Friday, February 28, 2014

In Battalions in the House of Lords

In an interesting post-script to my recent series of blog articles summarising the speakers at my In Battalions Delphi study launch in Parliament, I have just been alerted to a subsequent (quite lengthy) mention of the report, and the event, in the House of Lords earlier this month. 

On 12 Feb Lord Mawson instigated a debate in the House of Lords on the current challenges faces UK Arts and Cultural Organisations. The Earl of Clancarty, who attended the In Battalions launch, made a thoughtful contribution in which he made significant reference to both the report and the speakers we presented at the launch, as well as drawing a few conclusions of his own. 

You can read it in context on Hansard here, but I reproduce the Earl's speech here, as it works as a standalone piece in its own right.

Thank you, the Earl of Clancarty. It's terrific to see this issue being taken seriously and given such thoughtful consideration in the Upper House.

Thank you too to my excellent speakers, who clearly made a strong case and gave the Earl some tangible examples, and food for thought.


 
The Earl of Clancarty: 

My Lords, at the latest Performers’ Alliance All-Party Parliamentary Group meeting last month, we heard a presentation of the second Delphi study, In Battalions, by Fin Kennedy and Helen Campbell Pickford. I came away from that presentation with three concerns in particular. The first is the key question they identified from discussion with those working in theatre: in what ways can theatre-makers, theatres and the Arts Council work together to help to protect risk-taking on new work and new talent, without creating significant expense?

The second concern which became clear was that the arts organisation most at risk is the organisation of one, the playwright, the individual artist who, if not wholly, certainly significantly provides the raison d’ĂȘtre for the existence of the larger arts organisations, the theatres and companies which facilitate new work. That is after acknowledging that there is much collaborative work within the theatre, as within the arts as a whole. If that crucial individual risk-taking and experimentation is not nurtured, the arts will not progress but stagnate.


At the same event, we heard presentations from Giles Croft, artistic director of the Nottingham Playhouse, and from Elizabeth Newman, associate director of the Bolton Octagon. The message that rang out loud and clear was how increasingly difficult and time-consuming it is to try to balance the books and bring through new work, rather than rely on tried and tested productions.


My third concern is that it is entirely clear to those working in the arts, if not to the Government, that there is no substitute for public funding. Nothing really replaces what it achieves. Arts organisations are being told to “adapt”, a euphemism for becoming more commercial so that they may survive, but that change means that the very thing that made them worth while in the first place is in danger of being lost. This potential loss of risk-taking, entirely due to a lack of funding, becomes a more critical problem the further away we go from London.


In the year since the regional debate on the arts introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, much has already changed. We have had the report Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital, mentioned by noble Baroness, Lady Kidron,showing that public spending on the arts is now 15 times greater in London than in the regions. Indeed, the Nottingham Playhouse, which is facing a possible 100% cut in grant from the local council, is located in the East Midlands region, which this report identifies as being the most affected. The devastating Local Government Association report of 2012 is now joined by last year’s equally devastating Joseph Rowntree Foundation study, which predicts that arts and cultural funding by local councils may fall within a few years to almost nothing, and in December we had further local authority funding cuts.


In the short term, I am pessimistic about the discrepancy of funding between London and the regions. The discrepancy is increasing mainly because public funding is being cut—local authority funding, of course, but also the decreased reserves of core funding that will inevitably be hoovered up by London and the bigger institutions. Things will not change substantially until two things happen: first, the funding cuts are reversed and, secondly, the regions and the regional cities obtain greater autonomy, because arts and culture will follow political power. In this sense, of course, the arts are in the same boat as every other area of government subsidy. The regions need to be making their own funding decisions for their own arts production as well as services, and they need to have the money to do so. In addition, a future Government must bring in statutory provision for the arts.


We have a Government who are interested in the arts and creative industries as an export product and for tourism, but are less interested in how the arts are nurtured and produced. I ask the Minister whether the DCMS could take a careful look at the composition of the Creative Industries Council, which helps to formulate policy and which has both a strong global and London-centric feel. It looks outwards but it does not back inwards towards arts production across the whole of the UK. There is no sense of that geography, and that is important.


