Theatre in Wales

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

Carl Tighe: Reasons for Leaving Wales

Open Letter to the Wales Arts Council (4)

After his departure Carl Tighe wrote an Open Letter to the Wales Arts Council in response to a survey that it was conducting.

Running to 3411 words it is a document that shines a light, on a period that is under-documented. In the pre-digital era Wales lacked a medium for its publication.

It has been divided into four parts for easier reading. Its fourth part surveys the span of theatre and his decision to no longer seek work with Welsh companies:

Open Letter

A Reply to the Arts Council Survey on Welsh Theatre

By 1987 I had explored the Welsh theatre as fully as any writer could. In an attempt to make and found a career as a playwright in Wales I approached one company after another- I have not bothered to detail my experiences with Theatr Powys, Gwent TIE, Masquerade, Hijinx, Black Door, Spectacle, Chwarae Teg, Swansea Grand, Open Cast Theatre, Cwmni Theatr Cymru, or the Torch simply because they are depressingly similar. I persisted, long after it was sensible to do so, and certainly long after the basic pattern was clear. I was defeated because of indifference, because of unpuncturable complacency, because of administrative incompetence, because of artistic inability. I found it increasingly frustrating and finally offensive to be faced with people whose own artistic achievement was slim, who indulged a broad cynicism by sneering at my work and yet consistently failed to encounter what I had written on any level at all. I came to the conclusion that these people have no idea whether my work is competent or not- but worse, they don't actually care.

As far as writing is concerned Welsh theatre is dominated by personalities that are profoundly ungenerous and un-generative. Of course, I cannot say things would be different elsewhere, yet I think that the peculiar cultural factors at work in Wales inevitably mean that the problems are compounded to make for a tremendous residue of sluggardiness, kitsch taste, artistic opportunism, personal ambition and a weary “bums on seats” mentality, all of which is palmed off on the Welsh public as “theatre” and genuine ”achievement.”

Very few artists and theatre directors want to work in Wales; they know they will not achieve West End success in dealing with the matter of Wales, and even if they produce something really good “nobody important” will ever see it. This has a devastating effect on theatre work as a whole; writing about Wales is seen as fairly pointless and is judged by people who find Wales a wearying and tiresome little place, the the location of punishment and exile, but who are nevertheless determined to use it to “make their mark” and prove their artistic worth- if this can only be done in a negative way by rejecting the “poor” material at their disposal. This is an exercise which in the short run is damaging to the individual and which in the long run is pointless and culturally damaging since it means that English language theatrical endeavour is permanently restricted to the Parochial. The most important point for me is that as a writer in Wales, no matter which way I turned, no matter which company I tried, I found no processes at work in the theatre, only personalities.

In the last few years I have counselled and advised dozens of playwrights in Wales as an officer of TWU, I have reviewed most of the tiny amount of new theatre writing for “Drama” and I have encountered the theatres of Wales, the Welsh Arts Council, and the Regional Arts Associations as a playwright. It has been a tedious and unrelieved procession of missed opportunities, lack of imagination and bad faith.

It may be simply that my plays are genuinely poor. This is, of course, something that every writer must consider, and it is something I have had every opportunity to ponder. However, the fact that my two radio plays have been well received and that in March 1988 I was awarded the All-London Theatre Prize for my play “A Whisper in the Wind” lead me to believe that I have more talent than the Welsh theatre companies and Made in Wales- who after all are funded to find and develop talent- were prepared to recognise.

Now I am extremely unwilling to offer my work to Welsh theatres. That does not mean I refuse to work in Wales or work with Welsh companies. Quite the reverse. I would be absolutely delighted to work again in Wales if invited to do so. It means simply I no longer seek work with Welsh companies. Having wasted so much time, talent and energy to energy to so little purpose, I feel it would be sheer professional folly for any writer who is serious about their work to become involved with the current theatre setup in Wales, unless they have a specific invitation to do so. And if I am not allowed to work with Welsh theatre companies then I will have no option but go where my silence matters much less.

I hope you find these comments of interest and I wish you well with your survey.

Carl Tighe

author:Adam Somerset

original source:
28 June 2020


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