10 May 2011
Dear EMTAC members,
Now that the dust has settled following the Arts Council of England’s National Portfolio decisions I am writing to you with my Theatre Writing Partnership hat on to offer our views on the issues faced by theatre writers and theatre makers in the East Midlands region.
I am aware of the debate at the last EMTAC meeting although I wasn’t present. This letter is not directly related to that specific discussion but is informed by our experience at TWP of negotiating with the Arts Council and with our theatre partners over the last two years. This letter is not the start of a campaign to reinstate funding to TWP but an appeal to you to be vocal about the need to address the gap in provision which will exist in the East Midlands from next year onwards. The loss of funding to TWP raises the question of how theatre writers and independent theatre makers can be supported in future. We have asked the Arts Council whether there is a strategy to support new work for theatre and we have not yet received an answer to this question. Even though ACE commissioned the Writ Large report in 2009 (assessing the impact of its investment in new writing for theatre from 2003 – 2008), none of its recommendations have been formally adopted. At the moment the report is gathering dust and there are no plans to formally disseminate or implement its recommendations as far as I can tell.
There is no doubt that good intentions abound and that all the regional theatres have made reference to support for new writing and emerging artists in their portfolio bids. Arts Council England are currently negotiating the final funding agreements for the National Portfolio with successful bidders, but these discussions are not public. Good intentions may not be converted into action and the question of support for new theatre work could easily be lost among other priorities. If we do not make our voices heard and ask to be consulted, then our views will be overlooked. If responsibility for new work is to be shared between theatres and the regional literature development agency then how will this make an impact and what kind of delivery can we expect?
In my view the collective voice of theatre writers and artists is very powerful and now is the time to ask questions. By September, agreements between ACE and its portfolio clients will be signed and sealed for the next three years. Of course this is not the only question for independent theatre makers to address, but in the short term I believe it is very important not to take a softly softly approach. As well as asking bold questions, we should also encourage a coming together of theatre makers both inside and outside venues in the East Midlands to work out how best to ensure that new work continues to thrive.
In other regions there are great case studies to learn from. In the West Midlands, the Pilot platform has offered young companies and practitioners the chance to platform new ideas. Venues have started to commission new work through Pilot and it offers a genuine route for new material from idea to production. In the South West, Theatre Bristol is a body which brings together the people who make, produce and promote new work in the city. If offers networking, platforms, useful talks and events and promotes the new work happening at all venues and festivals in the city.
The question is – what do we need in the East Midlands? If we do not articulate this in a meaningful way then new work will struggle here and artists and writers will go to other parts of the country where support networks are more effective. Here at TWP we want to use our remaining resources to instigate a meaningful debate to find a way forward and we hope to bring you news of a conference/symposium event in the region before the end of 2011. In the meantime, I would stress the need for writers, emerging companies and all practitioners to be asking questions of theatres and other development bodies to ensure that support for new work does not slip off the agenda at this crucial time.
With best wishes,
(Artistic Director and CEO Theatre Writing Partnership)