My other question for the Minister is the same one that I posed to the noble Lord, Lord Nash, at Question Time today. How important do the Government think arts education in schools is as a pipeline into the creative industries, which we hear are now worth £8 million an hour to the UK economy? If the Government think that it is important then the DCMS should be concerned at the continuing fall in the take-up of art and design subjects in schools, as well as the threat that exists to arts higher education.



The In Battalions Delphi study contains 36 innovative proposals on ways to protect risk-taking on new work for the stage, despite austerity.


Friday, February 21, 2014

In Battalions Delphi study - Parliamentary launch (5)

Three weeks ago, on 29 January 2014, Helen Campbell Pickford and I launched our In Battalions Delphi study in the House of Commons, at the invitation of Kerry McCarthy MP, chair of the Performers' Alliance All-Party Parliamentary Group. It was a well-attended event with MPs, peers and representatives from across the British theatre industry.

There were several speakers on the day and, in a series of blog posts since, I have been capturing and publishing the text of their speeches here. Today is the turn of three different contributors from the floor. After all the various panel speakers, there was too little time to have a proper debate, so afterwards I sent out an email asking if anyone would like to say anything on my blog which they didn't get to on the day. Below are three replies I received.


Previous speakers featured in this series are:


Me 
Dennis Kelly, playwright 
Neil Darlison, director of Theatre at Arts Council England  
Giles Croft of Nottingham Playhouse
Elizabeth Newman, Associate Director of Bolton Octagon

Speakers from the floor


Tassos Stevens, Coney:

"I’m from Coney, which makes all kinds of play in all kinds of ways, theatre in the broadest sense of the word where the audience is present with scope to play. I am here to support the need for new work and considered risk-taking as part of a thriving theatrical landscape, and to champion the value of space and support for what might grow into the successes of the future: whether that’s made by a writer’s singular vision, actors running around with cardboard boxes, or in Coney’s case, some early crazy experiments with telecommunications and theatres. We’re all playwrights, for a wright is a maker by any means necessary. And I repudiate any division between those who help make theatre happen, including ‘the administrators’, without whom fall away the structures we need for great theatre to grow and happen with an audience. We’re all in this together, and that’s why I’m here."



Sudha Bhuchar, Tamasha:

"It was great so see evidenced what we all know through our experiences: subsidy is essential so artists and theatre companies can take risks! Tamasha's East is East and our musical Fourteen Songs, Two Weddings and a Funeral both started life as huge shows with big casts, bursting out of tiny studios. Both went on to have various remounts on the middle scale with East is East the film being named as the point of cross-over of British Asian culture into the mainstream. My children's play Child of the Divide about the experiences of children during the partition of India would be deemed too risky in the current climate and would never get commissioned. It is now on a recommended reading list for A-level and AS level English literature. All this work could not have happened without proper subsidy. Cuts are endangering diverse voices from coming to the fore. Even proven classics and revivals from BME artists are harder to realise. It is essential that work from Britain's multicultural communities comes to the fore to truly reflect our changing society."


Jack Bradley, Sonia Friedman Productions:

"I did not get to say the West End cares. I commissioned Chimerica for the National Theatre Studio. Ben Power and Headlong took it on and Sonia Friedman Productions brought it in to shore. That's what I want. To change Shaftesbury Avenue. I wanted to say in this centenary year a hundred years ago a generation of playwrights died. So theatre invented revivals, a form previously not explored. It dominated the last century. This century should have no time for it. We must make anew. Cuts will endanger that. The West End will be the poorer."



The In Battalions Delphi study contains 36 innovative proposals on ways to protect risk-taking on new work for the stage, despite austerity.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

In Battalions Delphi study - Parliamentary launch (4)

Three weeks ago, on 29 January 2014, Helen Campbell Pickford and I launched our In Battalions Delphi study in the House of Commons, at the invitation of Kerry McCarthy MP, chair of the Performers' Alliance All-Party Parliamentary Group. It was a well-attended event with MPs, peers and representatives from across the British theatre industry.

