Tuesday, February 11, 2014

In Battalions Delphi study - Parliamentary launch (1)

Two weeks ago, on 29 January 2014, Helen Campbell Pickford and I launched our In Battalions Delphi study in the House of Commons, at the invitation of Kerry McCarthy MP, chair of the Performers' Alliance All-Party Parliamentary Group. It was a well-attended event with MPs, peers and representatives from across the British theatre industry.

There were several speakers on the day, and in a series of blog posts over the next few days I am going to be capturing and publishing the text of their speeches here. One of them, by the playwright Dennis Kelly, has already featured in yesterday's Guardian blog.

Today's speech below is a short introductory speech by me, from the start of the launch. Coming up are: Elizabeth Newman from Bolton Octagon, Giles Croft from Nottingham Playhouse, Neil Darlison from the Arts Council, a precis of a longer talk by academic Taryn Storey, my co-author Helen Campbell Pickford and various contributions from the floor.

The report itself is available for free download here.

Fin Kennedy:

"Thank you all for coming. I'm not going to say much other than a brief bit of background - and a small plea.

First the background.

The study we are launching today is the second of two reports. The first, In Battalions, came out of a conversation with Culture Minister Ed Vaizey at the Performers' Alliance Reception in December 2012. Mr Vaizey said to me that Government cuts to the Arts Council were having "no effect" on the development of new play and playwrights. I set out to investigate, and ably assisted by my co-author Helen Campbell Pickford, we found that on the contrary, theatres up and down the country were cancelling new plays, commissioning fewer new writers, and curtailing a whole host of research and development such as script reading services, education schemes, writers' attachment programmes and free workshops to find new talent.  A climate of fear around risk-taking on new work was taking hold in the theatre.

The widespread dissemination of that first report - with 24,000 downloads, broadsheet news coverage and questions tabled in the Commons - was a genuine surprise. Even more so was Mr Vaizey's acknowledgement last month (after a frustrating exchange of letters throughout 2013) that In Battalions had in fact been an influence on the Chancellor's decision to announce a consultation on tax breaks for new plays and regional touring. This is to be welcomed - though it is by no means a solution to the problem.

Nor, I should say, are any of the ideas contained in the follow-up study which we are here to launch today. The In Battalions Delphi study is an attempt to capitalise on the extraordinary and unexpected reach of its predecessor, and to canvas the theatre industry for some solutions to the problems uncovered by the initial report. It certainly contains a wealth of innovative ideas which I hope will be of interest to policy-makers from across the political spectrum. But make no mistake, the single biggest factor in the ongoing success of new British theatre is without question sustained Government investment. As we will hear from my colleague Taryn Storey in a few moments, there is strong historical evidence for this from 1940 onwards and - I hope - some lessons to be learned from the past.

That said, times of upheaval are always a good opportunity to examine how we have been doing things, with a view to finding better ways. I hope those of you who have generously made the time to be with us today will assist in the dissemination of this study so that the many good ideas contained within it can continue to have the same ripple effect as the previous study, and hopefully find some allies up and down the country to take them forward.

And finally a plea.

We will hear a lot about risk today, and ways to protect taking risks in the development of new work for the stage. But there is a flip side to risk which we hear about less often, and that is Reward. Unlike most art forms, theatre and theatre artists touch almost every area of national life: from the economy and tourism, to education and health, to prisons, social services, regeneration, community relations, and the UK's standing on the international stage. We are the best in the world at theatre - bar none. For us, all the world really is a stage. And of all the art forms, theatre is the one which is most profoundly about how we live, how we ought to live - and what it means to live. A collective space where we can come together to consider such things is at the heart of a civilised society.
My plea is about how we measure that value. Profit, loss and the movement of money are one small part. Yes, they are important. But not to the exclusion of all else. Imagine if there was a currency to measure a child's self-confidence, or a society's level of tolerance, a convict's understanding of their actions, a youth theatre's love of metaphor, or a community's understanding of itself. What would theatre's balance sheet look like then?

Some forms of value can't be captured in a paper report. But I hope the Delphi study we are launching today is one small step towards making the case for the depth and breadth of the value British theatre generates for the nation.

Thank you for being part it."

The In Battalions Delphi study contains 36 innovative proposals on ways to protect risk-taking on new work for the stage, despite austerity.

Photo: Anne Hogben, Writers' Guild.

1 comment:

Eric Priezkalns said...

You make an impressive pitch. The government would be wise to increase funding for playwrights, if only to distract you from exploring your gift for political speechwriting ;)