Saturday, October 18, 2014

In Battalions open meeting, 7.30pm on Weds 26 Nov 2014

The Perseverance Pub, 63 Lamb's Conduit St, London WC1N 3NB (tube: Russell Square)

In December 2012 I met Culture Minister Ed Vaizey at a Writers' Guild event in Parliament, where he said to me that his government's cuts to the Arts Council were having "no effect" on the development of new plays and playwrights in England. I resolved to gather some evidence about the damage being done. The resulting report, In Battalions, showed theatres across the country curtailing a whole host of new play development in response to the cuts or fear of cuts. The report has been downloaded over 15,000 times (get your copy here), received broadsheet coverage and had questions tabled in Parliament.

2013 saw a follow-up report, by me and my researcher Helen Campbell Pickford, the In Battalions Delphi study, an industry consultation to find innovative ways to protect risk-taking on new work for the stage, despite austerity. (Also available free online here). There have also been several pub meetings, an open letter to Ed Vaizey signed by Helen Mirren and Tom Stoppard (among 70 others), and the In Battalions Festival at Central Saint Martins College.

One year on from our first meeting, Ed Vaizey stood up at the same Writers' Guild event in Parliament and credited the In Battalions campaign as having been an influence on the Chancellor George Osborne's decision to announce a tax break for new plays and regional touring, a move which is poised to inject a much-needed cash boost to the industry when it takes effect next year.

In Battalions proved that one artist (and a researcher) could channel the British theatre industry to speak to government with one voice, and effect a small but significant shift in government thinking.

There is a general election coming up. What's more, I have a new full-time job, as Co-Artistic Director of Tamasha Theatre Company. I am keen not to lose the momentum and profile which In Battalions has built up; it could help keep these issues on the agenda in the run-up to May 2015, and beyond. But I no longer have the time to spend keeping the movement alive on my own.

I am calling this meeting to discuss this, and to see if together we can find ways to make In Battalions a more shared movement, led by and contributed to by other theatre professionals. Are there ways in which, together, we can continue to make the case for subsidised theatre's social and cultural value, and to make our case heard by politicians?

I am also open to the possibility that In Battalions may have run its course. Other movements such as What Next? are campaigning on similar issues, with more resources, a higher profile and more regular industry and political engagement.

But rather than make this decision on my own I wanted to talk it through with the friends and colleagues who made In Battalions what it was.

Please come along if you can on Weds 26 Nov 2014 and be part of the conversation. It will be very informal, free to attend, and above a pub in central London, so there will drinks. Even if this is the end of the road for In Battalions, it would be nice to come together one last time to celebrate what we have achieved.

Fin Kennedy

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