Theatre in Wales

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

Submission to the Post-16 Education and Training C

The Purpose:

Formed in 1988, the CPR is one of the most distinctive and pioneering theatre organisations in the UK. Its predecessor, Cardiff Laboratory Theatre, was founded in 1974, and for many years the CPR cherished the values of being small, independent and maverick, based in Wales and working internationally. Whilst these values continue to motivate the company, in 1996 CPR moved to Aberystwyth forming a joint venture with the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. Now working in close association with the department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies, the CPR is developing and staging more of its international projects in West Wales, using the excellent facilities of the university.

The CPR's main aims are :
· To develop and improve the knowledge, understanding and practice of theatre in its broadest sense, to affect change through investigation, sharing and discovery and to make this process as widely available as possible.
· To focus upon contemporary practice, to investigate the sources and context of current experimentation and the relationship of innovation to tradition.
· To integrate theory and practice.
· To dig to discover origins and roots, to push and pioneer, to extend
boundaries, perception and possibilities.

Committed to creating exchange and development opportunities for theatre practitioners, the public, students, academics and others, from the UK and beyond, the programmes of work combine:
· Cultural co-operation, collaboration and exchange
· Practical training, education and research
· Performance, production and promotion
· Documentation and publishing
· Information and resource

These programmes embrace a wide range of activities :
· innovative performance work;
· workshops, conferences, lectures and masterclasses,
· collaborations and exchanges with theatre companies of international significance;
· publication and distribution of theatre books and journals
· archiving and development of a multicultural performance reference library.

The Practice:

The various CPR functions and modes of operation underpin the artistic programme: conducting research; organising public and professional programmes of workshops, masterclasses and demonstrations; mounting international conferences and symposia; publishing and disseminating information; and presenting guest performances. Synthesis and unification of the various CPR functions and modes of operation in each successive project remain a goal and this synergistic aspiration continues to evolve. The complex matrix of concerns governing the work - aesthetic, political, cultural, intercultural, social, intellectual, philosophical - informs and [re]forms continuously.

The Programme:

A three-year programme for 2000/03 has been planned with a cyclical structure of 'umbrella' projects and themes within which the full range of CPR activities can be realised. It offers access at all levels to innovative in-service training programmes and approaches to making theatre; programmes of high quality presentations and performances from around the world that pursue ideals of accessibility without artistic compromise; provocative and imaginative inter-disciplinary explorations and exchanges.

Establishing a calendar of fixed points allows CPR good planning and priming time-frames and provides a clarity of structure and building blocks to add to and to depart from. Within this framework, there are some key aims and objectives underlining the artistic programme and company operation over this next stage of development, and these are summarised as follows:

· To establish an international theatre summer school as an annual fixture, synonymous with Aberystwyth; and known for its distinctive faculty, and blend of high-quality training with process-led production/performance outcomes.

· To expand possibilities of presenting international work in Aberystwyth and Wales:
· create opportunities for touring accessible work around Wales
· particularly to explore the possibilities of presentation in non-traditional spaces, sites and small venues
· to create flexible structures that allow for occasional projects and presentations, serendipitous and opportunistic, beyond the biennial alternating festivals: Giving Voice, Restless Gravity and Points of Contact series.

· To expand activities and partnership networks across Wales:
· establish the itinerant series, CPR on Tour and Points of Contact.
· develop partnerships beyond the arts industry with museums, conservation
agricultural and rural bodies.

· Develop complementary programmes to contextualise CPR's work and increase accessibility: - design particular programmes for specific community sectors, e.g. community choirs, CPR experimental theatre clubs.

· Promote and develop CPR's particular interdisciplinary approach to the understanding and practice of theatre, most manifest in the Points of Contact and Performance Studies series.

· Develop opportunities to co-produce new work and collaborations, bringing international artists in contact with Wales-based artists.

· Bring the CPR resource centre into more active professional and public use; increase the resource of Wales-based material through complementary archiving with the National Library of Wales; develop links with other theatre centres in Europe and beyond.

For more information on our current programme, please refer to the website:

A Position ( in Wales):

Inscribed within every project, every activity mounted by CPR is the desire to affect change, with the key objectives being investigation, discovery and sharing. These objectives are to enable Welsh and UK audiences and practitioners to keep abreast of influences throughout the world (and thereby allow those influences to inform and suggest new possibilities for the use and practice of performance in Wales and the UK). They are also to enable the development of the art generally, its methods and techniques, and to extend the boundaries in these disciplines in new and forever expanding contexts of communication.

