Theatre in Wales

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

The Drama Strategy for Wales - final version

The Drama Strategy set out below includes timetable information for the introduction of changes. If these targets need to be modified parties concerned will be informed.

ACW is essentially an enabling body; the fulfilment of the aims and aspirations set out in this strategy can only be achieved by a two-way process between ACW funding partners and those artists and arts organisations which make and present the arts. Achievement of the aims also depends on adequate funding being available.

The proposals are based on an expectation that ACW receives grant in aid from the National Assembly for Wales on current projections for the next three years, that is with no growth beyond inflation: ACW will continue to press the case that with increased resources the arts in Wales - and this strategy - can be delivered with greater impact on quality of life for Welsh people.

1. Introduction to the Drama Strategy
Professional theatre receives the largest allocation of ACW grant in aid at 3.3million in 1999-2000. The aim over the past three decades has been to provide a theatre which is unique and serves the people of Wales.The implications in terms, for example, of bilingualism, diversity, provision for young audiences, have been immense.

The decline in public funding to the arts and to drama in particular has meant that this range of work cannot be consolidated and developed. Current funding projections will not allow significant growth in ACW’s support to drama: this strategy is built upon avoiding underfunding by concentrating resources, giving as much of a stage and a status to Welsh artists as is possible and in serving the people of Wales in the exciting and important time ahead for the Welsh nation.

The strategy has been designed within known financial constraints and in consideration of relevant political factors: it respects, for example, the limits on expenditure and the Council’s concern to maintain local authority support and partnerships. Council considers that the strategy offers the best solution to some difficult dilemmas.

ACW is committed to fairness and to responsible management of change. The implementation of the drama strategy will mean long standing theatre companies losing their revenue grant support in order that fewer organisations may be funded better under different arrangements. It will also mean changes in the roles of some other organisations. Timetable proposals for each area of change are included in the relevant sections below.

ACW is keen that employment opportunities for Welsh artists be maximised. Recipients of funding under the drama strategy will be required to submit regular estimates and employment statistics, particularly noting numbers of actor weeks.

2. The prime concerns
The need to address drama provision was high on Council’s agenda in the expenditure review. The major concerns have been: increased unsustainability of organisations and outputs given the years of standstill grant-in-aid; increased reliance on ACW support linked to a marked decline in local authority aid; a revenue client base that has developed for a variety of historic reasons and has been fairly static. This added up to a general picture of a large portfolio of clients characterised by erosion in artistic standards and flexibility due to underfunding with few opportunities for new ideas and talent to emerge.

The strategy to remedy this takes into account issues particular to drama, reflective of ACW corporate concerns notably:

the need to support production of professional work of high artistic quality;
ensuring access to that work throughout Wales - particularly to areas relatively under-provided for in the past and this aim will be reflected in Funding Agreements with clients;
supporting both English language and Welsh language drama across all areas of provision; addressing the need for stronger strategic partnerships - particularly between producers and presenters;
increasing funding flexibility while maintaining a diversity of ‘voices’;
establishing at the outset that fewer better funded organisations is a necessary change to achieve higher quality. The aim is for longer term sustainability to be achieved and for quality not to be compromised.
These concerns are also addressed by ACW through other strategies. For example, a new policy towards performing arts presenters will in 1999-2000 begin to create a better funded circuit of venues and ACW’s Arts and Young People initiative will give a context for the new approach to theatre for young people described here. ACW’s International strategies encourage collaborations and placing Welsh work on European and world stages.

3. The vision
At the heart of where we want to be is a professional theatre of Wales of the highest quality and aspiration which reaches increasing numbers of people in Wales and through its popularity gains economic strength. This requires new approaches to infrastructure, which must place added importance on partnerships, particularly with local authorities and with presenting organisations.

One of the main strengths of drama in Wales has been its diversity. This drama strategy aims to find a better balance between diversity, quality and sustainability - to ensure as far as possible that severe underfunding across the board is reduced and that a core provision of excellent home produced theatre for audiences in Wales, and for international attention, is established.