There were several speakers on the day and, in a series of blog posts since, I have been capturing and publishing the text of their speeches here. Today is the turn of Elizabeth Newman, Associate Director of Bolton Octagon.

Previous speakers include me, playwright Dennis Kelly, director of Theatre at Arts Council England
Neil Darlison and Giles Croft of Nottingham Playhouse.


Elizabeth Newman:


I set up Bolton Octagon’s new writing department nearly 5 years ago. In our first year we supported just over 100 playwrights. Last year - our fourth year - we supported 643 playwrights through various programmes, schemes, workshops and commissions.

My mission in 2009: to create a home for writers. At the Octagon we now describe ourselves as a ‘writers’ theatre’. David Thacker and I direct the majority of the plays you will see on the Octagon stage. We see ourselves as midwives when making theatre. We see our role as delivering the writer’s baby. It doesn’t belong to us, we’re the guardian trying to ensure the writer’s child takes its first breath (or second!) and continues to thrive - making an impact on the world.

However, our work developing writers will shortly become less and less noticeable to our audience in the work we share with them in our main auditorium. Let me explain why.

In our main auditorium 2012/13 financial year the Octagon produced four new works: three new plays, one adaptation. Supporting writers at varying stages of their career. All four productions were home grown. From experience we have seen our home grown new plays do substantially better financially than co-productions or incoming work.

In our main auditorium, this financial year 2013/14, the Octagon produced or will produce two new works: one new play, one adaptation. One was home grown, the other a co-production.

We are currently developing next season. In 2014/15 it looks like - at the moment - there will be no new play. And only one adaptation.

As you can see the fall is quick and great. And bizarrely it’s a false economy in the long term. Let me explain.

I’d like to use a case study, And Did Those Feet by Les Smith and Martin Thomasson. A new play that first appeared at the Octagon in 2007. It played to 6,010 people - in monetary terms £69,710. The pre-sales weren’t great. But it opened, word of mouth spread and reviews proclaimed that it was a great new play about Bolton and our important northern town’s culture. We revived it again in 2010 - a mere three years later - 8,188 attenders, monetary terms £94,632. Case in point that the Octagon needs to be developing its home grown cannon of new plays by our local writers. A further £25,000 earned and over a third more attenders.

As we stand this year, as David the Theatre’s artistic director and I sit in front of a white board with Roddy Gauld, our Chief Executive, looking at ideas, I can only imagine the conversations we’d be having if And Did Those Feet was on the white board to premiere this year. Would we be too worried to programme it? Would we be too scared to take a punt? Maybe. And we would have been wrong - paralyzed by fear and the responsibility of being asked to make even more revenue through productions due to slight decreases in funding across the board. Please don’t get me wrong the Octagon is luckier than a lot of theatres, like Giles [Croft] at Nottingham, as we have such a supportive council. But that doesn’t stop the pressure or the fear of taking a risk. David and I are being asked to make a surplus of over £200,000 on productions alone.  And for the Octagon - our size - it’s a lot of money to make when you look at our annual accounts. Over the last three years or so we’ve managed to make surpluses near that on productions but now we’re being asked to make even more.


And Did Those Feet
will continue to make the Octagon Theatre Bolton revenue for many years to come and more than that, which brings me to my main point: it is a play that validates the lives and culture of our audience. It is a play that makes the people of Bolton and its surrounding northern communities proud to be where they are from or where they call home. It also acknowledges their struggle and their fight to strive to live healthier and better lives. Isn’t that our job? To always remember Hamlet’s advice to the players? 'Both at first and now, was and is, to hold, as ‘twere a mirror up to nature...' And this must involve our reality now or the recent past for our communities, surely? And it’s not one size fits all. The ‘nature’ - to continue with Hamlet’s advice - in London is not the same as in the provinces, which is why commissions must happen outside of London.

There is no way theatres outside of London can make the same kind of money from philanthropy to support the art. And I am not including community or participation work in this, I’m only talking about philanthropy supporting the art being made in our auditoriums. And their choice is not because the quality is less. Or because we try less hard. I’d be willing to ask anyone for money and prove to them in any way they’d like me to that their donation or sponsorship is being spent wisely, well and having a great effect. But please ask yourself: how many business people want to bring their clients to Bolton to see the ‘great art’ they are sponsoring when they live in London or another city? I can honestly say not many. So please, introduce me if you know any.

