Theatre in Wales

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

Sherman Theatre's submission to the Post 16 Educat

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?

Ensure that Artistic and cultural policy/strategy is written into all areas of public and social policy, i.e. health, education, social services, etc.
Work closely with the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) to ensure that all local authorities have strong cultural policy and practice throughout Wales. Ensure that they protect and increase their spending throughout Wales and make funding the arts a statutory provision.
Develop a children’s/young people’s charter for Wales that has a strong cultural strategy.
Ensure that culture is high status in the Training and Education strategies of Wales, including life long learning.
Consult regularly with the practising artists of Wales.
Develop points of access to influence policy for the artists of Wales.
Ensure that Art has a high status in Wales.
Deal firstly with the cultural needs of the people throughout Wales and ensure provision and access across the structure of society. Do away with the current attitude to Arts labelling ‘National’ this ‘Flagship’ that. Start with the audiences. Once we have proper provision then we can identify separate National working practice.
The cultural need of the audience must be put first and not the labelling of organisations.
Consult other National and International policy = progressive thought and solid research. (i.e. the Boyden Report)
accountable and in the public domain.
Appoint an Arts Secretary for Wales.
Present a strong case for the funding of Arts and Culture within the Public Spending Reviews and follow the lead of Scotland and England in increasing the money.
2. What should be the principle objectives of an arts and cultural policy for Wales?

That arts and culture has a recognised high status in the health of the Nation.
Continually assess the cultural needs of the Nation.
Invest in the diverse communities of Wales.
Professionalise the Arts in Wales by investing in the talent base and stop our artists moving away.
Invest in the next generation of artists.
Ensure that art and culture have a high status in Cardiff, the capital city alongside our sister nations i.e. Dublin, Barcelona, etc.
A National Arts and Cultural Policy needs to be taken on board and put into practice by the democratic and structural organisations of the Nation i.e. Welsh Local Government Association, Welsh Development Agency, Wales Tourist Board, etc. This arts and cultural policy should be for the whole of Wales and therefore all organisations throughout Wales should recognise its worth and ensure that it has a relevance and practical implication for all the democratic processes of the Nation.
3. Should the priority of such a policy be based upon the arts in Wales on Welsh Arts? What should the balance be between the two?

There is no doubt that the arts in Wales are in crisis.
The recent ACW Drama Strategy has devastated the theatre in Wales.
A priority must be made to the artists of Wales who create Welsh Art.
Only when we have put our own ‘house in order’ can we broaden the debate.
We now have a strong network of theatre throughout Wales, but we do not have the Welsh product to put in them. This is a ridiculous and disastrous situation to be in.
Introduce a ‘stabilisation’ strategy for Welsh theatre along the lines of Arts Council of England. It is ridiculous that our great Opera Company WNO have been able to get stabilisation from England and that this scheme is not available in Wales.
4. Given a "clean sheet", how would you suggest the Assembly structures its funding and management/development of the arts in Wales?

Appoint an Arts Secretary for the National Assembly for Wales (NAW).
Create a Council for the arts in Wales which is directly responsible to the NAW via the Arts Secretary.
Ensure that the Secretary of State for Wales is involved with the cultural policy.
The policy of the ‘Council for the Arts in Wales’ should directly reflect the aims, objectives and aspirations of the National Assembly Cultural Policy.
Senior members of the Council should be appointed by the NAW.
The Council should reflect and practice the broader policies of the NAW, i.e. accountability, transparency and openness.
The NAW should ensure that there are long term policy objectives for the arts in Wales and avoid the current practice of the ACW changing the rules every 6 months/two years.
All guidelines should have a 10 year objective.
Re-assess the objectives and working practices of the National Lottery in Wales.
Make the Lottery accountable to the NAW.
Introduce stabilisation funding.
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 was well managed or were there things which could have been done differently?