One of the main criticisms of ACW’s current support to drama is that, due to historic circumstances, it has not been easy for successful theatre artists to move into, nor for ACW to move companies out of, revenue funded status. It is clear there must be a better balance between stability and flexibility.

ACW proposes from 2000-2001 to support approximately half the number of revenue drama clients than in 1998-99. These will be time-limited, revenue funded strategic producing organisations, all of which will be guided by well defined funding agreements. This will be a significant change from recent support to 20 revenue funded organisations. Support for Welsh language work will be evidenced in all sectors and supported to at least current levels with the firm intention of extending support through the new ’powerhouse’ proposal (see 4.2.8); more work than at present will be supported via project schemes and the funding to enable this will be increased.

In order to strengthen strategic links - particularly between producers and presenters - there must be evidence of planning and partnerships across the board e.g. residencies of artists within local authority contexts; production companies planning tours in conjunction with key presenters. This assumes well resourced demand and supply networks - part of the supply can be achieved through Council’s support for professional arts production. Parallel challenges are for ACW also to deliver:

at the demand end, a network of adequately resourced venues with which drama companies can liaise and
local authorities with Arts Development teams and budgets to develop and deliver local arts support strategies.
The drama review has also addressed strengthening links within the ‘drama industry’ as a whole - between higher education, live theatre and broadcast media. The common concerns are strong, and strengthening links would help increase work opportunities across sectors.

ACW is committed to innovation and to new work. Development of new writing in Welsh and in English will continue to be a priority. New writing initiatives need careful development and further consultation is proposed below as how best to support this vital area, which could include extending partnerships with the broadcast media.

Training and mentoring schemes should assist career development of artists without promising any ‘vertical’ career ladder - but possibilities could be across styles and media which might require an accumulation of appropriate skills. Major producing organisations should be able to develop, attract and retain the cream of the profession, and we must continue support to the more ‘cutting edge’ artform research. Innovation must not be lost and can be addressed in different ways, as appropriate, within each area of theatre production.

The following sections, which describe the changes to ACW’s drama strategy, lead with sub-objective(s) in italics. These are key points of reference. There are similar statements for other artforms. They describe what ACW’s support will be trying to achieve in order to support and encourage the production of work of the highest quality by Welsh artists and its promotion, presentation and touring.

4. Production and Touring 1: the general audience
To enable Wales’ National Performing Arts companies in dance, drama, music and opera to attain excellence, reach large numbers of people in Wales and provide economic benefit to Wales.

To provide mainstream audiences with home produced, quality production programmes.

4.1 The Current Position
Currently ACW supports four building based production companies regionally positioned in Mold, Bangor, Milford Haven and Cardiff. None of them is operating to full production and touring potential.

Resources will be concentrated in this area of provision. There is a recognition that none of our building bases have been resourced to extend their brief to a substantial national touring role. Against that is the fact that, together, these four organisations receive substantial local authority support. At a time of increasing ACW advocacy to the authorities this has to be recognised as a strong reason for maintaining them with roles which promote this strategy and which are supported by ACW’s local authority partners. The four building bases are a vital audience development network in strategic provision of production and presentation of drama.

ACW proposes to strengthen this provision and touring to the circuit of venues through support to two well resourced national touring companies working respectively in English and Welsh language theatre.

4.2 Welsh National Performing Arts Companies
ACW believes that many Welsh artists, given the opportunity and resources, can deliver the highest professional standards in the mainstream traditions on a par with those achieved by the Welsh National Opera and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in their traditions. Council is looking at a portfolio of Welsh National Performing Arts Companies and is intending to assist the dance company, Diversions, take a step towards this status. The inclusion of theatre raises the stakes further. In mainstream provision, Wales should have the opportunity to challenge the best in Britain at the same time providing quality service to audiences and status for Wales. This does not presuppose a debate on ‘National’ theatres which would realistically involve more resources than ACW has available, but it does, in real terms, develop the concept of a national remit and a national responsibility and give status to Welsh artistry.