Plays cost money. New plays cost more. Why? They are unknowns. We can’t work out what we can scrimp on, as there is no previous ‘form’. And often when a new play goes into rehearsals it evolves and changes and this ‘unexpected cost’ has to be budgeted for too. This, combined with things costing more and our budgets not reflecting inflation, and David and I are on a losing streak when it comes to programming a new play.

An example. A material we made a production floor out of in 2009 (which we used for 2 productions) cost £5,000. We wanted to buy another to use this year again for two productions: £6,500. A rise in 30% - fair enough. However, the production budget is nowhere near the same. I have to produce two plays on £12,500. How can I justify spending £6,500 on a floor? Impossible. The actors wouldn’t be able to wear clothes! What does this mean - no nice floor? Yes, OK. No nice floor.

Another example. We produced a new adaptation of David Copperfield in 2010. Production budget: £22,000. Some two years later for our new adaptation of Peter Pan – budget was £19,000. We’re allowed one less actor but we have more children to clothe. No flying on this budget. We couldn’t even really afford to make stairs, we had to reuse them from another show. What does that mean – no magic at Christmas?

What both of these examples demonstrate is the potential for artistic stagnation. Lowering of quality. And it’s a slippery slope. Lower the investment and eventually the audience figures will drop. And this will mean quashing of local creativity and nourishment. And also not serving the writer with an adequate expression for their wonderful play. And of course the writers themselves cost money - commissioning fees, visits, development. Far less expensive when they are no longer with us... dead. How is this being a good midwife?

Our development provision has also changed, though not all for the bad. These times of austerity have kept me up at night concocting hare-brained schemes that aren’t all foolish. The latest involves working closely with Bolton Council who are incredibly supportive of the Octagon. We’re seen as a positive evening offer - one of the few things open other than Walkabout . So I’ve just signed a contract to take over our old TK Maxx. It’s massive. They can’t get anyone to rent it for love nor money. No cost to the theatre. Tax relief for the owner. Win, win.  Over the next couple of months, this space will house companies producing new plays to tour across the north.

However, downsides - cancelling planned new writing project studio season. Stopping our script reading service. Reduction in our playwright schemes including our young playwrights scheme - supporting young people who wouldn’t usually access arts provision, especially writing. The sponsorship for this ends this year and we just don’t have the resources. Again, narrowing the new voices we’ll hear and experience on the British stage. And yes, over the last few years we have done more group writing to try and help more writers. But this can’t go on forever, and shouldn’t be the only offer. David Edgar made a very valid point in his foreword in the Delphi Study that we have to support the ‘individual voice’.

We have found innovative ways to undertake more work through our collaboration with Higher and Further Education facilities, especially the very supportive Bolton University. We have even supplemented our commissions through launching a Playwriting MA, which we run with Liverpool Everyman, the Royal Exchange and Salford University. And of course being part of schemes like the Bruntwood Hub, with many other northern theatres, which looks set to reinvigorate joint northern commissions.

BUT I keep returning to my concern about how we assess value? Our work with writers benefits our mental health programme, all our work in learning and participation and our extensive community initiatives.

With all the attacks on drama and literature in schools are we honestly saying that we don’t learn through stories? We don’t learn through sharing narrative experiences designed to stimulate our intellectual development and massage our emotions? Are we going to discard our unquestioning understanding that we learn and develop through looking at those paintings on a cave wall, which evolved into storytelling through spoken and written word as we evolved? I fear we could end up fighting to stay alive in this time of austerity and lose sight of what we’re actually fighting for.

I agree with David that the theatre community would benefit from the Arts Council making new writing a national development priority, but they have to understand this will mean a financial risk. But as I hope I have demonstrated one that will undoubtedly pay off.



The In Battalions Delphi study contains 36 innovative proposals on ways to protect risk-taking on new work for the stage, despite austerity.