Unfortunately the ACW have not all been open or accessible during the Drama Strategy review.
They have purported to be accountable but their practice has been the opposite.
They have failed to be ambassadors for the professional arts in Wales and failed to secure any new monies, notably the public spending review.
The officers are far too removed from the Arts practice.
They have failed to make the evidence submitted during the consultation available in the public domain.
The Council has not had enough practitioners.
It is important that all council members and officers put personal agendas to one side.
The A agenda of the Council meetings have been open, but the important decisions have remained on the B agenda which is closed.
They have failed to supply the industry with the facts needed for professional practice i.e. who sits on the advisory panels; who makes the assessments; who chooses the assessors/advisors; why are not the assessments made public?
The officers have a limited dialogue with the professional practitioners.
The handling of the Drama Strategy has been appalling, notably – the Hijinx fiasco, the Young Peoples Theatre turn about and the New Writing strategy losing 90K.
Would/did anyone ever suggest in the public consultation the ACW should cut the only theatre company specialising in special needs work? But they did. A clear example of the ineptitude of the ACW.
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?

The ACW Ignored the appeal from professional artists to put the strategy on hold until the NAW Cultural Review was complete.
The fiasco of the Drama Strategy has proven that the Council’s structure is inappropriate to develop National arts strategies.
The ACW have no long term strategies, they continually change the goal posts, they fail to develop policy (i.e. corporate plan), they change practice without consultation (i.e. disbanded the YPT panel)
The ACW has wasted public money on endless self re-organisation.
Arts Council members continue to see very little of the clients’ work.
A National strategy must be owned by the Nation. The Nation is made up of two constituents in the Arts - the audience and the artist. The ACW have failed to have a positive dialogue with either.
The strategy has set artist against artist – deplorable
It has created a dangerous precedent that ‘Art is a luxury’.
The ACW have blatantly ignored the advice of the practitioners.
Created an enormous amount of pointless bureaucracy.
Have been selective in what they have made public.
Not consulted with the audiences.
Failed to inform the practitioners where the lost money has gone i.e. new writing.
Failed to work with the Local Authorities throughout Wales and WLGA as a whole.
Many professionals believe the Drama Strategy to be divisory.
This is not a professional climate any of us want to work in. The NAW Review is an important and golden opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start again.
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?

The TIE structure established by ACW in 1979/80 in partnership with the Local Authority was seen as a world leader. Indeed "a jewel in the ACW crown". This present ACW have destroyed their own crown.
The new Drama Strategy implements "hit and run" policies with no permanent long term development/investment in the community.
Wales has established a strong network of presenting venues. Wales no longer produces enough product to put in them in either language.
Many, if not all of the programme support grants have been reduced.
The touring support grants for professional theatre companies have been axed. Where has all this money gone? ACW have not been clear or open about where monies "saved" have been directed.
Because of the geographical nature of Wales touring is an essential but very expensive practice.
The Welsh language provision is not in line with the Welsh language development. The new Welsh speakers are in the South – but no provision.
There has been no investment in Welsh language youth theatre.
The expectation of audiences throughout Wales must be addressed.
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?

Funding fewer better is a ridiculous argument.
Surely we must assess needs of the Nation first.
If we have fewer companies then there is less interaction with the audiences – we just develop a hit and run policy with no investment.
What we have to develop is a policy of constancy.
The ACW has always cut companies; Welsh Theatre Company, Caricature Theatre, Brif Gof, Made in Wales, Mappa Mundi, Moving Being – the list is endless. No wonder we have not got constant audiences, all we do is confuse the audience.
The reality is ACW are funding fewer, but not better.
The irony is that even the few that are funded are expected to do the work of those companies who are cut on top of their own work..
We, the public, need to know how much money is on the table in the first instance and where/how it is spent. This is not the case with the present ACW. Where has the money gone?
What is clear is that those companies who have remained after the devastation are already asking for more money. Consequently no one will be or is better off under this strategy. The answer has to be to start again with a new organisation that adheres to the NAW cultural policy, has a realistic 5 year rolling business plan alongside introducing stabilisation and re-defining the Lottery
9. Which body/bodies should play a key role in the management and distribution of European funding for the arts?