Two well resourced drama WNPAC organisations should ensure:

high profile drama organisations of interest and importance both nationally and abroad;
two distinct cultural organisations representing the apex of the traditional profession in literary and mainstage theatre;
productions of quality that will tour to venues in Wales;
active policies for young people;
career development possibilities for actors, writers and directors;
active policies to encourage new writing;
mentoring and training schemes;
major players in live theatre with whom colleagues in the broadcast media can form partnerships - (e.g. for new writing projects and training of directors).
Developing the English and Welsh language WNPAC companies should be seen as new initiatives building on and developing artistry and resources. Both organisations should be funded for their national producing and touring roles and there will be debate on the desirability of constitutional separation from a host building base.

Council has identified the English language WNPAC with Clwyd Theatr Cymru. ACW’s Funding Agreement with Flintshire County Council, the funding partner and parent authority, will define planning and partnerships with presenting venues throughout Wales.

ACW intends to assist Clwyd Theatr Cymru present excellence and promote Welsh artistry for the people of Wales. The artistic impact of Clwyd Theatr Cymru in the future must be significant. ACW is confident Clwyd Theatr Cymru will rise to the challenge presented it and this must mean striving for and achieving durable partnerships across Wales. The need for more quality product from Wales and strengthening links between presenters and producers were constant themes raised during the consultation process. Supporting Clwyd Theatr Cymru will be a major commitment and the funding agreement will define extensive services to increase attendances for high quality work.

Council believes that building on Clwyd Theatr Cymru’s strengths enabling a national remit and a national responsibility, is the right way forward at this time. ACW recognises that enduring partnerships should be established by Clwyd Theatr Cymru in South Wales. Such partnerships would recognise the major centres of population and ACW will do all it can to encourage this.

Similar exciting proposals, as from Clwyd Theatr Cymru and Flintshire County Council, might arise from different parties and would be welcomed by ACW. A similar serious statement will be made for Welsh language theatre. ACW intends working in partnership to develop a new national producing company based in North West Wales to a shorter timescale than originally proposed. This will consolidate, and build on, the roles of Cwmni Theatr Gwynedd and Theatr Bara Caws and ACW intends to increase resources to this new development.

This proposal has implications for performing arts capital development in North West Wales: its success artistically and in audience development will undoubtedly depend on co-operative planning and goodwill. The primary task is to clarify the role and expectations on this new Welsh language organisation. ACW undertakes to lead these discussions, in partnership with local authorities, practitioners and supporter groups and a consultation paper developing ideas will be published in early autumn 1999.

Looking forward, artistic collaborations between the two WNPAC drama clients could be envisaged, as indeed could collaborations with other producing, training and presenting organisations.

4.3 Building based producing theatre

In addition to supporting the two WNPACs, ACW will continue support to both the Torch Theatre and the Sherman, but both operations will entail changes in programme policy.

ACW intends maintaining support to the Torch Theatre in order to provide production and presentation of live theatre. Torch productions should reach a wider audience and the Torch will be expected to tour to similar sized venues for a minimum of four weeks per year. Options for achieving this will be examined for 2000-2001.

ACW will consult on a shift in emphasis for the Sherman Theatre with a central role in the development and production of new writing in Welsh and English. This would place the Sherman with a key strategic function in the promotion of writers for the stage in close liaison with other agencies. ACW’s commitment to current, or increased, levels of support for Sherman based activities will be sustained.

Consultation on this will begin in early summer 1999 and aim to be completed in autumn 1999 in order to provide a period of transition for any new operation, in April 2000. ACW is committed to responsible management of change during the transitional period.

ACW intends to:

establish Clwyd Theatr Cymru as a English language theatre company of national significance;
develop, in partnership, a new Welsh language theatre organisation of national significance based in North West Wales;
develop concrete proposals for a new combination of roles for the Sherman Theatre out of consultation in 1999;
support the Torch Theatre to provide home productions and a vibrant bought in programme along with a regional and national touring role.
5. Production and Touring 2: Theatre for Young People
To ensure the national availability of dedicated performing arts productions of high quality and appropriateness for young audiences.