The CPR's role in Wales is as a 'conduit' for exchange, co-production and contrast, to investigate emerging artists and ideas, and at the same time to pursue (sometimes against prevailing trends and fashions) the questions underneath, in ongoing long-term research.

Many years ago, Richard Gough stated that "the aim of the work was to find and explore ways of breaking the isolation of British Theatre to other influences or cross-fertilisation and positively make efforts to bring to bring these influences to bear in Wales, where a 'new theatre' is possible, and can be formed distinct and whole without reference or derivation from the English mainstream model."

Such a grand project, expressed as an ideal, is obviously incomplete and un-achievable, but still valuable as a motivating vision. It remains important to the CPR, although rarely articulated. It generates a genuine desire to nurture and stimulate a dynamic and knowledgeable theatre profession within Wales; to help form practitioners (a work force) who are experienced and conversant with world theatre techniques, aesthetics and contemporary issues and who are thus empowered to generate their own distinctive work. Further more, the CPR wishes to assist develop an informed and critical audience in Wales who want and deserve the best in world theatre and who can engage with it (be entertained, illuminated, and provoked) without rejecting it as unfamiliar or 'foreign'.

This motivation connects and contributes to a wider cultural, social, and political agenda. Wales needs to determine a place in Europe, distinct from England, and distinctive. In its own small way, the CPR wishes to help, encourage and determine a sense of nationhood through open and dynamic international interaction between Wales and other parts of the world believing that the performing arts are a wide avenue for intercultural exchange, producing greater contact and understanding between people and nations.

Philosophically and in practice, however, the CPR has no desire to falsely celebrate national culture, it gravitates towards the reflective, preferring to raise curiosity, to question, and to challenge. Whilst supporting initiatives that make strong links with countries/nations of a similar complexion, the CPR also believes that people and nations develop by engaging with difference; recognising otherness and determining one's own unique characteristics through dynamic interaction. The CPR's position within Wales may sometimes seem paradoxical, to be paradoxically positioned within a culture is far from being irrelevant.



It promotes a broad spectrum approach to the appreciation and understanding of human endeavour - culture in the broadest sense including language, sport, art and play - and because performing arts are a wide avenue for intercultural exchange and understanding

It is intercultural, interdisciplinary and integrating

It is inclusive, embracing, open to new tendencies and new technologies

It is both an optic, a way of looking at the world, and a way of constructing alternative views (proposing 'new' realities, different options - making the familiar unfamiliar, opening perceptions)

It allows for new formulations and emphasises process rather than product

It does not enshrine cultural values and pronounce upon them with certainty, rather it contests them and offers a space/site for dynamic negotiation. It includes uncertainty and diffidence, promotes experiment, nurtures a sense of becoming and evolving, and encourages reflection

It emphasises the provisional, action with contingency, mutability - culture in a subjunctive mode

It encourages an understanding and appreciation of the methods, techniques and aesthetic concepts of other cultures and societies both from around the world and within our own nation

It does not oppose, replace or deny the European tradition of theatre (its canon and practice) rather it promotes this as one colour amongst many in the spectrum and then positively embraces the performative traditions of other cultures, hybrid forms and innovative fusion

It promotes exchange across art forms, collaboration and co-operation



Theatre is a relatively recent cultural import to Wales and the dominant English mainstream model has struggled to find its place. The 'great little theatres' of Wales constitute a national theatre and celebrate diversity and locality. The need for a National Theatre remains questionable and is in any case the product of an outmoded apparatus of nationalism. And yet many of the great cultural traditions of Wales are performative (from the Bardic traditions to the sermons in chapel; from the choirs to the eisteddfodau). Thus performance is the better mode to apprehend, comprehend and engage these historical forms whilst at the same time embracing and promoting innovation in dance, music, theatre, performance art and hybrid forms.


performance also lends itself as metaphor or analogy to the complex cultural, social and political transactions that are taking place in our country and shaping a new, dynamic and interactive nation:

Wales as a work in progress

As a project of imagining and re-invention

As a process of collaboration and co-operation

As a place of inclusion and integration

Where a sense of nationhood is determined through dynamic negotiation and transaction

Where diversity is celebrated and cultural pluralism enjoyed

Where the 'script' is not authored by an individual but devised through collective action

Where the ending or 'endings' can be altered or changed

Where the participants determine the outcome and a sense of ownership is gained

Where new notions of art and cultural action are integrated with new technologies and a new nation is proposed

