The Performers’ Alliance All-Party Parliamentary Group today hosts the launch of expert consultation on ways to protect risk-taking for new work in British Theatre.
The authors of the influential In Battalions report, examining how Government cuts to the Arts Council are affecting new play development in England, have secured a launch event in the Houses of Parliament for their follow-up study, on ways to protect risk-taking on new work for the stage, despite austerity.
The original In Battalions report was published in February 2013 after one its authors, playwright Fin Kennedy, had a chance encounter with UK Culture Minister Ed Vaizey in which Mr Vaizey said that Arts Council cuts were having “no effect”. Kennedy’s response, a research-led report co-authored with Oxford University doctoral student Helen Campbell Pickford, found theatres across the country cancelling new plays, commissioning fewer writers, and curtailing a whole host of creative research and development such as young writers’ groups and education work. It has been downloaded over 24,000 times and had questions tabled in Parliament.
Their follow-up Delphi study, a form of expert consultation, can now be downloaded for free, and will be launched at a meeting in the House of Commons of the Performers’ Alliance All-Party Parliamentary Group on 29 January, sponsored by the Group’s chair Kerry McCarthy MP. The event will be attended by around 70 theatre-makers and politicians, including playwrights David Edgar and Dennis Kelly, artistic directors Giles Croft, Kerry Michael and Ramin Gray, the Principal of RADA Edward Kemp, Ben Bradshaw MP – a member of the Culture Select Committee – and Shadow Culture Minister Helen Goodman MP.
The invitation to launch the study in Parliament comes after Culture Minister Ed Vaizey acknowledged in a speech last month that the first report had been an influence on the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement. It contained a pledge to hold a consultation on a tax breaks for new plays and regional touring.
The In Battalions Delphi study aims to capitalise on the attention and debate generated by its predecessor, in an attempt to find some innovative ideas to protect new theatre writing from the effects of Government cuts.
The new report features contributions from over 70 British theatre professionals including playwrights Roy Williams and James Graham, directors David Jubb, Rod Dixon and Steven Atkinson, and literary managers and other staff from theatres in Leeds, Newcastle, Liverpool and London.
There are 36 proposals in the report. They include such measures as ring-fencing Lottery money to support community residencies by theatre artists; theatres working with drama schools to jointly commission new plays; refreshing the set play texts on the National Curriculum to reflect more recent output; and local councils commissioning site-specific work to regenerate run-down areas. A voting system has allowed the proposals to be ranked in order of popularity, and includes arguments for and against each, all sourced from experienced theatre professionals.
Fin Kennedy said: “This Delphi study is about finding solutions to the problems uncovered by the original In Battalions report. New theatre writing is one of our country’s greatest success stories, internationally recognised and a huge driver for growth at home. It would be a tragedy if that success were allowed to wither on the vine due to the short-term effects of austerity. Our report aims to carve out some ‘blue skies’ space to find ways to prevent that. It isn’t a silver bullet, and the greatest contributory factor to theatre’s success remains sustained Government investment. But given that our previous report appears to have been heeded by the Chancellor I hope this follow-up will give policy-makers some more new ideas to take forward, as each party gears up for the 2015 election. The British culture industry is looking forward to seeing the approach each party takes to this issue in their manifestos.”
Kerry McCarthy MP said: “This report could hardly have come at a more critical time. As the Arts Council is implementing further cuts to national portfolio organisations for the next funding round 2015-18 and local councils – which are in a dire financial situation – are in the process of agreeing further serious reductions to their budgets. This has, for example, resulted in the proposed withdrawal by Nottinghamshire County Council of 100% of its funding to the Nottingham Playhouse. These findings will be of interest to everyone who cares about the future of regional theatre and the role of the subsidised sector in nurturing the skills and talent, as well as future hits, of commercial theatre, TV, film and radio.”