Thursday, March 31, 2011

Those 100% cuts in full

So there was one important category missing from my list yesterday, which also, oddly, was missing from the original ACE spreadsheet too. And that was those theatre companies and venues whose funding has been entirely removed. Although I did include Shared Experience and Northcott Exeter, these were gleaned from press and Twitter coverage and weren't in among the other cuts figures. They probably featured in this main coverage because they were the highest profile names, or those which made the loudest immediate fuss. News of others seems to have been withheld, or at least announced last, perhaps in the hope that this might provide some sort of cover.

But I would argue that it's these smaller venues and companies that are the most worrying for playwrights. They tend to be venues in small towns, like South Hill Arts Centre in Bracknell, or The Point in Eastleigh, where there usually isn't any other cultural provision for miles around. They're also the most vulnerable to regional local authority cuts.

Venues and companies like those listed below make up a rarely visible 'roots system' in British theatre. They might not be the places that commission you directly, but they might be the place you see you first professional show as a kid, or take part in your first youth theatre (where I first tried my hand at writing.)

They also comprise a small scale touring circuit for companies like Half Moon Young People's Theatre who often commission writers at the start of their careers and who - crucially - tour high quality plays to young people around the UK, thereby recruiting the next generation of theatre audiences for us all. Half Moon themselves seem to have got away with 4.4% cut. But if the platforms in towns around the UK where they would normally perform their work are taken away, then their ability to share their work, not to mention some of their income, will inevitably contract further than that small cut suggests.

I've been quite lucky on this blog not have suffered from any trolls for a while. But with yesterday's post attracting over 1,000 hits in 24 hours, I know they might be lurking. The standard Guardian troll response to complaints like mine is 'Well, if those arts centres don't put on work which enough of their community wants to pay for in full, then why should we subsidise a minority interest?'

There are several answers to this.

The first is that these arts centres often serve communities that live nowhere near London and that aren't particularly affluent. They couldn't afford, unaided, to pay full market rates for these arts activities. The argument is often made about tax-funded arts provision 'taking money from the bus conductor's pocket to subsidise a middle class hobby'. This is a fatuous argument. Far more taxes are paid by wealthier citizens, who more often subsidise the community theatre in the bus driver's small town. He may not use it all that much, but his kids might.

The second is that these venues are often mixed art-form venues. They might run everything from youth theatres, to stand up comedy, to an art gallery, to a pensioner's sculpture class. Individually, these separate strands may not attract a majority of the community, so in the strictest sense may not be financially viable. But put together they comprise a huge hub of community arts activity, all of which will be affected if you hack away at the central grant. These communities have just as much right to creative expression and communal enjoyment of arts that engage them as citizens of the world, as their metropolitan cousins. In that sense, subsidy is redistributive.

The third is that just because you can't easily measure the wider effects of these venues on their communities doesn't mean they don't have any. That sometimes gets lost in our Whitehall-led culture of proven, measurable outcomes. I recently wrote to Croydon Council in defence of Croydon Clocktower and their proposal to withdraw its subsidy. I argued that, though I don't live in Croydon, when I go there to see a show I'll usually have a meal, a drink or two, get a taxi, maybe do a bit of shopping - none of which would enter the local economy without the chief draw of the show I was coming to see.

Then there's the local young people. I grew up in a small town and my god was it boring. It was so boring we used to vandalise things, harass passers-by and drive round town like dangerous twats. The nights I didn't do that was when I was rehearsing a show for my local youth theatre. When BAC was threatened with withdrawal of its council grant in 2007 I quoted this to the Tory-led council, arguing that if BAC closed they would spend far more on increased policing costs in their south London borough.

Then there's the elderly. Study after study shows that participation in the arts has a direct benefit on health, and can even stave off dementia.

Once, in an episode of The West Wing, that rosy fantasy about an impossibly liberal American government, I spotted a sign pinned to a filing cabinet in the background of a civil servant's office. It read: 'If you think education is expensive, you should try ignorance'. Well, in the same spirit, 'If you think regional arts centres are expensive, you should try boredom.'

