Theatre in Wales

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

Failure to Recognise Importance

Carl Tighe: New Writing in Wales (6)

Carl Tighe was active in Welsh theatre as writer and commentator from 1969-1987.

In the winter of 1982-1983 the magazine "Arcade" circulated a questionnaire. Its results provided Carl Tighe with material and quotations for a substantial article on new writing in Wales. Its first version was published in "Platform" issue number 5, Spring 1983 under the title "From Tremadoc to Sketty Hall."

The article ran to 9300 words. The sixth part continued with the limits on new drama.

Welsh playwrights have become fixated on theatre buildings, and have forgotten about the rainbow of touring theatre companies operating throughout Wales. This is of enormous importance. Not only are smaller companies far, far more flexible and sympathetic than the larger companies, it is the touring companies who provide the bulk of the new theatre writing in Wales, both in terms of commissions and residencies. It is important to realise the extent of this imbalance. Over the financial years 1982-84 the Welsh Arts Council spent a total of £64,544 on new writing. Of that, The Torch and Theatre Clwyd between them spent only £3,849. That is less than 6% of the total.

A constant lament of script readers in Wales is that most playwrights do not go to the theatre, are ignorant of what is possible and of the ‘state of the art’ in general – most play scripts are said to be more suited to radio than to the stage. This is not altogether surprising, since would-be theatre goers often face a journey of several hours to the nearest professional theatre. Even so, it would seem to be plain common sense to visit the theatre before sending in scripts. It is strange that playwrights are reluctant to take even these elementary steps to further their profession.

The other point on which playwrights have fallen down with disastrous results, is in organising themselves to identify their problems and represent their interests. Over the last ten years a furious and fruitless argument has raged in The Stage, as playwrights have lashed out in their anger and frustration at the theatre managements and the Welsh Arts Council. However, in their tone, their failure to argue point for point, to amass hard evidence, in their xenophobia and character assassination, and worst of all in their failure to come up with serious proposals for change, playwrights have foundered, giving vent to their spleen at the expense of their progress.

This is sad, but hardly surprising. When the Wales Branch of Theatre Writers Union was formed in 1982 it found that the Writers Guild of Great Britain did not represent playwrights at all, and in any case had not operated in Wales for some time, leaving Welsh playwrights as one of the most under-organised and under-represented groups of writers in Britain. Since then Theatre Writers Union has tackled this massively dismal inheritance by negotiating cheap photocopying facilities, reduced ticket prices, a standard contract, and improved rates of pay. It has also helped to revise the Welsh Arts Council play-writing schemes, issued guidelines on unsolicited scripts and represented playwrights in a wide range of activities. In its brief history it has been remarkably successful and it remains the only effective body to represent playwrights in Wales.

As always it is a question of money. Jonathan Petherbridge of Theatre Clwyd:

In order to secure a project grant one has to show a matching income or guarantee figure from the receiving theatres. For a new company or less established group to persuade some Welsh administrators to take new work is not easy. Trace the source further and one discovers that the theatre’s own box office records show a dismal audience response to new work. The malaise pervades every stratum. The remedy? It has to come from every level at the same time: the Welsh Arts Council must relax their financial requirements for companies producing new work: the receiving theatres must realise their own duty to produce new work consistently; and most importantly new writing must be presented in exciting ways and must be seen to develop alongside a fresh approach to the presentation package.

This seems eminently sensible, but theatre in Wales is still at a relatively un-developed stage. The vital connections between one aspect of theatre and another are not always understood. Roger Tomlinson of Theatre Clwyd:

It is necessary for all theatre practitioners to recognise that new writing is central to keeping theatre alive for today and for the future, and not buck what is seen by many as simply the marketing problems of presenting new plays. If I have a personal concern, it is that even a theatre like The Sherman, which has a particular policy for new writing, tends to see new writing as an experiment. My belief is that many of the problems stem from this failure to recognise that new plays must be aimed at the broad mainstream audience as an integral part of the theatre company’s programmes.

author:Adam Somerset

original source:
06 June 2020

 

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