Theatre in Wales

Commentary and extended critical writing on theatre, dance and performance in Wales

The Future of Theatre Powys and Powys Dance?

Writer and director Peter Cox writes to Powys County Council

Peter Cox
Newhouse, Cwmdauddwr, RHAYADER,
Powys, Wales, LD6 5AF
Tel: 01597 810583

I write in support of Theatr Powys and Powys Dance.

I believe I am uniquely placed to offer some observations that may help to inform discussions on their continued contribution to the Arts in Powys.

For your reference: Last year I was a steering group member of the Powys County Council Arts Strategy Review. I was invited onto this committee to offer my extensive experience of the Creative Industries Sector in Britain. I have lived and worked in Powys for nineteen years and I connect into this sector at many levels.

I am or have been involved in; Drama and Media Studies Development in Higher Education, Media Careers work in schools, County Council and Arts Council of Wales Policy Development, Welsh Assembly Government Cultural Policy Making, Economic and Cultural Regeneration, Cultural Tourism Policy Making, Broadcast Radio and Television Drama Production, Professional Theatre, Community Arts, Youth Theatre, Youth Music, Live Music Promotion, International Arts Exchanges, Writing Education and Community Education through Lifelong Learning.

I strongly oppose the intention to withdraw all funding from Theatr Powys and Powys Dance - as agreed at the Children, Families and Lifelong Learning Subject Committee. I believe that both companies should be nourished, supported and their future guaranteed.
To support my view I contend there are a number of broader issues to consider - Cultural, Practical and Social / Economic.

The Cultural Influence of Theatr Powys and Powys Dance.

Most cultural experiences available in Mid Wales are imported. Today a massive amount of the performing arts work available here is generated outside of Wales. The majority of British Television Drama, Educational, Documentary, News, Comedy and Arts programming is generated from urban centres such as London or Cardiff. Many homes are also becoming saturated with American programming through satellite broadcast channels.

This extraordinary access to global culture can lead to a devaluing of local culture. These hi-tec, high quality broadcasts from 'somewhere else more interesting' contribute to rural depopulation. The weakening of a local cultural identity can lead to lack of self-esteem and self-knowledge. By local culture I do not mean some 'folksy rural activity'. I mean an understanding of the complex world we live in interpreted through cultural expression.

Mid Wales, of course, was bypassed by the Industrial Revolution. However now, it is no longer a simple rural community of isolated farmsteads and winding lanes. It is living through the new 'techno-revolution'. Global communications, improved road networks and greater mobility amongst the young are rapidly changing the place in which we live.

For more than 30 years Theatr Powys has been important to the development of a modern, educated and informed culture here. The same applies to Powys Dance over the last twenty-five years. They have both taken their work into remote communities and schools - offering people and children opportunities to learn about themselves and to deal with challenging contemporary issues. Our beautiful countryside should not mask the fact that Powys communities have their fair share of Alcohol Abuse, Drug Abuse, Poor Health, Family Breakdown, Child Abuse, Bullying, Racism, Aids, and Violence or Prejudice against individuals with Special Needs etc.

I am not suggesting the work of these companies is an antidote to all the ills in Powys, however, I do believe the record shows that the effect of their work in schools and communities is of significant influence.

They challenge the notion of local opinion simply being formed by imported cultural interpretation and values. They have enabled people in Powys to involve themselves in artistic expression and interpretation, create new social networks, share experiences, to have a voice, to have that voice respected and to be touched by the stories of our lives as we consider our place in the modern world.

To thrive in that modern world Wales is using the arts to develop as a forward thinking, outward looking and dynamic country.

"Future success will lie with those societies which can nurture and mobilise the creative talents of their people." Source: The Arts Work. Facts & Figures on the arts in Wales, 2003.

The Practical Influences of Theatr Powys and Powys Dance.

The outstanding community arts work produced over recent years by CARAD here in Rhayader would not have happened without the patronage, expertise, resources, networking and support provided by these companies. Their complementary partnership activity has helped to create the conditions for us to bring more than one and a half million pounds of outside investment into the Mid Powys economy.

Similarly their support for the Mid Powys Youth Theatre is crucial.

In the 1990's I acted, for five years, as an Assessor for the Royal National Theatre on the Lloyds Bank Youth Theatre Challenge. During this time, when I visited countless organisations throughout Great Britain, the Mid Powys Youth Theatre was consistently judged to be in the top five organisations producing work with young people - this is when assessed against four to five hundred others.

These young people, under the tutelage and guidance of Theatr Powys and Powys Dance staff and using their physical resources have carried the name of Powys to great heights with pride, skill, talent, dignity and superb professionalism. It is not hyperbole to suggest that, being among the top five youth theatre companies in Britain means they are one of the best companies in the world. Last year's production of A Midsummer- Night's Dream was a perfect example of their exceptionally high quality work. If these levels were being reached in a sport it is reasonable to suggest that their achievements would be more publicly marked and applauded.

These same young people are our future and many of them rightly identify Arts, Crafts and Media based careers as a serious option for them. This is no surprise as they are growth industries with global markets.

"58% of school pupils in Wales agreed that 'taking part in arts activities will help me get a job when I am older'." Source: Young people's arts participation survey 2002, Beaufort Research.

The existence of Theatr Powys and Powys Dance has enabled many young people to learn good practice, have access to high quality professional basic training and carry the good name of Powys and Wales with them into Higher Education and the professional world.