A central strategy issue has been the nationwide provision of young people’s theatre set up during 1970’s and 1980’s on the old eight county LEA structure. After considerable consultation ACW has concluded that:

a nationwide policy of young people’s theatre for Wales should be continued;
that this should be based on fewer, better funded production organisations;
that these will be advertised publicly as fixed term funding agreements;
that the current eight companies will be supported until April 2000; the intention will be to avoid cessation of service;
ACW’s financial commitment to this new structure will be no less than its support to the young people’s theatre/TIE element in the current eight company supported model.
Up to 1999-2000 ACW has supported eight companies, located on old LEA geography, to produce work for young people and develop other strands of provision (community circuit touring and some middle scale co-productions). This network is now seriously under-resourced.

Because of increasing concern over sustainability, consistent quality and a changed environment within which the companies function (e.g. there are no longer 8 county local education authorities to fund the companies, and the majority of companies no longer provide a free service to schools), ACW conducted a separate consultation on Theatre for Young People (TYP) - including Theatre in Education (TIE) - as part of its overall policy and expenditure consultation process. Informed by this process and guided by principles of fewer and better, sustainability and flexibility, Council will develop a new structure during 1999 in time for an April 2000 start.

Consultation with local authorities and advisors will assist in the further definition of the infrastructure prior to advertisement of funding agreements to provide a national bi-lingual service of Theatre for Young People. Successful groups would be expected to attract other funding as appropriate.

The term Theatre for Young People is inclusive of whatever approach in style, scale and nature of delivering the professional practitioners, through their consultations and advisory initiatives, wish to promote. ACW consider this term to be more serviceable than TIE, recognising the recent practice has been for a wider range of work for young audiences than TIE alone. The fixed term funding agreements will not tightly define style, scale or nature of delivery, but they will seek to address issues of production standards and will define a regional coverage expected from each company (as well as allowing for some national role)

. Through these proposals it should be possible to ensure sustainable support to theatre opportunities for young people. The Artform Development Division can assist in specific areas of professional theatre delivery while other divisions support activities such as participation and artist residencies. Officers will be monitoring future developments against targets set in the Strategy for the Arts and Young People. These proposed specialist funding agreements are just one of many strategies which can create appropriate opportunities for young people.

The tenders will be advertised in June 1999 with selection and notification of decisions in early autumn 1999. Companies which are not selected may need to consider making provision for winding down their operations. This is a matter for their Boards to consider at an early opportunity.

The advertisement of the funding agreements will commence without prejudice to the appeal procedure which is detailed in ACW’s Code of Practice. Any final decision on the award of fixed term funding agreements will be taken following the outcome of the appeals procedure.

ACW intends to:

restructure the eight company based provision for Theatre for Young People by advertising fewer better funded opportunities for time limited funding agreements to be introduced from April 2000.
6. Production and Touring 3: audience for other production companies and projects
To encourage quality, home productions for smaller audience communities: e.g. local community touring, special needs and for people with disabilities, special interest, artform experiment, cross disciplinary, new projects.

6.1 New Writing

Fundamental to this area of provision is new writing. Commitment to development and production of new writing by Welsh writers must be demonstrated through the national companies and other revenue funded drama organisations’ annual programmes which will be re-inforced through funding agreements. New writing within these core clients is likely to be highly specific to those organisations’ needs.

New writing for studio presentations might best be developed and premiered within a context where there is a known audience for this. It might be appropriate for CTC to position itself as the champion of recent English language ‘classics’ coming from Wales - work that has been tried and tested previously and has been found to be durable. Currently this small body of work has little chance of a second life, and it is appropriate that the national organisations take their responsibilities seriously in this area.

Similarly with the TYP companies. There has long been a commitment to creating new work (either via commissions or cast devising processes). While the proposed tendering policy will continue and strengthen this tradition, this work is very specific to target audiences.

