Theatre in Wales

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Is curtain falling on Welsh theatre?     

THE state of theatre in Wales will come under scrutiny this week, as many arts experts claim it is make or break time for the genre.

There will be a series of high-level meetings and symposiums to discuss the problems facing the arts in Wales.

On Friday the Wales Association for the Performing Arts hosts a conference at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff.

This will focus on the issues which can inform National Assembly and Arts Council of Wales thinking and decisionmaking on the theatre in Wales.

During the conference, playwrights in Wales will be calling for their work to be central to any future national strategy.

The campaign will kick off today when five organisations present their concerns about the state of English-medium writing in Wales to members of the National Assembly's culture committee.

Representatives from the Arts Council of Wales, Sgript Cymru, BBC Wales and the Writers Guild of Great Britain will make presentations on the key issues facing dramatic writing across a range of media in Wales.

Opportunity is widely believed to be at its lowest ebb in Wales, and many writers and theatre companies say they are deeply frustrated at the lack of progress that has been endemic in theatre for the best part of a decade.

As a consequence, 54 playwrights - both emerging and established - have supported a document called State of Play.

It calls on the Assembly and the Arts Council of Wales to take immediate action to cultivate the work of playwrights in Wales and to give them a platform on which their work can flourish.

Those who have put their name to the detailed document include the critically-acclaimed writers Dic Edwards, Menna Elfyn, Bethan Gwanas, Gary Owen and Charles Way.

Simon Harris, artistic director of Sgript Cymru, says, "At the heart of State of Play is a demand for more money to be directed towards the production of new plays, which is particularly necessary in the English language.

"Unfortunately, the Arts Council of Wales itself foresees little opportunity for increased investment without further commitment from the Assembly."

He added, "In a report on theatre for the Arts Council of England in 2001, arts consultant, Peter Boyden, said that new writing is the key to investment and productivity.

"As a consequence of his research, his recommendations included encouraging new writing, new plays and new work as central to the health of theatre and to the wider creative industries.

"This report, which brought an additional £25m over three years into theatre in England, is now coming to pass as theatre around the English regions reinvents itself and new audiences flock to see the result.

"The imagination of this policy contrasts sharply with the position in Wales," he added.

Other issues up for discussion include the debate on whether Wales needs a national theatre, an idea mooted by both Clwyd Theatre Cymru's director Terry Hands and Michael Bogdanov, who recently directed Welsh actor Matthew Rhys in a production of Under Milk Wood.

The chairman of ACW, Geraint Talfan Davies, has also recently called for an established theatre production base rooted in the main centre of population and working in the English language.

But with more than 40% of ACW's £5.89m investment in theatre this year going to Theatre in Education, and a further 20% being invested in Welsh language theatre with the creation of Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, no money has yet been earmarked for such a project.

Mr Talfan Davies said, "Wales has made a considerable investment in bricks and mortar.

"We have at least eight small theatres across the country, and more will open in the next two years - in Newport, Cardigan and Caernarfon.

"ACW has also made a considerable investment in new writing, through Sgript Cymru, but the public - either as audience or as taxpayer - will not see the proper return on that investment unless we also invest in production."

Losing The Plot? Don't miss a special report on the state of theatre in Wales in Friday's Box Office.
Western Mail  
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