Theatre in Wales

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Voices Looking to the Future

Theatre in Wales: Comment

Diversity, Intent, Future , Return of Theatre of Wales , March 2, 2021
Theatre in Wales: Comment by Diversity, Intent, Future Culture retreated one year ago from public space to private experience. Paradoxically the most significant cultural event of 2020 was nonetheless a public event. All the rules on restraint and public assembly were broken in Bristol on June 7th last.

The consequences, if profound, have yet to see full fruit and it will be a while. But a new phrase for theatre in Wales was to be heard on BBC Cymru's Radio Wales Arts Show 26th February.

Timothy Howe was guesting to talk about activity at the Sherman in its era of no theatre. One of the activities is titled “Young Queens” and the words he used were “Welsh Somali writers.” Admittedly it is not yet full-blooded drama from Butetown- the four makers are hardly even teenagers- but it is innovatory.

Timothy Howe ended with a stamp of optimism to be gleaned from dire days. “There are a lot of things we have learned during this pandemic period that will have knock-on effects on how theatre and performance is now shared. It allows us to open the building in a different way and improve accessibility and connectivity to people.”

The will of change emanating from Senghenydd Road is a constant. From “At the Sherman”, below 20th October last.

“To me writers are everything. If you can change the writer you change everything, they change the kind of story that is being told.”

“We have to change, who gets to tell the stories, how they are told. We need a mechanism in place to counterbalance the lack of privilege, we need to counterbalance that with training programmes, with writer experiences, all sorts of things to get them into the building, get the skills going, get them up on stage and working.”

One of the last productions to be seen across Wales was Music Theatre Wales' “Dennis and Katya.” Michael McCarthy was in conversation with Linda Christmas for Wales Arts Review 8th January. The heart of it ran:

“Elayce Ismail has been appointed Artistic Associate of a programme aptly named ‘New Directions’. The programme aims to engage with groups who are currently under-represented in opera, including Black, Asian and ethnically diverse artists, disabled artists, LGBTQ+ artists, and those for whom opera has historically been a no-go area.

‘New Directions’ will include three commissions to create a new digital work to be presented before the end of August 2021. Each team will comprise a composer working with either a writer, theatre maker, digital artist or other creative.

“....we had to admit that our touring-model had become counter- productive; we were spreading ourselves around and not developing a relationship with local theatres and local people. To do that, we needed to create an extensive on-going programme in every place we went.”

“....I have been attending a UK-wide training programme about racism across the arts, and conversations have revealed many stories of overt and shocking behaviour and attitudes within artistic organisations – sometimes clearly conscious and calculated, and sometimes out of sheer ignorance.”

From the Arts Council of Wales: “The world looks very different today than it did before COVID-19. We know that change is needed across the arts in Wales- including at the Arts Council of Wales. For too long Black, Asian and ethnically diverse people along with Deaf and disabled artists have been denied opportunities to create and present their own work in Wales on their own terms. Funding statistics tell their own story- and it's not a good one- diversity across the arts is falling short.”

The challenge is good and it is also big. 2020 has given it a galvanising unstoppability although it has been simmering for years. Mike Bradwell in his memoir, reviewed here August 2011, wrote cuttingly about his time at the Bush Theatre as a leading recipient of new plays.

In the north Theatr Clwyd, like all companies, is facing up to pandemic. At the same time it is taking a giant step of changing its organisational status. The emancipation from the County is beneficial for both sides but has its complexities. The opportunity is there to establish organisational processes from scratch, anti-racism training and working groups are being built in. Welsh National Opera has an inclusion group grappling with the new realities.

Joe Murphy can be heard in the public domain in interview with Jafar Iqbal. The interview reprises the convictions from last year's radio programme. Change the author, he says, and the stories change. Change the stories and everything else changes. In the time of theatre's closure the Sherman has changed its call-out processes but is candid. “We get it. We've made mistakes. And we are going to continue to make mistakes...The theatre will never be the same again. It's about blending, about mixing, old and new in a season together, diversity in its fullest sense. I want to honour all the different facets that a theatre can be.”

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Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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