Friday, December 21, 2012

Challenge Vaizey: One week on


It was one week ago today that I posted my original article about my meeting with Tory Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, in which he issued his challenge to prove that Arts Council cuts were damaging new playwriting in the UK. I've been quite overwhelmed with the response, so thought I'd give you a little update before the world ends later today.

The blog post itself became my most widely circulated ever - on Twitter, Facebook and via email - so far clocking up 3,000 hits, and counting. That might not sound like loads, but it's 20 times what my average blog article gets, and theatre's a fairly small sector. I was at an industry do on Monday at which some actors I'd never met were talking about it! My blog stats also suggest it's been moderately well-circulated in Europe and the USA. And I couldn't help noticing a few hits from the Houses of Parliament...

I've been inundated with offers of help, from theatres and theatre professionals across the UK. On Wednesday I posted 52 surveys to theatres up and down the country, with a further 20 going out via email yesterday. (I owe a big thank you to The Writers' Guild for covering the costs of stamps, envelopes and sticky labels.) An Oxford PhD research student, Helen Pickford, has come forward to help me structure the questions; she has also kindly volunteered to help crunch the data once it comes in, and to write it up into a form that will appeal to DCMS civil servants, with their interest in "evidence-based policy" (if only we'd seen a bit more of that before now).

There's still time to contribute - the deadline I've set is 14 January, which will give me and Helen one week to collate everything into a long-form report for Guardian theatre critic Lyn Gardner. Lyn will then do her stuff with it for the Guardian blog (and I'm quietly hoping the paper edition too) during week commencing 21 January. I'll post the longer version on here, and link to the piece Lyn writes. After that we'll send everything to Vaizey and the DCMS. So, if you work for a theatre company which produces new writing, and if you feel that your work has suffered since those April 2012 cuts kicked in, please get in touch and I'll send you a survey.

But this isn't just about what's been cut, and stories of woe. It would also be great to hear from companies who have had an uplift, or became new NPOs, and what that increase has allowed you to do in terms of new writing development, which you couldn't do before. It will be just as useful to our case to demonstrate how a modest investment can reap huge benefits further down the line.

I'm going to edit together many of the emails and blog comments I've been receiving into a body of anecdotal evidence, for use as vox pop insets alongside the survey results. I'm hoping some of these might also appear in Lyn Gardner's piece. I'll be calling these 'The View From...' and they will feature contributions from playwrights, literary managers, producers, regional venues, new play publishers, writing development agencies, devising companies, musical producers and others. Some quite high profile names have agreed to be quoted. If you'd like to join them, drop me a line. I've got further meetings today with a London new writing theatre and the representative of a West End producer. I'm hoping both will agree to go on record.

I've also had BBC Radio 4 Front Row presenter Kirsty Lang pick up on the campaign on Twitter; she's asked to be kept informed of the survey results. In fact, in terms of the news cycle we seem to have timed this quite well - Vaizey was on Front Row only last night, being harangued by the heroic Tom Morris of Bristol Old Vic. (You can listen again here if you missed it.) As an issue I think this is only just getting started, and will run and run into the new year and beyond.

Phelim McDermott of Improbable Theatre has been in touch to suggest dedicating one of their monthly Devoted & Disgruntled open space sessions to this in the new year. He even suggested we invite Ed Vaizey along. After all, a challenge can cut both ways.

So all in all, not bad for a week's work. But I don't feel can take much credit - this has gained so much traction because of all of you. All I did was hit a nerve at the right time. You lot are the wind at my back. I really hope we can continue to capitalise on this together in the new year.

So, if you receive a survey over the break, please respond. And if you'd like one, or if you'd like to submit a more general statement for the vox pops, please get in touch.

Thank you all - and Merry Christmas!

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