Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The countdown has started...

In Battalions, my report on how funding cuts are affecting new play development in England, is now complete. A copy was sent off yesterday to Culture Minister Ed Vaizey at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Out of courtesy, and because it was originally a personal request and not a public campaign, I am giving him a couple of weeks to read it and (hopefully) respond before publicly launching it. 

However, that launch will be soon. Nine* days from now, to be precise. I have arranged to release it on Friday 22nd February, at the Independent Theatre Council's annual general meeting at Soho Theatre that day. The ITC had asked me to speak about my findings anyway, but the timing worked out in such a way that it seemed like a good opportunity to launch the whole thing, among peers. 

I've been in touch with Lyn Gardner at the Guardian and she will cover the event, and get reaction quotes from the assembled delegates, with a view to publishing an exclusive on the Guardian Theatre blog the following Monday. After that, who knows where it will end up? The whole report will be available as a PDF file for public download that same day, on this very blog. I'll be relying on you lot to spread it far and wide.

I'm honour-bound not to splurge the details any sooner than next Friday, but here is some background which I can reveal:
  • The report is 48 pages long, or 22,650 words (not all mine, mostly other people's in fact)
  • Former literary manager of the National Theatre, Jack Bradley, has written the foreword (and very good it is too)
  • Original quotes have been received from: West End producer Sonia Friedman, artistic director of the National Theatre Nick Hytner, artistic director of Out of Joint and formerly artistic director of the Royal Court Max Stafford-Clarke, current literary manager of the Royal Court Chris Campbell, West End playwrights Nick Payne and Laura Wade, co-artistic director of national new writing touring company Paines Plough James Grieve, and Alison Hindell, Head of Audio Drama at the BBC.
  • 26 theatres completed surveys for me, with a further seven electing to make official statements instead 
  • The companies themselves ranged in scale from tiny companies touring village halls in Yorkshire, to large established city playhouses, and ranged in geographical location from Merseyside to London to Cornwall.  
  • Further personal testimonies containing anecdotal evidence were received from: 14 playwrights, 2 literary managers, 2 writer development agencies, 1 development director, 1 producer, 1 play publisher and even a former member of Hampstead Theatre's Heat & Light youth theatre, which was an early victim of the cuts. 
  • The data and testimonies gathered show funding cuts seriously affecting both new writing production and new writer development opportunities, with regional theatres, small scale touring and young people's theatre particularly badly affected.

All in all, it's pretty depressing reading. But there is an opportunity here too. As an industry, we have opened up a channel to central government. I'm reliably informed by people who know about these things that when you submit reports such as this to the civil service, you are expected not just to describe the problem, but also to offer potential solutions, which could become policy. That's a really exciting prospect. I've asked Ed Vaizey to meet with a delegation of playwrights and other theatre industry professionals, to listen to our concerns, but also to hear some suggestions for how the situation might be turned around. If he agrees, I'll be canvassing for ideas from all of you.

One final thing that did come up, which is actually reason for some good cheer, is that several people who know him told me that Ed Vaizey isn't so bad. He's been doing this same job for 6 years now, including four in opposition. He could have switched briefs, but he hasn't, and that's a good sign. Apparently he is an intelligent and committed Culture Minister, and is prepared to listen to evidence.

Here's hoping he lives up to that reputation. It would be great if the outcome of all of this was an unexpected ally, to argue the case for new threate writing around the Cabinet table, and with the Treasury.

It could be that Mr Vaizey is our best hope after all.

* Less if you're reading this in the future.

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