Theatre in Wales

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Fact-Check of Public Letter- Part Two

National Theatre: Comment

Public Letter by Lorne Campbell, Yvonne Connikie & Sharon Gilburd , Culture of Wales , October 19, 2023
National Theatre: Comment by Public Letter by Lorne Campbell, Yvonne Connikie & Sharon Gilburd The processes of the Arts Council of Wales include a mechanism for appeal against the decisions made in the Investment Review of 27th September.

Appeals must be lodged by 18th October and an announcement whether the appeal is to be heard will be made by 3rd November. In this time the Council has correctly maintained a policy of public silence.

Yvonne Connikie, Sharon Gilburd and Lorne Campbell, Co-chairs and Chief Executive of the National Theatre of Wales, took a different course. On 4th October they were signatories to a public letter. 646 words in length it served as a news feature for the media of England where false comment was added.

The first half of the letter has been subject to fact-checking and comment in the preceding article.

The letter continued:

“We share with ACW the responsibility to look after the cultural asset that is National Theatre Wales for the 331,328 live and 8.2 million online and television broadcast audience members who have benefited since 2008.”

FACT-CHECK

This is erroneous. The Arts Council of Wales has made capital allocation decisions for the years 2024-2027. The programme put forward by the National Theatre of Wales was not convincing. Past events and their attendances have no relevance.

The numbers that are cited are done so with the intention to flatter the current management. The board and management seeks an association with former management teams at the company that is spurious. The attitude to the founding artistic director and producer is evident in the removal of all reference to them on the company website.

The period under scrutiny is the stewardship of the current management that dates from March 2020. Before 27th September Lorne Campbell featured more in the media of London than Cardiff. On 11th May this year he was quoted in the Stage in regard to public funders and audiences:

“You have conversations with funders- whether it's Arts Council England, Creative Scotland or Arts Council Wales- about what you are doing and why and they appear to understand...then in another conversation they are going “How many people saw it?”

The issue of viewers via a screen will be discussed in a summary of the company's involvement in the Unboxed Festival. The television numbers will have relied heavily on “the Passion in Port Talbot”, a production in 2011.

The number of 331,328 audience members likewise leans heavily on the early period of the company. From that total “City of the Unexpected” quite likely accounts for as much as 10% of the total. “The Passion” will make up another significant percentage. Many of the early productions will add numbers in the thousands to the total.

The strategy of the company in its last period has been to minimise the number of productions and, within that, to minimise audience numbers. Those corporate goals made necessary the policy of non-disclosure and evasion from public scrutiny.

Yvonne Connikie & Sharon Gilburd entered the boardroom to endorse this policy, ensure its continuity and maintain the core corporate value of non-disclosure. If they did not have that intention then an easy demonstration can be made by disclosing the audience figures since the pandemic to their public.

* * * *

The letter continued:

“In cutting our annual funding, Wales will lose one of its largest employers of theatre makers - we employed 645 people last year alone.”

FACT-CHECK

This is false. It muddles loss of grant to the company with loss of income to the arts. The reallocation of capital to higher productivity organisations raises employment.

Disclosure of a single number on its own reveals nothing. The release needs total pay, hours worked and activities to be rounded out and to gauge its effectiveness. On its own, given the production output, it reveals only productivity of a record lowness.

The enquiry into the failure of a national arts company will scrutinise the cost structure; this will look at the fixed cost- the proportion spent by management on itself- and the variable cost- the proportion spent on productions. In the time of Lucy Davies as producer, 2009-2014, the ratio between fixed costs and production costs was a cause of admiration. The company took some pride in it. In the last period the overhead ballooned, the ratio deteriorating severely.

With the overhead so high- albeit undisclosed- the proportion of the subsidy total that is received by artists is likely to have been proportionately low. The freeing-up of funds for other theatre producers of higher productivity ensures more cash will go the way of actors, directors, writers, designers.

* * * *

The letter continued:

“This decision will jeopardise the skills and career development of our finest actors, directors, writers, designers and production staff.”

FACTCHECK:

This is false. It is semantically absurd that the skills of gifted and trained artists will be put in jeopardy simply because public money ceases to flow into one particular account.


* * * *

The letter continued:

“Many of those we’ve supported now sit at the helm of the organisations that ACW funds. It will sever this invaluable pipeline of skills, which also feeds Wales’ flourishing television and film industry.”

COMMENT

This is false. “Support” is a suitably vague term. With in excess of £20,000,000 flowing through the company accounts a lot of people will have been beneficiaries. But to suggest that a once employment is solely responsible for the rise to a place of leadership is assertion.

As a statement it can only be valid if the declared many are identified. It is more likely an example of braggadocio that is a hallmark of the corporate communications.

