Thursday, December 12, 2013

The cuts continue

After yesterday's minor victory, it's sad to have write with bad news of further cuts affecting small scale theatre companies.

I rarely make personal appeals of this nature, but two theatre companies got in touch with me yesterday with separate sets of bad news. I've worked with both of them this year and can personally vouch for the great work they do. Sadly, as is so often the case, they are both companies making with, for and about young people, and based in areas and among communities where they really are the only provider of these services for miles around. They're also both, in their own ways, quietly innovative in what they do.

The first is Islington Community Theatre, who operate out of offices at Islington Library
and run workshops and stage plays at Hornsey's Platform youth hub. ICT is run by founder Ned Glasier, an old friend from our days working at Almeida Projects together. ICT is a unique operation - a new writing theatre for North London young people, in which its members are not considered 'students', 'young people' or 'kids' but simply 'theatremakers', and are treated as equals to the writers they work with (and they work with many of our best: Alice Birch, Innua Ellams and Phil Porter among others). ICT's theatremakers also devise and perform their own work. Unusually, they offer a genuine ladder of opportunity into the industry - two ICT alumni were recently professional cast members in Clean Break's Billy The Girl, for instance. 

My own connection with ICT is through Goldsmiths. For the past two years ICT have been the training base for Goldsmiths students on the MA Writing for Performance when they have taken my Writing for Specific Audiences module. This year, we worked with ICT's own young writer's group, Speakeasy, an important course they run when most youth theatre offerings tend to be about acting. ICT work closely with Islington schools (some of the toughest in the UK - I know, I've worked in some) to take recommendations of kids who are getting into trouble who might benefit from some extra-curricular arts activities. Funnily enough, they are good as gold when they come to ICT...

Luckily, the whole company isn't under threat - but Speakeasy is. Here's what Ned had to say about a recent adverse funding decision:

"As you might know, for the last 2 years we’ve been running a group for young playwrights aged 14-18 called Speakeasy.  They are an inspiring, extraordinary bunch of young people - from some really challenging backgrounds and with voices you rarely hear in mainstream theatre.

Yesterday we got some really bad news – our regular Speakeasy funder is, at the last minute, no longer able to support the project and we may have to close it down if we can’t find alternative funding, quickly.

I’m absolutely desperate that we keep it going and wondered if you might be able to help with a tiny donation?

If we can find 100 people to give £4 (or anything they can) every month we’ll save Speakeasy.  The kids are already pounding the streets raising money (one has already raised £200) and it would mean so much to them to save it.

Please don’t donate unless you really can, and whether you can or not, the most useful thing you can do is forward this email onto other writers and theatre people with a note about our work and why it’s worth supporting."

I've been a regualr donor of £5 a month to ICT and I've just upped that to £10. Do send something their way if you can.

The second company is Pegasus Theatre in Oxford. They don't need money (well, actually, of course they do) but in this case it is about signing a petition to protest Oxford County Council's proposal to slash their funding by 67%. 

My link with Pegasus is through writing tutor Taryn Storey, who I met through my In Battalions campaign, and who runs their young writers' group. She got me in for some sessions earlier this year and a lovelier, more imaginative group of young people you could not hope to meet. You might associate Oxford with wealth, and while the group there are very different to, say, ICT's members, they are not without their own needs. Pegasus is based in east Oxford, the most deprived part of town, and two of Taryn's group members are on the autistic spectrum - a condition she embraces when teaching them to write plays. And what plays they are! Those two group members in particular have the most fantastic imaginations, and engage with the world in their written work in ways far beyond what they are capable of in person.

Here's what Yasmin Sidhwa, Head of Creative Learning at Pegasus had to say:

"We received news last Friday of proposed cuts to our future funding from Oxfordshire County Council. Pegasus Theatre currently receives £68,266 of funding towards our core programme of work with, by and for young people in the region. The proposed cuts would not take effect until April 2015 but are: a cut of £22,755 in 2015/16 and a further cut of £22,756 in 2016/17. This represents an overall cut of two-thirds, ie. nearly 67% over a two-year period. It would have a devastating and disproportionate impact on our ability to deliver our core programme, especially our work with vulnerable and disadvantaged young people.

This is a proposal, not a final decision. The next stage of the process is that the proposal will be reviewed at a meeting of the council’s Performance Scrutiny Committee on Monday 16th December. I have asked to address this meeting and want to demonstrate there the level of support we enjoy for our work with young people. Here’s how you can help:

  • Sign the e-petition we have set up on the council’s website, asking them to consider a smaller reduction in our funding:
  • If you would like to comment personally on the proposal you can leave comments here on the council’s website.

  • Circulate this email to as many people you can!
  • Do it this week – we need as many responses as possible by the morning of Monday 16th December.
We really appreciate your support on this matter and all of us at Pegasus thank you for making your voice heard."

I hope you can take a moment to support these two fantastic companies in whatever way you can. 

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