Photo: Christopher Thomond


Thursday, February 13, 2014

In Battalions Delphi study - Parliamentary launch (3)

Two weeks ago, on 29 January 2014, Helen Campbell Pickford and I launched our In Battalions Delphi study in the House of Commons, at the invitation of Kerry McCarthy MP, chair of the Performers' Alliance All-Party Parliamentary Group. It was a well-attended event with MPs, peers and representatives from across the British theatre industry.

There were several speakers on the day, and in a series of blog posts over the next few days I am going to be capturing and publishing the text of their speeches here. Today is the turn of Giles Croft, artistic director of Nottingham Playhouse.

Previous speakers include me, playwright Dennis Kelly and Neil Darlison, director of Theatre at Arts Council England.
Giles Croft:
 
"In the past 10 years Nottingham Playhouse has produced more than 50 new plays on a variety of scales in a variety of locations. Of those, 27 have been produced in our 750 seat main house (this excludes 6 new versions of classic texts). 18 were Nottingham Playhouse commissions and 12 were by Nottingham writers, most of whom have little or no presence in London.

Nottingham writers commissioned and produced on the main stage include: Amanda Whittington, Stephen Lowe, William Ivory, Leah Chillery, Andy Barrett, Nick Wood, Michael Pinchbeck and Michael Eaton.

Nottingham writers commissioned and produced on the small scale tour or in the Studio include: Michelle Vacciana, Mufaro Makubika, Clare Cole, Laura Lomas.

In last year’s Rebalancing Cultural Capital report there was a section headed ‘Addressing a long-standing imbalance in Arts Council funding’, which received little attention; its contents highlight the following:

In 1982 an independent report found Arts Council expenditure in London in 1980/81 to be £3.37 per head of population (php) against £0.66 (19.6% of the London figure) in the rest of England.

A 2001 Arts Council report recorded London by then receiving £12.85 php from DCMS/Treasury sources in 1999 against the rest of England at £2.40 php (18.4% of the London figure).

In 2013 comparative figures show London receiving £19.87 php compared to £3.55 php in the rest of England (17.8% of London). If you include ACE and DCMS spending the 2013 figures then become £68.99 in London against £4.58 php (6.7% of London).

I have been asked to speak today because we are currently facing threats to our funding.

Since the last NPO round, we have already had to deal with £215,000 of cuts from a combination of local authority sources and ACE. If the current proposals from the County, City and ACE all go through, that figure will rise to £342,000. That is £127,000 worse off than we thought we were 8 weeks ago.

As a result of having make extensive cuts at short notice, for the first time in the history of the Playhouse, we have no commissioning budget.

We currently play to 65% attendance over the year, but at our most recent Board planning day we were talking about achieving levels of 70 to 75%; where is the room for risk in that?

We will not close and we will continue to produce work, though it is likely there will be less of it. What it will really mean is that new writing will be harder to deliver, there will be further centralisation (Londonisation), a loss of identity and the undermining of the regional voice. 

I’m sympathetic to the County wanting to make a reduction in our support (though 100% is too drastic and too sudden), and the City with its 5% cut is modest by comparison. I also understand that ACE needs to pass to its clients the Treasury cut that it received. But surely now it is time for ACE to look at how its funds are distributed and to fight for rebalancing the distribution of funding in order to protect our ‘national’ theatre and consequently our regional voices."

The In Battalions Delphi study contains 36 innovative proposals on ways to protect risk-taking on new work for the stage, despite austerity.

Photo: Robert Day


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

In Battalions Delphi study - Parliamentary launch (2)

Two weeks ago, on 29 January 2014, Helen Campbell Pickford and I launched our In Battalions Delphi study in the House of Commons, at the invitation of Kerry McCarthy MP, chair of the Performers' Alliance All-Party Parliamentary Group. It was a well-attended event with MPs, peers and representatives from across the British theatre industry.

There were several speakers on the day, and in a series of blog posts over the next few days I am going to be capturing and publishing the text of their speeches here. Today is the turn of Neil Darlison, director of Theatre at Arts Council England.

You can read my own speech here, and a transcript of playwright Dennis Kelly's here.



Neil Darlison:

"I am Neil Darlison – Director of Theatre at Arts Council England. I’ll be brief.