This leaves a major gap in terms of support for the staging of new plays from Wales. ACW proposes to develop a range of new writing opportunities through its support to mentoring for developing writers and to appropriate contexts where new work can developed. A increased projects fund can deliver this to some extent, but there also needs to be a surety of development and staging opportunities year round.

ACW proposes to develop appropriate strategies for the support of, and production of new plays in Welsh and English. Part of this plan would involve the development of the Sherman Theatre (see section 4.3.3 above) as some form of showcase for new writing, possibly including a writers centre. Research and consultation will begin in early summer 1999 and be completed in autumn 1999. ACW current support for the new writing companies, Made in Wales and Dalier Sylw, will continue throughout 1999-2000 with a view that successive provision be in place from April 2000. ACW recognises its responsibilities in managing change.

Partnerships with the broadcast media and independent television could be developed. Initial discussions have already taken place and all organisations have a broad interest in developing new writing that is dramatic, relevant to locality yet has broad appeal. Seeking strategies that strengthen links across the industry (including Universities) would recognise that career development of writers and practitioners and indeed the material itself increasingly crosses from one medium to another. Such a partnership project to develop writers skills for the industry might be appropriate for a bid to E.U. Objective One funding.

ACW will continue to encourage applications to publish plays (both singly and in volumes) by Welsh playwrights. This forms part of ACW’s book production programme managed by the Literature officers in the ACW’s Artform Development Division, from whom guidelines are available.

ACW intends to:

consult on new ways forward for developing new writing with particular reference to the role of the Sherman Theatre and the need to implement policy changes from April 2000.
build new writing development and staging into ACW’s funding agreement with the major producing and touring companies, most particularly the national companies.
continue dialogue with colleagues in the broadcast media and with other stakeholders to address future means of developing new writing.
continue to build the stock of quality editions of good contemporary plays by Welsh playwrights.
6.2 Revenue support to other new work

At a time when increasing emphasis is given to producer/presenter relationships it is critical that ACW continues support to experimental and innovative styles of theatre work that are not necessarily text based or mainstream. In the interests of diversity and development of practice, ACW intends to offer a single fixed funding agreement for 3 years. In a better funding climate ACW would wish to offer more fixed term agreements in support of new practice.

ACW intends to offer revenue support at 1999-2000 level to Volcano Theatre for 1999-2000 and begin this new time-limited funding agreement in 2000-2001.

ACW will honour its commitment to support Brith Gof for six months of 1999-2000 and expects to receive applications from artists associated with this company as typical of many artists wishing to produce individualistic styles of expression, under new project scheme arrangements.

An increased project fund will reflect ACW’s commitment to innovation and will in part be a vehicle for research and development in theatre practice.

ACW intends to:

offer one time-limited funding agreement for experimental theatre to Volcano;
support new work particularly of an innovative nature, through the project scheme;
funded clients should demonstrate appropriate innovation through their annual programme of work;
6.3 Productions for people with disabilities

ACW has re-considered drama productions for people with disabilities and will negotiate a two year annual revenue funding agreement with Hijinx Theatre which will include the development of productions for audiences in this sector.

6.4Community theatre touring

The Drama Strategy would include a guarantee of production appropriate for smaller communities which may form the nationwide Night Out circuit. Hijinx Theatre offer this strand of activity and the Welsh language venture (see 4.2.8) will include Welsh language community touring.

ACW is committed to further consideration of how quality professional productions can be developed and offered to smaller communities and will be consulting on the matter during early autumn 1999.

6.5 Projects

A drama project fund has, in the past, been hard to maintain in the face of revenue pressures due to declining government funds. In the context of the new approach to revenue funding of drama provision, Council recognises it is critical to maintain commitment to new and emerging work through the projects fund.

Funding would be allocated to allow for a varied range of short time-limited projects. The reduction in the revenue client list will increase project money and flexibility. ACW intends to increase resources into this area and may introduce within this scheme a limited number of project commitments over two years. This could be offered to a few companies or artists ACW wishes to encourage by allowing them to plan their projects over a longer time span.