The NAW overall policy on European Funding should be the basis by which all organisations in Wales should adhere.
Welsh Arts International is clearly under-funded. If we want to trade in an international market then we have to resource this organisation otherwise we are laughed at in the world.
What is missing at the moment in WAI is assessment and understanding of the Welsh product and its potential in the world market. The Sherman has had to turn down many international invitations and collaborations because of lack of funding (notably Canada and Ireland).
Don’t underestimate the artists and their international potential
Big is not necessarily best.
WAI need to employ people with international skills.
Promotion of the Welsh product needs to be a high priority with WAI.
The WAI need to see more Welsh product.
WAI need to have a greater dialogue with the artists of Wales.
10. What more can Wales Arts International, or others, do in promoting Wales’ creative industries abroad?

A re-assessment needs to take place in terms of internationalism in the light of the redefined devolved Britain.
For instance, the Sherman Theatre Company has two major pieces of Welsh theatre (new writing) by Welsh writers and actors in London this Spring; Flesh and Blood by Helen Griffin at the Hampstead Theatre and Everything Must Go by Patrick Jones at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith. We asked the ACW for a meeting with Wales Tourist Board and Welsh Development Agency to help raise the profile of Welsh work in London. We were told that "they could not be seen to be giving preferential treatment to one of their clients". Consequently we have had to do everything ourselves and have been abandoned by the ACW.
Again theory and practice need to be discussed in the light of internationalism. Should we be identifying what product represents Wales and its culture? Should it be Welsh? Or just another play, opera, piece of dance that happens to have been made in Wales?
What is it about Wales we want to promote? Our talent base? Our distinctive voice?
11. How do you feel the arts can contribute to tackling social exclusion in Wales and what barriers presently exist which hinder progress?

Create a NAW young people’s/children’s charter with a strong priority on arts and culture.
Re-instate the arts in the school curriculum with status at examination levels.
Ensure positive access to the arts for young people and adults with special needs and learning difficulties.
Ensure that art and culture is an integral part of community education and life long learning schemes.
Invest in and develop our training centres.
Re-instate lost arts and theatre courses at universities and colleges throughout Wales.
Ensure that venues have a strong young people’s policy in terms of inclusion at programming levels and participation of audience and theatre makers.
Raise the status of the Welsh College of Music and Drama.
Ensure that venues develop low price tickets for disadvantaged, young people, families, the unemployed and people with special needs.
Develop a strong professional touring theatre circuit to small communities and non theatre venues.
The youth theatre movement is extremely strong throughout Wales, but it works on a shoestring and with no recognition. This needs to be changed.
A major review of youth theatre policy for Wales.
Develop links between the youth theatres and the youth service, local authorities and the TECS throughout Wales.
Develop skills training and recognised youth theatre qualifications that have academic acceptance at further education levels.
Introduce training courses in further education establishments for potential youth theatre leaders.
Ensure that the professional artists of Wales have an input into the development of youth theatre work.
Ensure that a newly created Council for theatre in Wales has sufficient budget to fund all these important developments
12. What support should the Assembly be providing to sustain or increase the viability and income of the creative industries of Wales?

Recognise that the professional arts in Wales offers considerable financial return within the Welsh economy.
For an industry to flourish it needs a vibrant market place.
More investment into the arts from the private business sector. The NAW can help industry realise the importance of the arts in developing a Nation.
Give the arts an equal status alongside sport.
Re-define the National Lottery Guidelines.
Invest in and invent new schemes for access.
Ensure that organisations such as WTB, WDA, Cardiff Marketing etc recognise the value of the arts and develop partnerships.
Raise the profile of theatre and the arts in the capital city i.e. Dublin, Barcelona).
Create a full major repertory theatre in the capital city.
Invest in education and schools – they are tomorrow’s audience and makers of tomorrow’s art.
Create a National Theatre of Wales independent of the current funded arts organisations.

