Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Showcasing Begins at Home

Arts Policy Report

British Council Report on Showcasing , The Arts of Wales , September 12, 2018
Arts Policy Report by British Council Report on Showcasing The level of reader interest is always unpredictable for the reviewer. The reports from the Fringe were many. One of the most interesting personally was how the Minister in Scotland reports to her public on the 5 national companies (18th August). But the review compendium of August 22nd has been more widely shared.

Its topic was a lack of advertising, which had a practical effect. The company, Avant, now has a digital footprint, from Wales Arts Review, which no company would want. Had I not walked past the venue due to no promotion, a review would have appeared under my name. There are no guarantees in the arts but reviewers see and feel different things. Jafar Iqbal and I have diverged widely, still amiably, before, “Land of My Fathers” (May 12th) being an instance. A kinder review might well have resulted.

By coincidence, British Council Wales publishes today an 80 page report “International Showcasing Strategy for the Arts of Wales.” It appears to be full and cogent with a clear premise. “The Welsh arts and cultural sector needs: more skilled artists and curators who can effectively market themselves and their work; more export-ready work; greater collaboration, integration and shared strategies between agencies; more flexible and longer-term funding models; more international promoters coming to Wales, drawn by cross-sector showcasing platforms; a more sustained and visible presence at international events; and a bold, appealing offer that shares Wales’ unique strengths and distinctive voice with the rest of the world.”

Advertising was for long a topic of intellectual disapproval. John Berger and Judith Williamson were fine critics and their intellectual shadow persisted over decades. It took a rethinking of the ways and purposes of cities, led by Richard Florida, to re-see advertising as part of the creative industries. Reviewers are supposed to be snotty about advertising. But, like anything, if it is going to be done, it might as well be done with quality. Quality in its specific management sense means conformity to purpose. One purpose, a basic one, is that promotion is simply informational.

So, the topic of good promotion turned up on this site in the period of no theatre in “Big Contrasts in Public Communication” (January 10th). The companies of Wales have stories to tell and the article asked only that those stories be pumped out widely and in plain language.

I heard a company manager this summer talking to her public about “the project” and “making work.” It elicited an inward groan. Lyn Gardner wrote about this topic January 23rd 2017. “Maybe, when talking about their own shows”, she wondered, “people feel obliged to justify what they are doing by making it sound more complicated than it really is in order to give it weight. Or might it be that we all easily fall into jargon, talking about “the work” (no member of an audience ever talks about ‘the work’ – they talk about a show or a play) or indeed, “the piece”.

The British Council report defines showcasing: “means bringing work to the attention of those people who are in the business of promoting, participating in or purchasing it. It has many faces and can have lasting legacies.”

It is keen on export but a good export product starts with a robust, fit-for-purpose presence in the home market. Wales hosted a successful celebration this summer of the Ohio connection- it did not happen in CF1 but nonetheless it was a significant event. If the Ohio Welsh, who feel proudly Welsh, are going to inform themselves of the modern state and culture of Wales they are going most likely to start at one place. The way the 5 national companies represent themselves digitally is highly variable.

The first line of the history of the National Museum on Wikipedia reads “the National Museum of Wales was found in 1905”. The writer does not say where it had previously been lost. One sentence later on has a singular noun with a plural verb, another the reverse, plural subject with singular verb. What this says is that no-one in the arts infrastructure has ever thought of proof-reading an entry on one of the top 10 globally accessed websites. The tone overall is dry-as-dust.

Those who were at Trefechan Bridge or Trawsfynydd or the Carmarthen Showground in 2014 know that Theatr Genedlaethol has a thrilling story to tell. Its message to the world via Wikipedia comprises just 87 words with a single reference. True to the tradition of the artsocracy of Wales the only critic worth quoting is Lyn Gardner. Open the source and the attribution is not even accurate, the article being by Andrew Dickson.

The entry for the English-language national company stretches to a fuller 397 words. It manages to be both misleading, if not mendacious, selective and awkwardly phrased. “Snowdon” is not “Mount Snowdon”, the “don” part meaning “hill.” The first qualities of the company are “making work” and “pioneering digital work.” The second, asserted with no example offered, is simply false. The entry comes with no references and two external links. The second link leads to a 404 “document not found”. So is the culture of Wales in 2018 projected to the world by a national company. There is a story, at times terrific, to be told with pride and this is not it.

Turn to Welsh National Opera and Wikipedia tells its story in a 12-part structure with suitable photographs. It is supported by fully sourced notes and 95 references, all fully annotated.

National Dance Company Wales' entry is more concise but equally comprehensive and illustrated with some beautiful photography. It even features “FEARGHUS Ó CONCHÚIR. Fearghus has been the Artistic Director of National Dance Company Wales since October 2018”. This update, and like WNO the obvious pride in the presentation, is indicator of the quality of management of a company of a long international reputation.

Showcasing begins in aspiration.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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