The projects scheme will be inclusive and will encourage new work and new approaches to staging existing material. ACW will aim to support a range and variety of creative styles to attract a range of audiences. It will also wish to encourage audience development and a wide geographical spread of projects. In order to achieve this, the scheme will require applicants to be partnerships between artists and presenters (for example, a venue, a festival or some other form of experienced promoter). Collaborations, for example with artists from non-theatrical disciplines, or ex-Wales or of international reputation will be welcomed. Revised guidelines will be available for this project scheme.

The guidelines for ACW’s 1999-2000 project production scheme have been broadened to encompass a wider definition of ‘performing arts’. This will continue in the future.

The budget for ACW’s Interlink scheme, a project fund to assist touring into Wales and collaborations with international artists, will be increased in 1999-2000. Interlink will continue to be administered by ACW’s International Manager.

ACW intends to:

increase flexible funding opportunities for a range of one off production projects through increased funding support to the projects scheme.
continue to stimulate international performing arts visits and collaborations through the Interlink scheme.
7. Support to artform practice and support to individual artists
To encourage the creative development of artists and assist them to develop their ideas and techniques.

7.1 Artform Development

Currently ACW supports the following organisations: Centre for Performance Research (CPR) and Magdalena Project. Additionally, and in different ways both Made in Wales (core role) and Dalier Sylw (de facto practice) offer support to writers through script reading services and projects to develop new writing. It is vital ACW continues to support the development of artform practice within the overall provision for drama

ACW intends to continue support to CPR and to clarify its expectations of the organisation. The partnership with University of Wales Aberystwyth is of huge value. However, ACW will prefer its support to enable projects which have a broad base of interest among practitioners and other professionals in Wales, alongside or as well as projects of a theoretical and pedagogic nature. CPR will be eligible to offer proposals to the new project fund or Interlink to extend their creative programmes, particularly with regard to international collaborations.

To assist other training and process support initiatives ACW intends to devise and advertise a new artform development scheme which could, for instance, assist in:

courses for writers or practitioners run by existing organisations other than CPR;
initiatives that seek to ‘network’ practitioners and provide informal platforms for sharing new work.
ACW intends to:

offer CPR a fixed term funding agreement against the delivery of particular artform development objectives within Wales.
advertise for 2000-01 a scheme for artform support which would seek applications for time limited projects and courses furthering this objective.
ensure major organisations demonstrate commitment to appropriate artform development in their annual programme of work.
7.2 Individual Training

ACW’s training schemes for individual theatre artists will, in the future, concentrate on opportunities for the individual practitioner. Writers residencies and commissions can continue in the future through minimum criteria clauses built into funding agreements with revenue clients, whereby they must undertake (for example) one commission per year. This scheme should concentrate on grants to:

assistant and associate directors. (Major organisations, such as Clwyd Theatr Cymru, must demonstrate a commitment to at least one project per year);
bursaries for established playwrights - particularly if demonstrating a potential partnership in the future;
grants to individuals wishing to undertake specific courses or training - this could include ‘mentoring’ possibilities with particular organisations.
ACW intends to:

fine tune current artist support schemes and ensure major drama organisations play a part in mentoring and training support to individual artists.
8 Advocacy and critical debate
As promised in the consultation process, ACW will seek opportunities for debate and consultation with practitioners, partners and theatre supporters. The Drama Strategy will sit alongside ACW’s other published intentions including its Advocacy Strategy.

A continuing concern across the arts in Wales is the absence of informed critical fora of debate and discussion. In theatre, ACW will continue to support the quarterly theatre supplements in Barn and the New Welsh Review. These are valuable in stimulating debate and in “keeping the history” of the contemporary theatre in Wales.

ACW will resolve a long debated issue of the restricted availability of performance reports by ensuring that written reports by ACW advisors are sent to funded theatre organisations as a contribution to their self-evaluation.

ACW intends to:

seek and exploit all opportunity to promote debate, discussion and consultation on theatre in Wales and to raise critical profile.
make available its written performance reports to client theatre organisations.
Artform Development Division June 1999

author:Arts Council of Wales

original source:
17 June 1999


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