Anyway, those 100% cuts in full:

Theatre Absolute
Yellow Earth
Forest Forge
Foursight (Birmingham)
Theatre is
Urban Strawberry Lunch
Breaking cycles
Moti Roti
Shared experience
Proper Job (Huddersfield)
Northumberland Theatre Company

Northcott Exeter
Greenroom Manchester
Riverside Studios
Chol Theatre (Huddersfield)
Little Angel Theatre
South Hill Park (Bracknell)
The Point (Eastleigh)
Newbury Corn Exchange
Nodren Farm (Maidenhead)

Development organisations
North West Playwrights
Theatre Writing Partnership
National Association of Writers in Education (NAWE)
National Association for Literature development (NALD)
Writers in Prisons

As ever, let me know if I've missed any.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cuts to the Arts - A List for Playwrights

Well, what an eventful morning. It feels like the whole theatre industry (not to mention the wider arts sector) has been holding its breath up to now, waiting in fear and anticipation for what this fateful day might bring, like a fucked up Christmas. Well now we finally know the exact size of the turds that Santa has left in our stockings.

It's been interesting following the live coverage on Guardian Culture, and seeing the announcements and responses as they trickle in. But, while it's been eye-opening to see what has and hasn't been prioritised across museums, dance, circus, literature and all the rest, what I've personally found difficult is getting a sense of how the theatre industry in particular has been affected, particularly what's happened to the individual companies I've either had a relationship with in the past, or who are on my radar to target with work in the near future.

Twitter alerted me to this. It's a spreadsheet of all the changes broken down into financial years, with further columns showing cash and real terms increases and decreases.

Again, interesting, and I did find out about the companies I wanted to know about. But bloody hell, it was a bit of a chore to wade through.

What I found myself doing was cutting and pasting all the theatre results into a separate document for ease of viewing, and to compare and contrast a bit. As a way of grouping them together, I arranged them all into Small Cuts, Big Cuts, Small Increases, Big Increases and New Clients.

Then, as I couldn't find this information in quite this form anywhere else (though I'm sure Lyn Gardner or someone will do it eventually) I thought I'd publish it on here.

Regular readers will know that I'm a big advocate of playwrights being a bit more proactive in approaching companies, brokering co-productions, pitching project ideas, applying for funds and generally freeing themselves up from the passive commissioning model and over-reliance on the Big Six new writing venues in London. Experience has shown me that unless you make it into the upper echelons of this profession you simply can't rely on those big companies as a way of making your living. This is compounded by the fact that a decade of (what looking back at least) seems to be half decent funding, has created many more playwrights who have undergone some kind of training than there are slots available to produce them. The more we can manipulate the circumstances for us to be able to do our thing, the more likely we are to be able to sustain a career without having to wait tables.

So, what follows below is a list of all the theatre companies listed in the ACE spreadsheet, grouped into the categories described above.

It does make for quite interesting reading. The most common figure seems to be an 11% cut. (All percentages quoted are from the column taking inflation into account over the next four years.) But this cut seems to have been mostly applied to medium scale companies like Tamasha, Kneehigh, Tricycle and Headlong. The bigger boys (National, RSC) seem to have taken a slightly bigger hit at 15%. Then there are some glaring slashes like the Almeida's brutal 39% or Out of Joint's crippling 27.9%.

Smaller increases seem to be less common, with a handful like the Young Vic, Live and Northern Stage getting single figure uplifts. But there are a surprising amount of very large increases, hugely elevating a whole raft of small to medium sized companies, and with a notable emphasis on the regions; Roses Theatre, Fuel, Travelling Light, Theatre In The Mill and Walk The Plank. Some I haven't even heard of before.

Then there are the new clients entirely, and there are a lot - 20 by my count - and most with significant amounts of new cash, £100,000+ a year in many cases. I'd encourage you to check them out.

