Theatre in Wales

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

State of Play: Where are the stories?

Remembering Sgript Cymru

The Writers Group continued to be the liveliest place in 2012 for theatre comment. Simon Harris summarised Sgript Cymru for a cohort of new writers on January 23:

"Between 2002 and 2005 Sgript Cymru reached an enormous number of people across Wales with its pioneering Community Writer scheme. It offered playwrights the chance to embed themselves in communities in Swansea, Holyhead, Bangor, Mold, Cwmbran, Llanelli, Merthyr and Felinfach - to mention just some of the places the company worked. It was a community engagement project - not unlike NTW's Assembly or the Sherman's Spread The Word - but it was distinctive in that it allowed playwrights to lead the work, located them for up to four months in that community and bought them time to write. You shouldn't ignore the fact that Sgript Cymru worked with, commissioned and produced the work of playwrights across the length and breadth of Wales. There was only one imperative - whether we thought the work was any good, nothing else."

"The second point is that Sgript Cymru received 170K from the ACW when it launched and received less than twice that by the time it merged with the Sherman in 2007. For that amount, the company produced around 3-4 productions a year and had 10-14 playwrights commissioned at any one time."

Tim Price reprised an old document on January 21st. He introduced it with "Nine years ago this statement was issued by the leading theatre practitioners of Wales. Have we made any progress?"

The original was titled "The State of Play in Wales: Where are the stories?" and dated December 3rd 2003. It was prepared by Sarah Argent, Steve Fisher, Simon Harris, Sara Lloyd, Gary Owen, Cris Morgan, Helen Raynor, Othniel Smith and Roger Williams.It had 53 signatories.

"Welsh theatre audiences are hungry for stories that reflect their lives and their concerns. These should be stories that affirm, celebrate and make visible the life of people in Wales today. They should also be the stories these audiences need to hear, not just the stories they want to hear stories that are challenging, stimulating and exciting. At present, in Wales, there is a dearth of possibility for these stories to emerge onto our stages. Across the world, the future of drama is unsustainable without support for the work of living playwrights. Playwrights from Wales are easily as talented and productive as playwrights from England, Ireland or Scotland, so why do they have such a low profile in this country and elsewhere? The answer is unpalatable, but inescapable - Wales has not cared sufficiently to provide Welsh and Wales-based playwrights with the environment in which they can prosper.

The State of Play in Wales: Why are playwrights important?

New work and new writing for the stage should be at the heart of a distinctive endeavour in Welsh arts, not least, because the playwright is the expressive artist best placed to mediate fresh and contemporary representations of present-day Wales to audiences amongst our own communities and beyond the border. By contrast, while England is receiving an unprecedented level of investment in theatre that is new, accessible and diverse, this is not the case here. Theatre in Wales is fragile because of a decade or more of weak investment and poor strategy. The contrast is shaming and must change. In order for a sense of possibility and hope to be created, theatre in Wales needs to start making its playwrights a priority.

The State of Play in Wales: What needs to happen?

It is time to adopt a serious and integrated approach that offers proper support for the production of contemporary drama and to put the work of the playwright at the heart of a strategy to foster new work of all kinds. In order to create a vibrant, modern and national culture based on innovation, diversity and excellence, we believe that the following action needs to be taken:

Action point 1: More productions#

Beyond Sgript Cymru (the company strategically funded by the Arts Council of Wales to support new writing), there are many other organisations with the capacity to produce new plays. Funding should be identified to consolidate and significantly enhance the production capacity of organisations with a proven commitment to new writing, such as Sgript Cymru, but including others, in order that a range of Welsh producers can commission additional original work from Welsh dramatists. It is important that additional funding should only be offered on the basis of practical and substantive programmes to increase support for the work of Welsh playwrights, rather than vague aspiration or generalised intent. The benchmark should be an increased number of original, full-length, commissioned new plays and the availability of imaginative and practical development processes in-house to nurture the work of playwrights.

Action point 2: Audience Development#

Many theatres (both producing and receiving companies) are, understandably, wary of presenting work, which represents a box-office risk. These theatres should be offered sufficient financial support to invest in the necessary periods of audience development for such work. Audience size should not be the only barometer for success. However, additional funding should be offered in exchange for imaginative plans from the theatres to support the reception of new writing, within individual venues or as part of a wider touring circuit.

Action point 3: Independent commissioning fund#

Currently, bursaries of up to 10,000 are available to novelists and poets from Academi, yet no
similar opportunity is specifically available to writers of drama. The maximum award available to playwrights is 5,000 through the ACWs Creative Wales scheme. However, the award is not specialised and playwrights find themselves in competition with a broad spectrum of other artists and disciplines. A devolved, independent fund should be created through which playwrights as individuals, or playwrights and producers jointly, could receive commissions and support.

Action point 4: A dedicated centre for new writing#

Wales has no theatre space dedicated to new writing on a year-round basis thus providing a focus for Welsh playwrights; this space should not only be a showcase for the best new work from Wales, but also a host to exciting work from elsewhere. This centre should be based upon and take inspiration from theatres such as The Traverse (Edinburgh), The Tron (Glasgow), The Door (Birmingham), The Royal Court, The Bush and Soho Theatres (London). Urgent action should be taken towards the creation, or branding of a year-round dedicated centre for new writing in Wales, such as exists in every other nation in the UK and, indeed, in every major regional city.

Action point 5: Theatre for Young People#

The companies in Wales creating Theatre for Young People have been responsible for devising and commissioning much excellent new work. The substantial increase in funding from which eight of these companies are about to benefit is a welcome opportunity for them to stabilise and to develop aspects of their work neglected through funding pressures. The ACW should now work with the companies to address ways in which this new funding can support the commissioning of new work from Welsh and Wales-based playwrights, while seeking to devise, where desired, coherent development opportunities to be created in partnership across the sector.

Action point 6: Cross-media Partnership and Development#

Drama production and writer-centred activity is common across the media, including broadcasters, production companies in film, television and theatre, media agencies and training providers, but there is little strategic link-up between the various stakeholders and very little encouragement towards joined-up thinking. Work must begin to identify the gaps in support and to explore the need for a facility supporting dramatic writing in both languages across the media, which can, at the very least, encourage shared information and begin the task of constructing a more positive career path for dramatic writers.

The State of Play in Wales: Conclusion?

It is time for The Welsh Assembly Government and The Arts Council of Wales to develop and implement a national strategy for drama that reflects an impartial and inclusive process, placing new stage writing at its heart. The report conducted by Peter Boyden in 2000 for The Arts Council of England would be an excellent model for this process and we call upon these bodies to act accordingly.

author:Adam Somerset

original source:
18 December 2012


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