I’d like to thank Helen and Fin for their hard work in compiling this report – and to all of those who contributed to it.

It’s great to see such a wide range people contributing to the study and to the thinking - I have enjoyed reading and sharing its recommendations.

The study has uncovered a number of innovative and insightful proposals and it is clear from the report that these have been debated with passion and enthusiasm.

Some of the recommendations are headlines for further thinking – others more concrete – and some are beginning to happen already. Whichever - each is worthy of further consideration and I look forward to doing that in time with the theatre sector.

The report also demonstrates that working collaboratively can aid us all in finding new solutions and new ways of working - and we at the Arts Council England will continue to work ever closer with theatre makers to find the most effective ways to support the development of talent and new work to ensure our theatres maintain their world class reputation.

Not only that, as a smaller organisation with fewer resources, it is now more important than ever that the Arts Council works with artists and arts organisations, and shares some of the responsibility for thinking about the challenges and opportunities ahead – and indeed sharing the response to those challenges. This report is a tangible manifestation of the first part of this.

The Arts Council is the champion of art and culture all over the country, so we must focus on the different ways we can use our funds intelligently to benefit a range of artists and audiences: national or local, rural or urban, large and small.

We have started an investment process for the next three years which takes account of this complexity and England’s complex and interdependent arts infrastructure. Everyone here knows how important it is to invest in talent and to create an environment where there is the financial head- room to take risk - whatever industry you are in – and that is why our funds support a crucial part of our countries theatre ecology and is why our theatre is recognised as some of the finest in the world.

All those involved in this report take a central role in supporting the delicate artistic ecology of the theatre sector and are instrumental in ensuring our theatre industry, our film, our radio and television drama – all of which contribute to the international reputation of our creative industries.

Again I would like to thank Fin and Helen and all those contributors again and we look forward to the on-going conversation." 

The In Battalions Delphi study contains 36 innovative proposals on ways to protect risk-taking on new work for the stage, despite austerity.

Photo: Anne Hogben, Writers' Guild.



Tuesday, February 11, 2014

In Battalions Delphi study - Parliamentary launch (1)

Two weeks ago, on 29 January 2014, Helen Campbell Pickford and I launched our In Battalions Delphi study in the House of Commons, at the invitation of Kerry McCarthy MP, chair of the Performers' Alliance All-Party Parliamentary Group. It was a well-attended event with MPs, peers and representatives from across the British theatre industry.

There were several speakers on the day, and in a series of blog posts over the next few days I am going to be capturing and publishing the text of their speeches here. One of them, by the playwright Dennis Kelly, has already featured in yesterday's Guardian blog.

Today's speech below is a short introductory speech by me, from the start of the launch. Coming up are: Elizabeth Newman from Bolton Octagon, Giles Croft from Nottingham Playhouse, Neil Darlison from the Arts Council, a precis of a longer talk by academic Taryn Storey, my co-author Helen Campbell Pickford and various contributions from the floor.

The report itself is available for free download here.


Fin Kennedy:


"Thank you all for coming. I'm not going to say much other than a brief bit of background - and a small plea.

First the background.

The study we are launching today is the second of two reports. The first, In Battalions, came out of a conversation with Culture Minister Ed Vaizey at the Performers' Alliance Reception in December 2012. Mr Vaizey said to me that Government cuts to the Arts Council were having "no effect" on the development of new play and playwrights. I set out to investigate, and ably assisted by my co-author Helen Campbell Pickford, we found that on the contrary, theatres up and down the country were cancelling new plays, commissioning fewer new writers, and curtailing a whole host of research and development such as script reading services, education schemes, writers' attachment programmes and free workshops to find new talent.  A climate of fear around risk-taking on new work was taking hold in the theatre.

The widespread dissemination of that first report - with 24,000 downloads, broadsheet news coverage and questions tabled in the Commons - was a genuine surprise. Even more so was Mr Vaizey's acknowledgement last month (after a frustrating exchange of letters throughout 2013) that In Battalions had in fact been an influence on the Chancellor's decision to announce a consultation on tax breaks for new plays and regional touring. This is to be welcomed - though it is by no means a solution to the problem.