I publish all this really as a tool for working playwrights looking to get an overview of how the biggest shakeup to arts funding, certainly in my working life, has affected the people who employ us. It makes sense to keep abreast of these things, and to bear in mind the economic realities for these companies as you go about considering where to target your work.

That isn't for a moment to say that we should no longer send plays to companies who have suffered - if anything it's important that we now rally round those venues like Soho who are a crucial part of the new writing landscape, and whose 17.6% cut is really going to hurt. If there is any chance of negotiating these decisions, then now is the time for those writers among us who have benefitted from those venues, particularly writers with any sort of profile, to step to their defence.

But in a spirit of pragmatism (and God knows I've had to develop a sense of that during my career) there are other opportunities for playwrights that this morning's news opens up. I really don't mean that to sound at all insensitive or exploitative of what is a horrible situation for many. In fact, this is a remarkably apolitical post for me. But you can get all that fire and brimstone elsewhere. This is about a genuine spirit of enquiry and trying to respond positively to what is a monumental rearranging of the power structures within our industry. Yes, be angry and upset. Yes, lobby your MP. And absolutely step to the defence of companies you know and love. But you can only do that fully if you're still able to make a living and don't have to worry about where the next paycheck is coming from. It's perfectly legitimate to take a moment to ask: What might Fuel do with an extra 203.5%, or Ochkham's Razor with their 173.2% windfall? Now is the time to start doing some serious research about these companies that up to now might have vaguely been on your professional radar, but who are now thrust into a whole new lease of creative life. Keep an eye on the statements they release, subscribe to their newsletters, see their latest show, then - after the dust has settled - get in touch. See if they'll read your new play. Seed a collaboration. Back you in approaching a school. Now is the time to pitch new and risky ideas, with these companies at least.

So, that list in full.

Note that for the purposes of my categorisations, I have counted anything less than 15% as a Small Cut, and anything 15% or over Large. This isn't to understate the effects of, say, Northern Broadsides 14.9% decrease, which will doubtless be very painful. But I had to draw the line somewhere.

Oh and finally, do make sure you do your research. Check out the figures in the full spreadsheet linked above. Remember that a 78% increase is proportional - if the company's ACE grant was only £10k to start with then it isn't like they're suddenly going to be commissioning left right and centre. Don't just dash off letters to all and sundry saying I told you to.

Right then. Here we go:

Small cuts
Colchester Mercury -11%
Eastern Angles –8.6%
Palace Watford -2.9%
Leicester Theatre Trust -11%
Northanpton Theatres
(aka Royal and Derngate)-3.1%
Nottingham Playhouse - 11.%
ATC -11%
Bush -11%
BAC -11%
Cardboard Citizens -11%
Cheek by Jowl -11%
Clean Break -11%
Donmar -11%
Duckie -11%
DV8 -11.7%
Emergency Exit -11%
Royal Court -4.4%
English Touring Theatre -11%
Gate -4.4%
Graeae -9.4%
Hackney Empire -11%
Half Moon YPT -4.4%
Hampstead -11%
Havering Theatre -11%
Headlong -11%
Improbable -2%
Kali -11%
Lyric Hammersmith -5.5%
NYT -11%
Oily Cart -1.3%
Orange Tree -11%
Polka Theatre -11%
Royal National Theatre -14.9%
Royal Exchange Manchester -11%
Stagetext -11%
Tamasha -11%
Complicite -11%
Theatre Peckham -11%
Tricycle -11%
Unicorn -11%
Theatre Sans Frontiere -10.9%
Contact -6.4%
Liverpool Everyman -4.9%
Nuffield Lancaster -1.3%
Octagon Bolton -4.9%
Peshkar Productions -11%
Unity Liverpool -0.7%
Pegasus Theatre -10%
Gloucestershire Everyman-11%
Kneehigh -11%
Miracle Theatre Trust -11%
Barbican Plymouth -11%
Salisbury Playhouse -11%
Sixth Sense Theatre for
Young People -11%
Bristol Old Vic -11%
Theatre Royal Plymouth -11%
Belgrade Coventry -14.9%
Big Brum -11%
Birmingham Rep -11%
New Vic Theatre -11%
Pentabus Theatre -11%
Talking Birds -11%
Forced Entertainment -14.9%
Hull Truck -8.1%
IOU Theatre -2.2%
NSDF -5.6%
Northern Broadsides -14.9%
Sheffield Theatres -10.9%
Stephen Joseph Theatre -14.9%
West Yorkshire Playhouse-10.9%
York Theatre Riyal -8.3%