Questions to the Arts Community
1. Other than providing additional funding, what do you feel the Assembly can/ should offer the arts in Wales and how could the Assembly develop its own definitive Arts and Cultural Policy and 2. What should be the principle objectives of an arts and cultural policy for Wales

· public recognition and acknowledgement of the arts and culture as a crucial factor in society - their value as economic driver and indicator and well as social - and a strong leading-by- example role of advocacy and support
· creation of a management and policy structure and funding framework that is not subject to the vagaries of political change
· a long-term development view, and rejection of the 'quick fix' and knee-jerk solution - avoidance of, for example, the easy solution of focusing funding and resources into expensive 'centres of excellence' - Wales' strengths are its richness, plurality, and diversity in its cultural life.
· development of stabilization schemes to address long term eroding effects of standstill funding
· promotion of sustainable development through 3-5 year funding allocations and budgets to the arts and culture, and consequent similar term revenue and project funding for artists, companies and organisations
· appointment of an Assembly Secretary with responsibility for Culture, Media, Heritage - the English model here is a good one
· streamlining of management and bureaucratic systems so as to maximize resources for artistic and cultural activity, and democratization of such processes through responsive consultation
· resistance to any tendencies towards monoculturalism and cultural apartheid- recognition of the pluralistic and multicultural nature of the population with clearly-defined policies promoting cultural diversity; development of linguistic policies that recognize multilingualism, and in terms of the dominant bi-lingualism, policies that promote mutuality rather than duality
· resistance to narrow definitions and delineation of arts and culture, of art-form and activity; recognition of broad and fluid concepts of form and value of cross-fertilisation
· promotion of the arts and culture of Wales at home and abroad, and inscription of the arts and culture within other areas of policy-making and development, such as education, social regeneration, tourism, even health and transport
· development of clear and unequivocal strategic and statutory local authority commitment to arts and culture, and equalization regionally
· investigation of models of best practice in other societies and states: for example, the Japanese legislation that behoves any new major commercial development to include a cultural facility; French system of Training Funds and Foundations within Trade Unions and other partnerships
· legislative or other brokerage between culture, commerce, and business

The key to a successful, enterprising society is creativity, the arts being foremost in developing creative ways of thinking and acting in the individual and in society. Access to, and participation in, high quality artistic activity as widely as possible is essential, therefore, and wrongly regarded by many as an unaffordable luxury. As in all nutrition, while quality and quantity are key factors for health, it is the range of ingredients and their mix that provide the essentials for life.

3. Should the priority be based upon the arts in Wales or on Welsh Arts? What should the balance be between the two?

The distinction being made between the arts in Wales and Welsh Arts is undefined, unclear and unnecessarily divisive and oppositional. However- whether these oppositions be: traditional/ contemporary; inward-looking/outward-looking; home-made art/ visiting art; professional/amateur; participatory/ presentational; 'high'art/ 'low'art; artisanship/ artistry; conservation/invention; indigenous/'foreign'; pure/hybrid- there is a clear relationship, continuum and interdependency between the two. At best the 'edges' between the two are ever-evolving, constantly being re-defined and should be entirely symbiotic, abrasive where useful, together defining visions of the past, present and future.

A balance then, with quality being the overriding determining factor.

The race is on worldwide for nations to claim what is distinctly theirs, and Wales, in its process of reclaiming and defending its own cultural signifiers from colonising forces, like many others needs to reject the easy path of 'branding', reductionism and empty cliché.

Let us distinguish ourselves by our vitality, creativity, imagination, vision, openness, enthusiasm, curiosity, and passion.

4. Given a 'clean sheet', how would you suggest the Assembly structures its funding and management/ development of the arts in Wales?

The arms length operating principle, envied by many overseas, needs to be protected at all costs. The current model of a Council for the Arts, expressed as an ideal, is a sound and logical one - a specialist organization with a range of expertise vested in its professional and advisory structures, democratically formed and publicly accountable. Governmental representation through the agency of an Arts Minister or Culture Secretary is a vital component. Add to that 'sheet' an inbetween tier - basically a Ministry - that could manage and broker the over-arching partnerships with industry, regional government, national institutions such as the Welsh Tourist Board, or national training initiatives and schemes, and the education system - that could also undertake the production of statistical analyses and data in relevant and useful forms.

5. In your experience, how open and accessible do you feel the Arts Council of Wales is and have they been prepared to listen to your views and take on board your ideas? Using the Drama strategy as an example, do you feel the consultation exercise was well-managed or were there things which could have been done differently?

