FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 12 April 2013 (updated 13 April)
GETTING THE MINISTER'S ATTENTION
British theatre's top playwrights and directors sign open letter to Ed Vaizey
Over sixty of the UK's best-known theatrical luminaries - including Dame Helen Mirren, Sir Tom Stoppard, Michael Frayn, Caryl Churchill, Mike Leigh, Sir Richard Eyre and the incoming artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre Vicky Featherstone - have signed an open letter to Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, urging him to take seriously a recent report into the threat to new British playwriting posed by the Government's latest round of spending cuts.
The independent report, In Battalions, researched and written by playwright Fin Kennedy with support from Oxford University's Helen Campbell Pickford, drew on data from surveys sent to theatres across the country. The results showed venues having to cancel productions, produce fewer new plays, commission fewer writers, and cancel a whole host of creative research and development – from attachment programmes, to open access workshops, to new writer development schemes, to unsolicited script reading. As well as cuts closing down entry points to the profession, the report also identified a creeping culture of risk-aversion around new work, as financial instability takes hold.
Theatre professionals contributing to the report voiced serious concerns about the diminishing opportunities for today's young playwrights to develop their talents - and stressed the importance of theatre as the training ground for the TV, radio and film industries. All stand to lose a generation of talent - with writers from less privileged backgrounds particularly badly hit.
The potential impact on the British film industry was evidenced by the inclusion of some prominent screenwriters among the letter's signatories - Simon Beaufoy, author of multi-award winning movies The Full Monty and Slumdog Millionaire, and Peter Straughan, who wrote the screen adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
The report was sent to Ed Vaizey's office on 12th February - two months ago - but its authors have yet to receive a response.
The open letter to Mr Vaizey - signed by War Horse director Tom Morris, One Man, Two Guv'nors author Richard Bean, Iron Lady screenwriter Abi Morgan and the RSC's Dennis Kelly, adapter of hit musical Matilda - expresses disappointment with the Minister's public remarks, in particular a recent speech in which he said that to suggest there is any sort of crisis in the arts is "rubbish" and "scaremongering".
The letter reads: "We believe the findings of In Battalions are to be taken seriously. They are representative of a wider trend within our industry. If the next generation of playwrights are not properly supported, this could seriously affect output in a few years’ time, and new plays are vital to the future health of British theatre – not to mention a driver of growth in the economy."
Fin Kennedy, the report's author said: "Ed Vaizey and the DCMS have had my report now for two months. That's as long as my researcher and I took to research and write it. We took the project on in our own time in good faith, and in response to comments made to me by Mr Vaizey himself, that Arts Council cuts were having "no effect". He offered to look over any evidence to the contrary, and even to raise it with the Arts Council if I could show there was a problem. I believe we have showed there's a problem, but Mr Vaizey seems unwilling to accept the evidence we have sent him. In an email to one concerned young writer he said: "There is no evidence of any impact on new writing." Anyone who's read my report will see that that's demonstrably untrue. We're still really keen to engage with Mr Vaizey about our ideas for how to fix this problem - he's our Culture Minister after all - but we really do need him to take this issue seriously and to engage with us, as he promised he would."
The open letter calls on Mr Vaizey to undertake his own research, ending: "If [your] response is still that there is “no evidence” then we would ask that you provide evidence of your own, which backs up your position as thoroughly as the In Battalions authors have backed up theirs. "
The full list of signatories to the letter reads like a Who's Who of British theatre. It includes playwrights Simon Stephens, Timberlake Wertenbaker, David Edgar, Howard Brenton, April de Angelis, Mark Ravenhill, Peter Whelan, Peter Gill and Sir Arnold Wesker, directors Michael Attenborough, Dominic Dromgoole, Max Stafford Clark, Ian Rickson, Melly Still and Rufus Norris, and actors Penelope Wilton, Sam West and Sheila Hancock.
Ed Vaizey and the DCMS have yet to respond.
Notes for Editors
The full letter and list of signatories can be downloaded from: bit.ly/14gTtWF
The original In Battalions report can be downloaded for free from: bit.ly/12WleC5
Fin Kennedy is an award-winning playwright, theatre blogger and member of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain's Theatre Committee. 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.
The open letter and signatories list in full:
Mr Ed Vaizey MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries
House of Commons
12 April 2013
Dear Ed Vaizey,
Re: In Battalions
We, the undersigned, are writing in support of In Battalions, the independent report by Fin Kennedy and Helen Campbell Pickford about how Arts Council cuts are affecting new plays and playwrights in England, which was submitted to your office on 12 February.
As you will recall, data within the report from surveys completed by theatres across the country showed venues having to cancel productions, produce fewer new plays, commission fewer writers, and cancel a whole host of creative research and development – from new writer development schemes, to open access workshops, to attachment programmes and unsolicited script reading.
We believe the findings of In Battalions are to be taken seriously. They are representative of a wider trend within our industry. If the next generation of playwrights are not properly supported, this could seriously affect output in a few years’ time, and new plays are vital to the future health of British theatre – not to mention a driver of growth in the economy.
In Battalions was conceived in response to your remarks that Arts Council cuts are having “no effect”. Fin Kennedy and his researcher have risen to this challenge and undertaken a detailed study to provide you with evidence to the contrary.
We have been disappointed by your public remarks that there is still “no evidence” and that to say otherwise is “rubbish” and “scaremongering”. We call on you to take In Battalions seriously, and to issue its authors with an appropriate, personalised response.
If that response is still that there is “no evidence” then we would ask that you provide evidence of your own, which backs up your position as thoroughly as the In Battalions authors have backed up theirs.
April de Angelis
Sir Richard Eyre CBE
Peter Gill OBE
Sheila Hancock CBE
Mike Leigh OBE
Prof Frank McGuinness
Dame Helen Mirren
Max Stafford Clark
Sir Tom Stoppard CBE
David Tse Ka-Shing
Sir Arnold Wesker
Roy Williams OBE
Penelope Wilton OBE