Theme Ranking

We were unable to complete the ranking exercise, mainly because we use this terminology on a daily basis and the order of priority would change within different contexts. Consequently we feel it would be diversory to complete the exercise in isolation.

We also recognise that policy in itself is important, but its implementation is essential. Too many policies stay as pieces of paper. A clear action plan of implementation is essential alongside a continuous mandatory procedure to monitor achievement.

Sherman Theatre

The Sherman Theatre is the only producing theatre in the capital city. The theatre is home to the Sherman Theatre Company and prioritises work for young audiences. The Company works on the Main stage, in the Studio theatre, on radio and television and tours throughout Britain.

We have 12 youth theatre groups working in both Welsh and English and comprising of 300 young people who work in the building every week in workshops and presenting their own productions at the theatre, on tour and in the streets of Cardiff.

In addition the Sherman is the middle scale presenting house for professional touring theatre (English and Welsh). We also present 3 seasons of work on a Saturday for the very young. We present amateur and community work and community and professional dance companies.

Our mission is:

"The Sherman is one of Britain's premier theatres for young people and is the major producing and presenting venue in South Wales.

Our mission is to create a fresh, exciting, invigorating and immediate theatre experience in an open and vital environment for young people, who are at the heart of our policy.

We are committed to raising the status of theatre on the leisure agenda of young people; we aim to realise this by presenting a wide range of British and International, high quality theatre alongside Sherman Theatre Company productions at home and abroad; we celebrate our youth theatre and education activities and the work of our visiting companies.

We aim to promote this unique spirit and style of theatre which will enrich the experience of all our audiences, regardless of age, our amateur and community participants and our youth theatre members".

Last financial year the Sherman Theatre Company presented:

15 productions on stage, tour and radio, including
10 new plays by Welsh writers
3 second productions of new plays
played 33 venues throughout Britain
gave 301 performances
employed 33 actors
presented 6 radio plays
played to 71,321 people
(These statistics relate only to the Sherman theatre Company and not to the overall statistics of the Sherman Theatre as a receiving venue).

We also produced new plays with Hampstead Theatre London, the Manic Street Preachers, Mike Peters (The Alarm), BBC Radio Wales, Barclays Stage Partners, James Dean Bradfield, and the Belgrade Theatre Coventry.

We have been waiting for three years for Cardiff County Council and ACW to complete a projection of policy aims for buildings in the capital city.

There is absolutely no reason why the Sherman Theatre Company could not be an all year round producing theatre company for the capital city and play in various venues and tour. Currently we are only funded to produce four productions a year. All other activity has to be self-financing

Like every other major city in Britain and Europe Cardiff should have a major producing theatre. This should be in association with ACW, Cardiff CC and the adjoining local authorities as 36% of the workforce in Cardiff travel from outside the authority on a daily basis.

In the next 20 years it is projected that there will be a 10% population growth in Cardiff. Cardiff is putting in a bid to be Cultural Capital of Europe. It is essential that we have a major producing theatre company in the capital city. The Sherman Theatre Company is ripe for such development. We do not have to invent or re-invent the wheel, everything is in place to allow for development. The artists are here; the writers are here; we have touring circuits; we have partnership contacts; we have co producers; we have the dedication and the audience – we need a deadline to realise the vision.

Wales has also lost a sense of priority in the last 12 months and it is very clear that Cardiff and the capital city has lost out. It is time to address the balance and start being realistic. A large amount of the population of Wales live within 30 minutes of the Sherman Theatre. We are a permanent resource for the community. We don’t visit – we live here.

It is essential that there should be a major producing theatre all year round in the capital city working with Welsh actors, directors, designers, writers, choreographers, technicians and administrators producing Welsh theatre that would include new writing, theatre for young audiences and productions from a classical and international repertoire. It could happen tomorrow.

author:Sherman Theatre

original source: National Assembly for Wales
18 May 2000


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