Theatre in Wales

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

Arts & Culture Policy Review: Michael Bogdanov Pap

I am a freelance theatre and film director/writer, born in Wales and currently living and occasionally working here. My main occupation and concern is with Theatre and, although my responses apply to the Arts across the board, it is with the provision (or lack) of Theatre with which I am principally concerned. I have enclosed a full biography to give a picture of the scope and diversity of my professional activities.

The answers to the following questions are contained for the most part in the accompanying two documents TOWARDS THE PROVISION OF A NATIONAL THEATRE FOR WALES – A FEDERAL SYSTEM and TOWARDS A NATIONAL THEATRE – SOME QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS. My responses will, therefore, be brief..

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?

Establish a National Charter for the Arts to be implemented as policy at all levels of activity throughout Wales.
Create a Minister/Secretary for the Arts as a Cabinet Post to oversee a Committee to implement this policy.
Enshrine in the Constitution of the National Assembly artistic freedom of expression thus removing the Arts from the arena of political interference irrespective of which party is in power (see Germany – Bundestag and Lšnder policy).
Ensure through its education policy that the Arts are given as high a priority on the National Curriculum as core subjects thereby imbuing in future generations the sense of normality and rightness of participation.
Re-educate public awareness of the Arts by the Assembly’s own commitment to and acknowledgement of the Arts as a life enhancing/transfiguring agent of social change.

2. What should be the principle objectives of an arts and cultural policy for Wales?

To ensure that the Arts are seen as a service and not a luxury
To ensure equal provision and opportunity for the whole population of Wales, regardless of race, gender or creed.
(See National Theatre Paper Mission Statement.)

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

‘Welsh arts’ should be a strong component of ‘the arts in Wales’, continually reaffirming and reassessing their own distinctive national identity. The arts in Wales must reflect the linguistic origins of its multi-cultural communities and its dual language culture. At the same time the arts must recognise and address the problems of the outside world, influencing and being influenced by international concerns and movements. Theatre in particular must have a vertical structure, an umbilical cord to the street that connects with its local roots and spreads out to embrace national and international concerns.

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

Create new funding mechanisms including:-

A mandatory rate for the twenty-two unitary authorities to be spent on the Arts.
Recognising that Health, Education, Social Services, Economic Development, Tourism etc., are also an integral part of the Arts fabric and should provide sources of funding for special projects.
Establishing European Funding Partnerships.
Realigning the lottery rules to encompass revenue support.
A levy on the profits of TV companies who, by and large, depend for their output on the talent nurtured by public subsidy, particularly writers, actors, directors, musicians, singers etc., etc.,.
Devising revolutionary strategies for raising funds from business and investment (against the day when the Assembly has either tax raising powers or powers to channel excess business profits). Examples from other countries include: Catalonia - a mandatory 10% of all profits from the banks must be spent on the Arts; Japan – new land development cannot take place without the erection of a building with a cultural purpose e.g. a library, theatre, art gallery etc., etc.,.
See also answer to Question 1.

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?

I have not personally been involved in the ‘consultation’ process. However, from an outsider’s perspective, the process has been riddled with prejudice, mismanagement and arrogance. It has made a mockery of the term ‘arms length’ and given the lie to the theory that the Arts are free from political interference. It has confused ‘policy’ with ‘strategy’ and even then its declared intentions are full of contradictions. ‘Development’ cannot take place where there is a contraction of output, ‘greater accessibility’ is not compatible with fewer companies and ‘raising of standards’ cannot occur where there are fewer opportunities to train or develop an Art form.

A confusion exists in the public mind as to the make-up of the ACW. There is often talk of the Arts COUNCIL when, in reality, what is meant is its OFFICERS. The 15 unelected members of the Council have the power to devise, rubber stamp, change or radically alter policy and decisions. It is the officers who have to carry out these decisions. That is not to deny the culpability of the officers in the current fiasco but, in any debate about accountability, the 15 to all intents and purposes anonymous members of the Council who devised and supported the Drama Strategy need to be called to account.

This lack of accountability and the secret nature of its deliberations are endemic in a system of amateur privilege. In its submission to the Post-16 Committee the Arts Council of Wales promised to:-

consult more systematically and routinely through umbrella bodies to ensure that consultation on matters of detail is focused.
establish working groups with representatives from the sector concerned to work on consultation exercises with us.
seek to develop stronger partnerships through consultation.
It then proceeded to make a mockery of these promises in its implementation of the ill-conceived New Writing franchise with an undemocratic selection process and its refusal to reveal how conclusions were arrived at. Serious consideration must be given not merely to the re-construction of the ACW but to a new system of accountability altogether. Wales has no need to be enslaved to an outdated English model (see enclosed article from THE GUARDIAN).

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

See enclosed Papers specifically SOME QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS Point 2 and answer to Question 1.

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?

Historically the provision for Theatre in both languages has been patchy, ad hoc, sporadic, with no clearly defined policy. English language Theatre needs Producing Houses, Welsh language Theatre needs positive discrimination.

(See enclosed Papers.)

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

No. This is the paradox at the heart of the ACW Drama Strategy. Fewer organisations means less availability, more elitism, declining audiences. More activity in more areas promotes more interest and more accessibility, leading to a raising of standards, more employment and a more professional career structure. Therefore we should fund ‘more’ better.