It is also important to remember that the staff of these two companies and their generous skill-sharing over many years has contributed to the quality of amateur work produced by a wide range of community organisations throughout Powys - from Amateur Dramatic Societies to Young Farmers Clubs and Powys Youth Service.

The work of both companies with young children is also of great significance - especially in light of the Children's Society study into life for pre-school children and their families in rural Powys. This report found that many young children here were offered poor play opportunities, were culturally deprived and suffered isolation that in turn affected social skills and language development. These companies clearly have an important role to play in encouraging children to express themselves, become more physically and socially adept and to communicate effectively.

"62% of school pupils in Wales said 'they take part in arts activities to learn new skills'." Source: Young people's arts participation survey 2002, Beaufort Research.

Encouraging such skills development through the medium of Welsh is obviously a crucial factor in the rebirth and strengthening of the Welsh Language throughout Powys.

Cultures thrive when their language is alive and in daily use in all contexts. The work that each company does through the medium of Welsh is part of a growing sense of identity in our devolved and more independent Wales as well as an affirmation and celebration of a unique means of expression. The global trend is for small nations to be respected and nurtured - for regions to be encouraged and valued. Marketing trends suggest that strong cultural identities are an important asset in developing tourism and a tourism infrastructure - issues of vital importance given the current difficulties in the farming sector that is hitting this area so hard.

The Social / Economic influences of Theatr Powys and Powys Dance

Two years ago, as recognition of the fantastic work being done here in Powys, we were privileged to welcome the Assembly Culture Minister, Jenni Randerson, to Rhayader, for the launch of the Arts Council of Wales Creative Future Strategy. The infrastructure and partnership working between all our local arts organisations was celebrated and applauded on that day. Only two months ago the current Minister for Culture, Sport and the Welsh Language visited Rhayader to celebrate the work of the Mid Wales Community Arts Network - made up of organisations born out of the pioneering work done by Theatr Powys and Powys Dance.

We are all part of the Creative Industries Sector - a sector that both the Welsh Assembly Government and The Welsh Development Agency have recognised as of vital importance to the Welsh economy.

"The Creative Industries are estimated to contribute over six hundred and fifty million pounds annually to Wales' economy." Source: Cardiff Research Centre.

"The Creative Industries accounted for 7.9% of the UK Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2000 and Creative Industries exports contributed 8.7 billion pounds to the balance of trade. Source: DCMS Factfile 2002.

As with all other Arts organisations in Powys, Theatr Powys and Powys Dance must not be seen as expendable in the Wales of tomorrow - it must surely be more pragmatic to view them as an asset.

Perhaps the following personal perspective would help to inform this view.

Nineteen years ago my wife and I moved to Mid Powys and a major influence on our decision to relocate our business was the existence of Theatr Powys and Powys Dance and their work. We were also influenced by the Arts development work undertaken by the Wyeside Arts Centre and the then proposed Mid Powys Youth Theatre.

In the years since our move we have; become employers locally, rented business premises, contributed widely to the voluntary and education sectors and actively engaged in major Community Arts and Social Development Projects. Through our personal business activities alone we have brought more than one million pounds into the local economy.

As indicated earlier, our efforts in the voluntary sector have resulted in a separate figure of over one and a half million pounds of inward investment. Much of our work has been with CARAD (Community Arts Rhayader and District) on projects that generate employment, community pride and confidence, a sense of ownership and empowerment, new cultural tourism ventures and hard business outcomes.

In all CARAD feasibility studies we have explained the place that Theatr Powys and Powys Dance have in complementing our long-term strategy. We stressed that we see ourselves working in partnership with them, not in competition with or instead of them. In identifying that we would not duplicate their work we have become more convinced of the need for these companies to thrive.

The Subject Committee's decision to withdraw funding from them is hard to understand as it comes at a time when the Arts Council of Wales' confidence in Powys was growing. The ACW were encouraged by the Powys County Council Arts Strategy Review process and the climate for partnership working was improving. It must be remembered that this Review was a thorough, transparent, county-wide consultation that did not recommend the closure of Theatr Powys or Powys Dance.

In light of this I have a grave concern that the Subject Committee's decision could have serious consequences for many other Arts Council of Wales sponsored projects throughout Powys.

The Arts Council of Wales provides partnership funding for Theatr Powys and Powys Dance.
If Powys County Council withdraws funding from these flagship companies is there any guarantee that organisations such as CARAD will not, in turn, find themselves under threat from the Arts Council? Might the ACW decide to withdraw its funding from all Powys organisations as a result of this decision? Was this discussed in Committee? Has this been discussed with the Arts Council of Wales? I suspect not as I believe the decision to close both companies has not even been discussed with the companies themselves.

The work of these two companies and their place in our lives is in line with Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights….

"that everyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community"

To achieve this in such a remote area the work done by these companies should be developed not threatened. Their influence, over many years, has been an integral part of broader efforts to build a prosperous, informed and progressive rural county ready to meet the demands of this new century.

Theatr Powys and Powys Dance - by interpreting and mediating the human condition through the Arts, should remain an integral part of how we continue to explore and negotiate what it is to be human - a social and cultural skill of enormous importance in our ever more complex and threatening world.

In closing may I say I humbly respect the need for Council Committees to, at times, make difficult decisions. However, I would also say that there is a need for those charged with the responsibilities of power to inspire through their vision and leadership and to work hard to find creative solutions to the challenges they face. I sincerely hope such a solution can be found for Theatr Powys and Powys Dance.

I urge your Committee to reconsider the recommendation that both these companies should close.

Yours sincerely

Peter D Cox.

author:Peter Cox

original source:
18 October 2004


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