Theatre in Wales

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Fact-Check of Public Letter- Part One

National Theatre: Comment

Public Letter by Lorne Campbell, Yvonne Connikie & Sharon Gilburd , Culture of Wales , October 17, 2023
National Theatre: Comment by Public Letter by Lorne Campbell, Yvonne Connikie & Sharon Gilburd A number of arts organisations lost their funding in the Arts Council of Wales' Investment Review of 27th September. There is nothing unusual in this. It happens every time.

On 15th October a report on the National Theatre of Wales featured on BBC Cymru Wales' Sunday Politics. It said of the loss of funding that “some in the artistic community were not surprised.” That “some” is surely an understatement.

Imprecision of language was a characteristic, the written report stating: “According to Mr Campbell, it has upped the level of production.”

In accordance with the radio interview 27th September, checked for accuracy below, this is a false statement made by the leader of a national arts company of Wales.

The company's own website shows there is no theatre programme in Wales at all after 12th November 2023.

Nick Davies was cited on the central strategy of the company:

“It’s got to the point where it would do almost anything but put on a play. I’ve started to realise that there seems to be a lack of confidence in actually creating real drama involving real actors, involving playwrights, and creating a piece of work."

* * * *

On 4th October a public letter was published by Yvonne Connikie, Sharon Gilburd and Lorne Campbell of the National Theatre of Wales.

It comprised 646 words and was picked up as a news feature in the media of England where false comment was added.

* * * *

The letter opened:

“Annwyl Dafydd / Dear Dafydd, [Rhys, Chief Executive, Arts Council of Wales]

“We have considered your correspondence on 27 September outlining ACWs’ decision not to offer National Theatre Wales multi-year funding. Having reflected on this decision, we now provide notice that we will be lodging an appeal. We recognise that the nature of that appeal cannot be discussed outside of that process. We do, however, feel that there are urgent conversations that we must engage in together, while the appeals process runs its course."

COMMENT

The verb “we do feel that” is tonally incorrect for professional correspondence between the Chief Executives of two million pound organisations. A jejune and discordant language is a hallmark of the company's corporate communications.

Page 41 of the Investment Review describes the appeal process:

“An initial review will be undertaken by a reviewer (independent of Arts Council of Wales) and the organisation will be informed 16 days after the deadline if their appeal will be heard.” The management of the Arts Council of Wales is thus currently out of the frame.

The choice of the word “conversations” is revealing with its suggestion of preference for behind-doors privacy. If a meeting is to take place it should be just that, a meeting; the public interest entails that it be fully minuted and available to the future as part of the public record.

* * * *

The letter continued:

“We welcome ACW’s proposed review of English language theatre provision in Wales. However, we challenge the decision to dismantle Wales’ English language national theatre before this review takes place. Arts Council Wales has invested 15 years of funding in us.”

COMMENT

This is erroneous. The Investment Review is a capital allocation process for 2024-2027 made by the Arts Council of Wales. Those allocations are based on present information.

The authors advocate that past information influence that decision-making. They are advocating what is known as the sunk-cost fallacy.

* * * *

The letter continued:

“As a charity, we’ve used that support to generate an additional £11 million worth of investment into theatre in Wales.”

FACT-CHECK

This is false. The sum quoted, external to the Arts Council of Wales' grant, has not been put into theatre production,

The largest sum came via the DCMS in London to finance the Collective Cymru project in the Unboxed Festival. The full budget was £6,300,000. The fate of the project is known. The report of the Audit Commission, lodged in the House of Commons Library, records that it attracted the lowest number of live audience members of the ten festival projects. It was not theatre.

There are other examples of grants from different foundations for purposes that were not the putting on of theatre productions.

* * * *

The letter continued:

“Our model means that this investment has gone into people, into communities across north, south, mid and west Wales, into productions, into growing networks, skills, relationships, confidence and careers...”

COMMENT

This is semantic nonsense. The verb “to invest in” and the object “confidence” do not fit. The sentence clumsily combines the specific with the abstract and unmeasurable.

* * * *

The letter continued:

“...into the very ability to bring together diverse perspectives and experiences that a meaningful theatre review will require.”

COMMENT

This is semantically obscure. The review of theatre by the Arts Council of Wales that looks to the future does not depend on past experiences being brought together, whatever that form was.


* * * *

The letter continued:

“Since your appointment to the role of Chief Executive, you have talked powerfully and persuasively about the need for Arts Council Wales and arts organisations to work in deep partnership, to share both our aspirations and our challenges.”

FACT-CHECK

The source of the Chief' Executive's comments is not known. The adjective “deep” is redundant, adding nothing to the noun “partnership.”

The notion of shared aspirations is false. The company wished to continue to divert theatre budgets from theatre; the funder, it may be assumed, did not.

The managerial challenges are different. The structures, the skill-sets required, the supply chains of a funding body and a producing company have no overlap. The proposal appears to be to use up the time of funding body staff to small purpose.

* * * *

The letter continued:

“ACW knows the difficulties we have faced, the considerable progress we have made over the past year and, as ACW acknowledged in response to our submission, our “positive plans” and our “potential”.

COMMENT

All arts companies have faced the same perfect storm: the pandemic, inflation, the loss of free movement and employment across 27 countries. The majority do not have the cushion of a seven-figure public grant.

Particular difficulties that the National Theatre of Wales may have faced are not disclosed.

The report of considerable progress over the past year had a result in one production in a public theatre. Those who were there took a view different to that expressed by Lorne Campbell on 27th September to a national radio audience. Its place in the record is to be the worst-quality production in Wales of the year. It is assessed below 1st April 2023.

* * * *

The letter continued:

“We share with ACW the responsibility to look after the cultural asset that is National Theatre Wales...”

FACT-CHECK:

This is false. Being a director or trustee is not to be undertaken lightly. It is a role subject to law. The first article this month looked at the issue of the law, the company and conformance. Stewardship of the National Theatre of Wales is solely the responsibility of the directors; that responsibility may not be discharged to other persons or organisations.

Arts organisations come in and out of the portfolio of funding bodies regularly. Funding bodies have no responsibility, or rights, over corporate assets.

* * * *

The primary fixed asset of theatre companies is property. Companies without property have few assets but the National Theatre of Wales has one that is unique. It has a forum dating back thirteen years. Much of it is of the moment but it also contains discussions on theatre from many participants. It has no like and would be of interest to the Arts Council of Wales in its consideration of theatre's future make-up.

The voices are many. Sarah Argent, Meredydd Barker, Brad Birch, Matthew Bulgo, Peter Cox, Greg Cullen, Manon Eames, Rebecca Gould, Bethan Marlow, Tim Price, Kaite O'Reilly, Gary Owen: these are just the beginning. The words and thoughts of all have left the public arena .

As below the directors report:

“NTW also secured a grant of £40000 in July [2021] from the Esmee Fairburn Foundation Reinventing Performing Arts Fund towards the development of the NTW online community pages.”

At some point during the era of Lorne Campbell these pages have been taken away en masse from public view.

The opinion of the Foundation and the use of £40000 is not known.

* * * *

If the authors of the letter under review find cause for correction in this article any items for amendment should be notified at editorial@theatre-wales.co.uk

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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