Nor, I should say, are any of the ideas contained in the follow-up study which we are here to launch today. The In Battalions Delphi study is an attempt to capitalise on the extraordinary and unexpected reach of its predecessor, and to canvas the theatre industry for some solutions to the problems uncovered by the initial report. It certainly contains a wealth of innovative ideas which I hope will be of interest to policy-makers from across the political spectrum. But make no mistake, the single biggest factor in the ongoing success of new British theatre is without question sustained Government investment. As we will hear from my colleague Taryn Storey in a few moments, there is strong historical evidence for this from 1940 onwards and - I hope - some lessons to be learned from the past.

That said, times of upheaval are always a good opportunity to examine how we have been doing things, with a view to finding better ways. I hope those of you who have generously made the time to be with us today will assist in the dissemination of this study so that the many good ideas contained within it can continue to have the same ripple effect as the previous study, and hopefully find some allies up and down the country to take them forward.

And finally a plea.

We will hear a lot about risk today, and ways to protect taking risks in the development of new work for the stage. But there is a flip side to risk which we hear about less often, and that is Reward. Unlike most art forms, theatre and theatre artists touch almost every area of national life: from the economy and tourism, to education and health, to prisons, social services, regeneration, community relations, and the UK's standing on the international stage. We are the best in the world at theatre - bar none. For us, all the world really is a stage. And of all the art forms, theatre is the one which is most profoundly about how we live, how we ought to live - and what it means to live. A collective space where we can come together to consider such things is at the heart of a civilised society.
My plea is about how we measure that value. Profit, loss and the movement of money are one small part. Yes, they are important. But not to the exclusion of all else. Imagine if there was a currency to measure a child's self-confidence, or a society's level of tolerance, a convict's understanding of their actions, a youth theatre's love of metaphor, or a community's understanding of itself. What would theatre's balance sheet look like then?

Some forms of value can't be captured in a paper report. But I hope the Delphi study we are launching today is one small step towards making the case for the depth and breadth of the value British theatre generates for the nation.

Thank you for being part it."

The In Battalions Delphi study contains 36 innovative proposals on ways to protect risk-taking on new work for the stage, despite austerity.

Photo: Anne Hogben, Writers' Guild.

Monday, January 20, 2014

In Battalions Delphi study: a press release



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, 20 January 2014

'In Battalions' report authors secure Parliamentary launch for Delphi study follow up

Performers' Alliance All-Party Parliamentary Group to host launch of expert consultation on ways to protect risk-taking on 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, will be published next week, and 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 theatremakers 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, which will be available for free download online, 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”.

Ends.

Notes for Editors

A limited number of press places are available for the Parliamentary launch, which takes place in the Jubilee Room of the House of Commons on 29 January 3.30-5pm. Advance copies of the Delphi study are also available. Please email finkennedy@gmail.com   

A Delphi study collates a range of proposals in response to a research question. It then uses a voting system to draw up a shortlist of recommendations which can be sent to funders and policy-makers. It was last used by IPSOS Mori for an Arts Council study on Libraries in 2012.

The In Battalions Delphi study research question was:

“In what ways can theatre-makers, theatres and the Arts Council work together to help protect risk-taking on new work and new talent, without creating significant extra expense?”

The original In Battalions report was launched at the Independent Theatre Council AGM at Soho Theatre on Friday 22 February 2013. The full report can be downloaded from: bit.ly/12WleC5

Fin Kennedy is an award-winning playwright and Co-Artistic Director of Tamasha. More information at www.finkennedy.co.uk

Helen Campbell Pickford is a doctoral student at St Antony’s College, Oxford, researching the use of theatre by NGOs to engage with communities in developing countries. 

Both authors gave their time to research and write the Delphi study unpaid.

The Performers' Alliance All-Party Parliamentary Group is a cross-party group supported by Equity, The Writers' Guild of Great Britain and the Musicians' Union. 

For interviews, photos or further information:

Fin Kennedy - finkennedy@gmail.com
Helen Campbell Pickford - helen.campbellpickford@sant.ox.ac.uk