Theatre in Wales

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Chapter Arts Centre     

Chapter endorses the consultation responses of the Wales Association for the Performing Arts and the Presenting the Arts Group. Those arguments are not repeated here.

Chapter and the Eisteddfod
This is a disappointing document for contemporary art, for innovation and for our audiences in South Wales. We always knew that Chapter had something special in common with the National Eisteddfod - now we know what it is. Both organisations have been around a long time, both play in their own way an important strategic role in drama in Wales and neither is mentioned in the drama strategy. We might conclude that this is because neither is a client of the Arts Council’s Artform Development Division - but this is all presented as an Arts Council strategy. The reorganised Arts Council was meant to end these artificial divisions.

Mainstream drama
Our views on the creation of a National Theatre and the long-term viability of investing in new writing in a country with a large broadcasting economy have been stated before and will not be re-rehearsed here. We wish to make three points at this time about writing, the broadcasters, the Assembly.

New writing - a priority in the abstract?
New writing will only ever be a small part of mainstream provision; the development of Welsh actors and directors is at least as critical a priority for audiences as new writing. Any strategy should prioritise this area above new writing.

The broadcasters and the performing arts
The local authorities are important partners for drama; but so are the broadcasters. A strategy should identify the areas in which S4C, BBC and HTV should be making a contribution. The broadcasters should be the third partner in the development of the performing arts in Wales.

The politics of a National Theatre
The Arts Council should be making its case for drama to the Assembly. We may not accept the case for a National Theatre - but we can accept that there are people of good heart who passionately wish to see such an institution brought into being. If a National Theatre is to be a political reality let it be made from the stuff of politics.

Do the analysis, achieve the consensus, develop a popular mandate and take the argument to the Assembly.

Use that analysis and ambition as leverage for an increase of three million pounds a year for the Assembly to buy into a National Theatre supported by all the national stakeholders. Another one million pounds a year will not be enough.

Innovation vs. novelty
This paper - as with a large number of public policy documents in recent years - uses both "innovation" and "new" without defining the terms.

Theatre, as a live art, is always "new". Innovative art is something different; it changes things.

Section 6.2.4’s sentiments that "a commitment to innovation should be a given across ACW’s funded theatre organisations" and "WNPACs and TYP franchise companies should develop ‘experimental practice’" are risible.

We have had twenty five years of truly innovative practice in Wales, much of it driven by Chapter and supported by the Arts Council - and it has not come out of the mainstages or the TIE sector where quite different traditions and priorities apply.

International profile of Wales
The Arts Council has drawn attention to the lustre which international performing arts success brings to the image and profile of Wales.

In drama it is the innovative practice which has achieved international recognition for Wales - as evidenced by the WAI web site, WAI publications and the Arts Council/British Council-supported IETM international theatre meeting last October.

It is Volcano Theatre and Brith Gof who are among the most successful Welsh exports - both still in high demand abroad.

The Arts Council’s own presentation on Wednesday 10th March at St. David’s Hall drew attention to Brith Gof’s success in promoting Wales in the international arena. The irony was not lost on an audience fully aware that the Drama strategy will end Arts Council support for that selfsame company.

Project money = pocket money
The Drama strategy suggests that all is not lost and that an increase in project funding - in the future - will save the day. It will not.

We put to one side the fear that in future years it is precisely the "project fund" that will always be raided first when other provision is in crisis.

The central idea, that "project" money can pick up the pieces for drama, seems a most unlikely scenario.

This policy of relying on project funding to develop an artform was tried for more than fifteen years in dance. After all those years of dance projects, where has it got us
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Janek Alexander
Sunday, March 11, 2001back



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