I received the following letter this morning:
16 April 2013
Dear Mr Kennedy
I am writing to thank you and your colleague Helen Campbell-Pickford for the time and effort that you both put into producing your report, ‘In Battalions’, looking at the state of new theatre writing.
I welcome the work that you have done to take the temperature of the sector at these challenging times. I sent your report to the Arts Council so that they could give consideration to the issues.
It may not surprise you to know that I do not accept some of the dire predictions coming out of this report. It is easy to highlight fears and concerns within the sector – natural as they may be – but much harder to work out how to deal with them amidst an extremely challenging financial situation. This Government is wholly committed to arts and culture and I am determined to do everything I can to make sure that the sector gets through this difficult period without long term damage. We are doing this by prioritising funding going directly to arts organisations.
But we need to reduce the deficit, and DCMS sectors need to play their part in that. In the longer term our sectors, which rely on a mixed funding model, will benefit hugely from a strong economy and stable public finances. Overall, if you take into account direct Government funding and National Lottery funding, Arts Council England will receive £2.9billion in funding for the arts over the life of this Parliament, 2010-2015. That is in part down to our actions to restore the arts share of Lottery income to its original percentage, raising it from 16% to 20%.
Looking specifically at your concerns, Arts Council England has sought to protect its investment in both writer development and the production of new work during the last funding round. Most theatres that present new writing received a below average cash cut in funding of just 2.3%. Theatres with an important new writing record, such as the Royal Court, Live Theatre Newcastle and Paines Plough received an above-average rise in funding.
The Arts Council’s Grants for the Arts Lottery-funded programme also supports new writing. In 2011/12 it funded projects which were wholly focused on new writing to the value of £2,792,727. In 2010/11 the value was £2,040,485 and in the first six months of this financial year the value was £1,070,899.
The Arts Council also held a workshop for 40 playwrights to offer support and guidance on making applications to its Grants for the Arts programme. I believe that the Arts Council may also have met with you to discuss writer development and how Grants for the Arts funding can help.
Of the eighteen organisations that responded by name in your survey I noticed that eight have actually received significant increases in funding for this year set against 2011/2012 and one organisation shows no change in their funding. Furthermore of all theatre organisations which are funded, 24 received increases in funding set against 23 which show reductions whilst 11 showed no change. Overall funding for this year for the organisations mentioned in the report stands at £66m set against a figure of £50m for 2011/2012, an increase of over 30%.
Whilst I in no way deny the overriding concern being felt in the sector at this difficult time, I was also interested and heartened to read some of the comments in the report that speak of optimism, resilience, innovation, and making the most of the way the Government is continuing to support the sector.
There is no room for complacency, but plenty of scope to innovate in order to preserve and foster the high quality new theatre writing.
Ed Vaizey MP
Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries
This letter is available as a PDF download here.
Friday, April 12, 2013
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