Theatre in Wales

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

Theatr Felinfach Paper to the Post-16 Education a

1. Apart from offering extra sponsorship, what do you feel the Assembly should/could offer the arts in Wales and how could the Assembly develop its own Arts and Culture Policy?

2. What should be the principal objectives of a Welsh Arts and Culture policy?

3. Should the priority of such a policy be based on the arts in Wales or on Welsh arts?

The committee needs to conduct the review in the most broadminded and thorough way possible. In this respect, it is the needs and potential of Welsh communities that is paramount, and not those of the ‘Artistic Community’ which, by definition, tends to set its own needs above, and apart from, everything else.

To this end, it is extremely important that one penetrates right through to the core of a dynamic community, where culture is a strong/sustaining factor – and part of the defensive and strategic armour of that community. This is where we will find the answer to the question: what historical culture has given us our creative potential? What creative activities has endowed upon us our prophecies and our developing visions? And these questions, of course, are fundamentally important if the coalition of communities, partnerships and agencies we call a nation is to develop a vision that is generally clear, positive and self-confident.

A healthy culture has at its root an element of duality: first of all – a prosperous culture is an open-minded and enterprising culture which is continually changing and developing; but, fundamental to this flexible force is a stability extending like Theseus’ strand; connecting us with the firm values of the past, and giving us the confidence to venture relatively safely towards the unknown successes (and failures) of the future.

The principal aim of any arts and culture policy should be to recognise the fundamental importance of this stable cultural inheritance for the benefit of all aspects of creative activity – education, training, entrepreneurship, the socio-economic dimension and the arts. By having an unambiguous statement to this end as a firm basis, we may then face the whole world with confidence.

5. From your experience, how open is the Arts Council of Wales and how prepared is it to listen to your ideas, and act accordingly?

6. Do you feel that the structure and organisation of the Council is suitable for developing national strategies for the arts, and for managing the allocation of Assembly funds.

7. In your opinion, to what extent have the arts been supported in all parts of Wales, especially in respect of promoting the Welsh language?

To all extents and purposes, the Arts Council of Wales (with the notable exception of its regional officials) is irrelevant to the specific activities of Felin-fach Theatre, and to the indigenous culture of the Welsh rural communities, in general. The invisibility of the indigenous culture (Welsh medium) is a fundamental problem in this respect. At best, this problem provokes a philanthropic response (fair play to the natives), and at worst, a categorical repudiation of the ‘nonconformist’ values of the indigenous culture.

In this respect, we must differentiate between language and culture. Unlike many organisations and coalitions, Felin-fach Theatre needs to consider its day to day impact on the community. The Welsh language as such is not the problem. The Council would obviously like to be seen to be supporting the native language on all accounts, promoting bilingual policy to this end. The cultural identity of Wales is a completely different matter.

In two years, Felin-fach Theatre will be celebrating 30 years of work within and on behalf of this culture. Throughout this period, we have endeavoured to raise the Council’s awareness of the creative potential of the indigenous culture. The response has been lukewarm, at best.

It is not surprising that our first task, while working in these communities, is to address this feeling of inferiority and low self-esteem which is endemic in the community as a whole and which is a further barrier as we seek to develop positive attitudes in the face of the present socio-economic crisis.

8. Do you agree with the principle of ‘more money for fewer activities’?

This principle is tantamount to cultural feudalism.

10. What more can Wales Arts International, or others, do to promote the creative industries of Wales overseas?

The problems of the arts organisation in Wales with regard to our cultural identity is once again central to this question. Brith Gof is an example of a company that is respected world-wide, with the exception of England and Wales. The failure of the Arts Council of Wales to recognise the importance of this company in the context of the development of cultural broad-mindedness in Europe is symptomatic of the lack of confidence the Council has in our indigenous culture.

11. In your opinion, how can the arts contribute to addressing social exclusion in Wales, and what obstacles are there at present to hinder development?

Arts practitioners have no more (or less) of a right than others to deal with social exclusion. Indeed, (especially during the last years) community educationers and the youth workers of Felin-fach Theatre would have faced fewer problems if someone had excluded ‘community artists’ (or any other group) from stepping into ‘problematic’ communities.