Large cuts
Northcott Exeter -100%
Shared Experience -100%
Theatre Royal Bury St Edmonds -20.3%
Almeida -39%
Out of Joint -27.9%
Soho Theatre -17.6%
Talawa -21.9%
Theatre Centre -22.3%
Action Transport -37.8%
Nuffield Southampton -15.2%
RSC -15%
Harrogate Theatre -15%
Red Ladder -39.6%

Small increases
New Wolsey +0.4%
Oval House +14.4%
Paines Plough +5.8%
Spare Tyre +13.8%
Tara +10.3%
Theatre Rites +2.0%
Young Vic +5.5%
Live Theatre +2.2%
Northern Stage +8.9%
Burnley Youth Theatre +9.5%
Keswick Theatre by the Lake +11.4%
M6 Theatre Company +9.2%
Oldham Coliseum +5.8%
Chichester Festival Theatre +0.2%
Pilot Theatre +9.5%

Big increases
Hoipolloi +72%
Rifco Arts +57.5%
Arcola +82.1%
Broadway barking +52.8%
Carnesky Productions Ltd+23.9%
Company of Angels +20.3%
Deafinitely Theatre +22.3%
Fevered Sleep +16.7%
Frantic Assembly +17.8%
Fuel +203.5%
Julie McNamara
(aka Vital Xposure Limited) +51.8%
Kazzum 29.4%
LIFT 17.1%
Mimbre 26.5%
Ockham’s Razor 173.2%
Project Phakama UK +25.4%
Punchdrunk +141%
Redbridge Drama Centre +28.2%
Ridiculusmus +27.7%
Pacitti Company +34.2%
Red Room +62.8%
Told by an Idiot +26.9%
The Malting Theatre +270%
Theatre Hullaballoo +21.9%
Collective Encounters +61%
Quarantine Theatre +32.6%
Rasa Productions +32.6%
Ashton Group Theatre Factory +43.8%
Walk The Plank +126.5%
Whalley Range All Stars +20.2%
Portsmouth Theatre Royal+49.9%
Oxford Playhouse +20.3%
Watermill Theatre +27.8%
North Devon Theatres Trust +29.3%
The Roses Theatre +42.8%
Theatre Alibi +27.6%
Travelling Light +38.7%
Geese Theatre Company +27.9%
Stan’s CafĂ© Theatre +37.8%
Blaize Theatre Yorkshire +48.1%
Faceless theatre +166.3%
Freedom Studios +48.4%
Full Body And The
Voice Theatre Company +127.9%
Interplay Theatre +32.4%
Lawrence Batley theatre +17.9%
Mind The Gap +26.5%
Theatre Company Blah Blah Blah +21.6%
Theatre In The Mill +77.5%
Tutti Frutti Productions +79.8%
Unlimited Theatre +67.1%

New Clients
Gecko Theatre
HighTide festival
Corby Cube Theatre Trust
Red Earth Theatre
Blind Summit Education
Clod Ensemble
Mercury Musical Developments
Open Clasp Theatre Company
Zendeh Productions
20 Stories High
24:7 Theatre Arts Network
Blackpool Grand
Theatre Bristol
Tobacco Factory
Eclipse Theatre
Slung Low

Oh and finally, do let me know if I've missed any.