For instance the directors reported 3rd February this year: “we are empowered by an incredible mandate to bring theatre to new places and in new forms.” Likewise a production like “the Incredible, Inflatable Candylion” is declared to be “of lasting impact and global reputation.”

* * * *

The letter continued:

“This decision will pull apart TEAM, our decade-long, community-based, ground-breaking model of arts engagement, which we’ve co-created with 104,000 people throughout Wales, with countless schools, with young people outside of mainstream education, with community arts organisations and local charities, with health boards and with individuals who never imagined that the arts could be for them. No other arts organisation in Wales has democratised the decision-making of a national organisation as we have done with NTWs’ TEAM Panel, made up of community leaders, creatives, activists and educators, embodying a diversity truly representative of contemporary Wales, and serving as an accessible gateway into the arts.

FACT-CHECK

This is difficult to assess as nothing is known about it. If it exists in the western counties it has certainly had no publicity. It is stated as influencing the managers' decision-making. Given that those decisions have led to the company walking to dissolution they were not very good decisions.

* * * *

The letter continued:

“Our collaborations with major international partners and grass roots organisations, through which we put locally rooted stories of Wales onto a global stage, will be abruptly ended.”

FACT-CHECK

This is false. The National Theatre of Scotland performs for weeks on end in New York and California. The National Theatre of Wales does not perform internationally.

* * * *

The letter continued:

“Theatres across Wales which ACW funds will have even fewer shows to invite their audiences to.”

FACT-CHECK:

This is false. In order to effect its business mission of depriving Wales of theatre the company broadly avoided the theatres of Wales. In the fifteen months, summer 2022 to autumn 2023, it performed in one theatre. As reported in this season it tours to 7 venues in contrast to Black Rat which visits 16.

The fact is precisely the opposite. The departure from the revenue funding portfolio frees up a seven-figure annual sum for theatre companies who want to make theatre.

* * * *

The letter continued:

“If this funding decision stands, Wales will lose National Theatre Wales in 6 months’ time. If lost, it will not be easily or affordably replaced.”

COMMENT

The premise of this is questionable. Since June 2021 twenty-five Welsh theatre companies have performed to audiences across Wales. Some have travelled to London, Edinburgh, California and South Australia.

Over this time productions from the National Theatre of Wales have been occasional. It has travelled little and only a minority of productions has impressed. A company that was at the centre of Wales' theatre has been taken to its margin.

Talk of replacement raises the question as to what purpose. There are companies a-plenty, north to south, with that hunger to perform theatre for the benefit of the citizens of Wales which is absent from the National Theatre of Wales.

* * * *

The letter continued:

“In light of all of this, we seek constructive conversation with you and your colleagues at the earliest opportunity to examine the possibility of an interim position for National Theatre Wales while the review takes place. We believe that a solution can be found that allows National Theatre Wales to continue to operate – honouring our commitments to communities, theatre makers and other partners and leveraging another £500,000 into Welsh theatre from other funders this year – while we contribute to the future vision of theatre in Wales.”

COMMENT

As reported the company has no programme for theatre in Wales after 12th November 2023. There are four performances in London in 2024. The source of the £500,000 is not known. From the record of the past it is uncertain that its destination will be Welsh theatre.

The choice of the word “vision” is revealing as the Arts Council of Wales has not used it. The company has a liking for abstractions and speculative musings. A former management at the Arts Council of Wales may have been impressed by sloganising- piled up high for repetition without end- about “exploring what theatre is and can be” or “playing with ideas” or “a place for conversation” or “our task is to continue to push the boundaries of artistic expression” or to be “adventurous and open to bold ideas, balancing risk with pragmatism” or “questioning the role of theatre and its relationship to audiences in contemporary Wales.”

Never was so little theatre to be seen while accompanied by so many questions:

“What is the role of a national theatre in the civic life of its nation?” “How do we play our part in this unique cultural landscape? “As the world shifts on its axis, what is the role of the arts in our society?”

The habit is unshakable. Lorne Campbell is CEO of a company in hazard that is likely to be lethal. He could talk about practical things. Instead in interview his radio audience on October 6th got to hear:

“The fundamental questions remain. How does the sector work to tell the stories of Wales? How do we address having genuine impact-full talent development that works for people from all over Wales? From every walk of life, to either have culture in their lives, or to be artists themselves, whether that's as a high-profile international artist or somebody who engages in being a creative beside other things that they do? Those questions all remain.”.

* * * *

There is talk and there is action. In 2024 Tim Price writes a new play; Rufus Norris directs; Vicki Mortimer designs; the venues in London and Wales are big. All the while Graeme Farrow and his production team utter barely a word. And their policy on disclosure is openness, making what they have done available in the public domain, as below 9th March 2023.

On the evidence so far the fresh management of the Arts Council of Wales is of a pragmatic frame of mind and little inclined to speculative musings.

If the authors of the letter 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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