The results speak for themselves. A public relations disaster; an Arts Council staff who seem demorallised, depressed and disillusioned; many clients who are angry, depressed and disillusioned; complete reversal of decisions; a suspicion voiced by some that it was a thinly-disguised exercise designed primarily to secure the future of Clwyd Theatr Cymru. The 'strategy' seemed to fly in the face of the consultation process, as partial as this was - our recollection of this is of a minimal period for written consultation with a series of selective and ineffective regional meetings, a cosmetic exercise.

There is a sense of the Arts Council as a greatly embattled and beleaguered institution. Managing its own internal changes would appear to have been a painful one, or rather, a preoccupying one and did not best-equip it to manage the process of change externally. External pressures of accountability, whether that be the ever-increasing demands from the Welsh Office for statistical justification, presently appear to be causing paralysis and stasis, and much distraction from the core business of developing the arts in Wales.

Impressions of recent events aside, we have generally found our contact with the Arts Council to be open and fair; we would welcome, however, much more participation from officers or representatives in our projects and at our events to inform and enable debate and dialogue between us, and greater opportunity for clients to meet with/ address directly relevant panels and Council.

6. Do you feel the Council's structure and organization is appropriate to enable it to develop national arts strategies and to manage the distribution of Assembly funding?

Yes, but only if there is sufficient funding.

7. In your view, how well have the arts been supported across all regions of Wales, particularly in promoting the medium of the Welsh language?

Our impression is of reasonably-well and equitably distributed support and provision regionally - from central funds - with perhaps undue focus on the capital. Local Authorities, however, greatly differ in their support and this has led to imbalances in the regions. On a strict pro rata basis proportionate to the population percentages, there has been good investment into the promotion of the Welsh language.

8. Do you agree with the principle of "funding fewer better" i.e. concentrating resources on a lesser number of organizations with a view to significantly improving the quality of productions?

No not the principle, but we agree it is certainly one possible, though not guaranteed, way of preserving (but not necessarily improving) quality. But in this case certainly not a 'strategic' principle, merely defensive and 'retractive'. And, whatever the aim, certainly a case of far too little, far too late. The writing of severe and gradual diminution of resources in real terms has been on wall for some time most tangibly since 1996. The squeeze of compounded shrinkage, without address or redress, has resulted in an orgy of blood-letting and recrimination, there are many casualties. But a 'strategy' that was primarily a cost-saving 'rationalisation' , that did not have at its base a primary aim of 'funding more better', and objectives flowing from that, was flawed from the start. And the paltry (compared to England) 2.5% increase in funding in Wales is the result.

9. Which body/bodies should play a key role in the management and distribution of European funding for the arts?

National Assembly - Arts Ministry - Arts Council.

10. What more can Wales Arts International, or others, do in promoting Wales' creative industries abroad?

Virtually nothing more unless it receives considerable more investment to enhance the many things it is already doing.

· enable better attendance and representation at international arts markets and fairs
· reciprocity is the key: seek out and develop bilateral agreements, funding and exchanges
· ensure the arts are included in Welsh representation at international conferences, visits, and trade missions
· work more closely with the WDA and the Welsh Tourist Board
· develop good relationships with cultural attaches, secure frequent visits to Wales, enabling exchange of artists
· develop formal links with the Expo series

11. How do you feel the arts can contribute to tackling social exclusion in Wales and what barriers presently exist which hinder progress?

The arts are a strong agent/ force for social change - they can help empower the individual with confidence and skills and a sense of belonging; they can highlight issues, provide a stimulus and forum for debate and dialogue - but the arts cannot be used in the absence of strong policies for and public spending on health, education, housing and unemployment - in these contexts, arts are vehicle and tool.

12. What support should the assembly be providing to sustain or increase the viability and income of the creative industries in Wales?

Firstly, as in Question 1.

Plus, determine an increase of funding generally, at least to proportionate value of levels in England, if not higher, given Wales' particularities of demography, geography, and bi-lingualism

And, depending on the extent of its legislative powers:

· examine the taxation system, and VAT in particular, for possibilities for cultural funding
· explore the potential of endowment and covenanting schemes


Theme Ranking: these are all inter-related in differing ways in differing contexts; however, most flow from one, so:

Supporting education and promoting artistic talent throughout Wales 1
Improving the quality of life for individuals and communities equal 2
Promoting social cohesion and active citizenship through widening
community access to the arts in Wales equal 2
Reinforcing the national identity and international status of Wales equal 2
The importance of the creative industries to employment in Wales equal 2
The development of excellence 6


original source: Centre for Perfromance Research
30 June 2000


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