There are two basic points involved here:

developing an inclusive community is a long term challenge
solutions to problems should be sought within the community itself
The above principles must be respected if a sustainable community is to be built.

Felin-fach Theatre was established as a result of the cultural will of a rural community in west Wales, and is a centre that has worked for the benefit of, and with the support of, that community for over a quarter of a century. We believe that the recent tendency of the arts organisation to propose an artistic activity as a panacea to social problems is an example of the historical failure of these bodies to realise the true nature of meaningful communities whether Ceredigion, Holyhead or the Rhondda Valley. Common to all these areas is a sense of community, a sense which is, to a great extent, dependent upon their inherited and cultural pride. Implicit in this pride is a creative dynamic – perhaps active and productive, perhaps dormant.

In order to release and direct this energy we have to reject sociological professional boundaries, because working within the community is the only meaningful, noncosmetic option. In this respect, the missionary’s vision is totally unsuited, and has contributed to the enormous pressure on our rural communities during the present crisis.

The announcement of Objective One funding intensifies the problem. In this context, there are risks in not being able to see the wood for the trees.


THEMES OF THE COMMITTEE’S REVIEW

Having considered the proposed themes, the team at Felin-fach Theatre are not happy to prioritise for the following reasons–

as community educationers and youth workers we would not wish to link the development of support in the education sector with the promotion of artistic talents; we are obliged to recognise and promote the creative potential of every individual, not merely the ‘talented’ ones; indeed the development of inclusive communities depends on this principle;
there is a need to ensure a broad-minded context for the theme which recognises the importance of the creative industries as far as employment in Wales is concerned;
developing excellence is an ambition that arises naturally as individuals and the community discover their creative voice; ie, if someone has something to say, and the confidence and the will to say it, then they will want to say it in the most effective way possible.
To summarise, the team is unhappy to prioritise on the basis of the themes determined because the main aim, which sets the foundation and context for all other themes, has not been expressed with sufficient clarity and precision, namely: the need to recognise that the Welsh language, culture and heritage are the basic factors directing our creative perspective, in rural or urban areas, through the medium of Welsh or English.

The team at Felin-fach Theatre is also reluctant to propose priorities because the reason for the centre’s success over the last quarter of a century is the holistic approach it has adopted.

Over the course of a year, the creative staff at Felin-fach Theatre will assist over 38,000 members of the communities of Ceredigion and west Wales to develop and fulfil creative projects in the community (see the enclosed Prospectus). At any one time during the natural creative seasons (Winter and Spring) the centre will lead, sustain, or support at least eight community projects deriving from:

the work structure of the centre’s creative youth (targeting every Key Stage including Older Children and Community Leadership)
projects under the leadership of the centre’s community education programme
a response to the community’s creative needs

The following are amongst the well-known examples of the theatre’s community methodology:

BONTLWYD – daily radio drama for Radio Ceredigion (community station) that raises questions regarding the changeable nature of the community and the tensions resulting from those changes; as with all of the theatre’s projects this project belongs to the community. The actors and writers are members of the rural community and are given guidance and unofficial training at the centre;

THE PANTOMIME – annual initiative that derived from the activities of Theatre – in – Education. It is now devised and written by the theatre’s community writing team. Reinforcing our identity is fundamental to the continuing popularity of this activity;

HAMB‘NS – youth film produced by Wes Glei Ltd. (a community production company partly led by Felin-fach Theatre) in partnership with Urdd Gobaith Cymru. This 65 minute film was written and performed by young people of 16-18 years old from Ceredigion. The film, which addresses the issues of social inclusion relevant to the bilingual rural areas of Wales, has already won the Wales Youth Work Excellence Award, been bought by S4C and broadcast during peak hours on Boxing Night, and nominated for one of the main awards of the Race in the Media competition (British Commission for Racial Equality).

Not only does this last example reflect the creativity and high standards of production that can emanate from the indigenous culture but also the relevance, appeal and power of the local context to people beyond local and community boundaries.



(Euros Lewis,
Lecturer in Charge of Felin-fach Theatre
Ceredigion Youth Senior Official)

author:Euros Lewis

original source: National Assembly for Wales
02 March 2000

 

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