiring about courses my strengths would play to and they recommended AAT. I have never looked back!

Anna Ganjolla, director – theatre practice, Moore Kingston Smith

ZM: How has your AAT training helped guide your career path?

AG: It was the perfect starting point for my career, opening my eyes to the extent of the accountancy profession while providing the foundation of my core knowledge, enabling me to become the accountant that I am today.

ZM: What are the immediate needs of accountants in the theatre industry?

AG: Currently, there’s no ‘off the shelf’ technology available that can accommodate reporting requirements, meaning accountants must work hard to create systems that combine client requirements with accounting needs.

Theatre accounting is specific, requiring industry knowledge on a very practical level. There aren’t many resources out there specific to theatre accounting; most professionals learn on the job.

While not a bad thing, it’s a challenge for new starters and introducing industry-specific courses or apprenticeships would be beneficial.

ZM: What new guidance, subsidies or other support is the UK government offering the theatre sector?

AG: In the Autumn Budget 2021, the chancellor announced a temporary increase in the rate of Theatre Tax Relief. This relief is an incredibly important part of the funding mix for productions, allowing producers to recover a cash payment related to the cost of bringing a show to the stage.

The main rate has increased from 20% to 45% – a massive boost. There are some who will miss out – if you had taken the decision before budget day to proceed with a show, even if it is not to open until 2022, you don’t qualify for the higher rate.

It’s disappointing that the measures do not support all producers equally.

ZM: Are any other countries leading in terms of providing investment and support to the industry through the pandemic?

AG: The US has really committed to the sector, providing more support to the industry in the grants given, some reaching £10m ($13.4m) per theatre business – a huge amount compared to the UK.

The UK industry hoped for more support around reopening costs. For context, reopening a large show in the West End could cost £1m, a massive investment at an uncertain time.

On Broadway the numbers are even larger, but support in the US is significantly higher in comparison to the UK.

ZM: How can SME theatre businesses and suppliers navigate through the pandemic? How can they manage liquidity and cost savings?

AG: Everyone needs to work together now more than ever.

Once the money starts flowing back into the theatre businesses it can’t get stuck at the top, it needs to move through the suppliers to get the industry back to where it was. It’s not just about theatres surviving – it’s all businesses and individuals involved.

ZM: How has Moore Kingston Smith assisted theatre clients over the past year? Which service lines have been most in demand?

AG: Lockdown forced our clients to rapidly shut down productions, and the short notice around eventual lifting of restrictions led to a tight turnaround for reopening once the situation improved.

Our support and insight helped our clients to make the best choices at a difficult time; some kept things ticking over on the production side, not closing completely, while others took the difficult option to shut down and start from scratch at the right time.

We have been busy with furlough claims – our theatre practice has claimed £13m alone on behalf of clients. We’re ensuring that everyone takes full advantage of the available support schemes, and we have been working really hard to maximise the Theatre Tax Credit claims on qualifying expenditure.

Many clients have losses this year, so we’re carrying those losses back and using them against past profits. Some clients have used the down time as an opportunity to revisit internal systems and processes, inviting us to collaborate and share our expertise.

ZM: How well is the sector equipped to offer good clean data and analytics on business activities? What more tech investment is needed to grow the industry?

AG: As with most industries, the pandemic has acted as a catalyst for digitisation, and we’re seeing transformation in data and record storage.

To stay ahead, the industry will need to catch up, but it’s certainly on the right path to improving in this area.

ZM: What are the prospects for new accounting entrants wanting to practice within the theatre and arts sector?

AG: We know very well that this industry is niche. Knowledge and connections can be gained through internships and placements. Entrants will need to invest their time into theatre accounting as it’s very different to other sectors.

With the current climate, it is difficult to find production accountants at any level, and there is always demand for those willing to roll up their sleeves and hit the ground running.

ZM: What are the prospects for women to take up leadership positions in the theatre sector? Are there sufficient opportunities?

AG: There are more opportunities for women now than ever before, with plenty of room for women in leadership roles.

When I first started over 15 years ago, similarly to most sectors it was male dominated, but attitudes have and are changing for the better. This also applies to inclusion; the theatre industry understands the benefits of a diverse workforce and is making conscious moves to welcome people from all backgrounds.

ZM: How do you feel you can make a difference in the theatre sector? 

AG: As market leaders, we engage with our clients, becoming familiar with the entirety of their organisations to give us a holistic understanding of their businesses.

We become their business partner – an extension of their team. We support and empower individuals on every level, providing technical and practical expertise, interpreting the data, identifying trends and areas of risk to proactively make recommendations for commercial success.

This is a beneficial way to work as both sides can get stuck into what they love, and the result makes all the difference.

ZM: In terms of running a business, is the theatre industry any different from other industry sectors, and why?

AG: The theatre industry is unique, with its own structure and drive, with goals unlike any other sector. It’s full of very driven, creative individuals with a shared goal to deliver an unforgettable audience experience.

The people in this industry have more passion than I can describe. It’s an extremely challenging space, but equally rewarding and satisfying. I’m very proud to be a part of it, loving every minute, especially the client relationships and interactions.

ZM: What new initiatives do Moore Kingston Smith have planned for 2022?

AG: 2022 is an exciting time set to bring a wealth of opportunity for the sector and Moore Kingston Smith.

The pandemic gave us a chance to restructure and streamline our processes while upskilling and bolstering our specialist team with further industry experts, such as specialist tax partner Nick Blundell, who joined us in October 2020.

We’re looking forward to more face-to-face time with our clients, working even more closely together, providing proactive support for their needs and challenges. Digital transformation will be a key offering in 2022 for the sector as we continue to navigate the ‘new normal’.

With many referrals coming in from our international network Moore Global, we are excited to collaborate with our New York team dealing with Broadway shows and transfers.