Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

“Dramatic portrayals of Welsh life remain largely invisible"

Arts Policy Report

Submission , Culture Committee Non-public Funding of the Arts Inquiry , January 28, 2019
Arts Policy Report by Submission A seat in the auditorium gives a view of the art. To repeat it hundreds of times widens, maybe deepens, the view. It imparts no knowledge of what lies behind the art. Nonetheless, it is a perspective. On just two occasions I have written to the bodies who make the decisions that determine what we in the auditorium are to experience.

The second time was compactly in 2018 and the first, significantly longer, in August 2017. The instruction by the Minister for an enquiry into non-funding sources into the arts was important. My submission was written promptly on a listless Sunday. It was logged on the Senedd website as the first to be received from thirty documents.

The Committee proceedings and the varying qualities of debate and submission were subjects of articles on this site on October 20th 2017, February 21st and 24th 2018.

Rereading it at a distance of seventeen months it comes across as somewhat bumptious with some parts a little out of date. “Keeping Faith” has followed “Hinterland” in effecting the image of the television of Wales. But elements still feel valid.

The first part read:

“Wales has a theatre of a quality and a scale that belies its size. No community of three million in the world has a larger. It is a record in which all concerned should take pride, makers and government equally. However, its fuller flourishing is held back by conditions that are well known and been repeated ad nauseam for decades.

A fragmented media, some answerable to a senior management elsewhere, puts the lid on critical response and public debate. As in other areas entrepreneurial spirit, zeal and managerial competence are high but Wales lacks the structural mechanisms for its full enablement. In the name of solidarity to the national project nostalgia and the selective editing of history pervade the arts to its weakening. The culture is ill-at-ease with modernity. The tourist interest is a strong influence on arts decision-making.

...Aesthetics and aesthetic discussion constantly change . A strand of theory, with its roots in the Academy, takes pride in the smallness of audience it is able to attract. The esoteric appeal is interpreted as indicator of quality, the adjective “challenging” elevated to signify the inducement of boredom. Public bodies themselves are part of culture and not immune from fad and fashion.

The most insightful comment on the culture was written by Daniel Evans for on 22nd December 2016. “A final corollary of this invisibility- it is not just the news media: dramatic portrayals of Welsh life remain largely invisible in film, music and literature - is that it contributes to an extremely weak sense of national identity in Wales.”

To be an audience member in Wales is a privilege. There is no national community in the world of three million that offers a similar abundance of companies and quality. Cardiff has more venues- WMC, the Other Room, Chapter, the New Theatre, the Richard Burton, the Sherman- than any city in Britain outside London.

Even in a comparable culture of public subsidy for the arts the range and quantity of performance in Cardiff is, for instance, greater than that in Sydney, New South Wales, a metropolitan area ten times its size.

However, the benefit for the consumer comes at a cost. The producers of performance have levels of income that are low and patterns of earnings that are unstable. Careers for actors have the advantage of the proximity of London and for those who are bilingual the production projects of S4C is a career-enhancer. That is not the case for directors and dramatists.

A discussion this summer by the association for directors concludes that a career as a director in Wales is untenable. This is in part because of directors from England, with the National Theatre cited as opting for a high proportion of non-Welsh directors. This is not reflected in the quality, nor the earning capacity, of productions. In 2016 and 2017 the national company's role in the Theatre Awards has been peripheral.

Theatre in Wales has squandered the talents of its most talented writers. Gary Owen alone has over the course of many years become the sole voice, with a reliable distinctiveness, who can sell out a theatre.

The spirit of entrepreneurship is evident across Wales. Cardiff's the Other Room, the winner of multiple awards, is a result of sheer entrepreneurial will. In Blaenau Ffestiniog Opra Cymru is testimony to similar entrepreneurial drive whereby audience appeal links to high quality.

It is notable that the theatre that takes Wales to the world tends to come from the entrepreneurial wing rather than the revenue-funded one. For example Dirty Protest and Scriptography have taken productions to the most prestigious and influential fringe venues in London. Flying Bridge Theatre has performed on both coasts of the USA and was at Adelaide this year, the biggest theatre festival in the world after Edinburgh."

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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