The quality of large-scale work is sometimes improved with better funding but only when the amount is significant. £200,000 hasn’t made a difference to Clywd Theatr Cymru standards - £2,000,000 might. On the other hand too little money usually goes hand in glove with inferior product and that £200,000 could make a difference to six or eight small groups. Theatre is labour intensive. People are its resource. Pay more people properly and the results are quickly apparent.

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

The National Assembly for Wales and the Minister/Secretary for the Arts.

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

Wales Arts International can only work with the product at hand. Apart from Opera/Music the Arts in Wales have a low to non-existent profile internationally. This will only be raised when there are high quality, high profile works to market. Greater co-ordination between the Welsh Development Agency, the Welsh Tourist Board, the Arts Council of Wales and Welsh Arts International and the appointment of personnel in key countries and cities to market Wales ŗ la British Council would help. In the area of Theatre there are enough top-class actors (unfortunately working elsewhere) to create a series of large-scale works that could be showcased here at home and then internationally at Festivals. High quality artistic activity benefits Tourism. It would help if there were a National Theatre (see enclosed Paper)…

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

Education is the key to universal participation in the Arts, promoting access, rehabilitation, social skills, release of potential etc., and to changing a public perception that the Arts are the exclusive province of a minority of the population. Merely having a body called ‘The Arts Council’ headed by an unelected panel contributes to the general view that the Arts are elitist, outside of governmental concerns. In countries where the Arts are woven into the fabric of public life artists are considered to contribute politically, socially, aesthetically, economically, intellectually to the life of that country. It will take twenty years – a generation – to banish fear, suspicion, prejudice and philistinism. A start must be made now. There has never been a better time.

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

The National Assembly can ensure that the Arts have a higher profile within the Assembly, and therefore the country, by bringing them in from the cold through the creation of a Ministry.
The Assembly should begin by recognising and addressing the disparity of funding levels between Wales and England and Scotland. It should ensure that as long as it is dependent on central funding that it has an effective voice in Westminster.
Realign the rules of the lottery to provide core revenue funding thereby giving companies long-term stability.
Integrate the Arts into all areas of policy be it Health, Education, Social Services, Economic Development or Tourism.
Dispel the old funding perception that the Arts are just one small corner of public life instead of an integral part.

In terms of government funding and support of the arts, rank the themes in order of priority, where "1" is the highest priority and "6" is the lowest priority.

It is invidious to place these themes in order of priority. Each is as important as the other. All are inter-dependent and taken together they provide a picture of a nation that is healthy in body and spirit and at ease with its culture. Unfortunately we are a long way from achieving this ease. The rude health of a nation, as reflected in its attitude to the Arts, is dependent on a lead from the top and a ground swell of support from below. The Assembly has a crucial role to play in joining up the two.

How relevant do you feel the terms of reference are to assessing the arts in Wales?

How do the arts and, in particular your work, contribute to the above themes?

What changes need to be introduced to encourage the further development of these themes?

The answers to Questions 1 and 3 are contained in the enclosed Papers.

However, as a politically engaged theatre director, over the past thirty years I have founded eleven Young People’s or Theatre in Education companies - seven of which are still in existence – including the educational work of the Royal National Theatre, the Young Vic, the English Shakespeare Company and the Newcastle Playhouse. I have campaigned ceaselessly on behalf of the Arts for social inclusion and as a means of social change. I have, I believe, had a modicum of success in altering the public perception of and involvement with Theatre. I have always seen the Theatre as primarily a tool of education, whatever the nature and size of the project, and whenever possible have placed my ability at the service of schools, colleges, universities, institutes, youth clubs, community centres, prisons, hospitals, etc.,. My criteria have always been to reach and influence the greatest number of people through the highest possible production vales and professional standards.

It is to my great sadness that my major Theatre work has had to take place outside of Wales due to the lack of opportunity and career structure at the level at which I work. In order to stay a certain amount of the year here I have now embarked on a series of films that empower and involve disenfranchised communities in Wales: THE TEMPEST IN BUTETOWN with the residents of the old Tiger Bay; A LIGHT IN THE VALLEY shot in the Rhondda and A LIGHT ON THE HILL highlighting the plight of the farming communities of mid Wales. Currently I am filming the third in the trilogy, IN THE CITY – a look at Cardiff now and in the last century. I have set up my own film company, Dogo Cymru, to develop a Feature Film POCO BARA – an adaptation of NEL FACH Y BWCS - to be shot in Wales and Patagonia.

Yet my Theatre work in the next two years will take me to the Sydney Opera House to direct TROILUS & CRESSIDA for the Olympic Arts Festival, the Burg Theatre, Vienna to do my own adaptation of Goethe’s poem REINEKE FUCHS, Broadway to do a musical based on THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR set in the American Civil War, The Theater des Westens, Berlin to do a new musical of THE THORNBIRDS and the Guthrie Theatre, Minneapolis to direct THE THREEPENNY OPERA. It is my fervent wish one day to be able to do such work

author:Michael Bogdanov

original source: National Assembly for Wales
28 April 2000


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