Theatre in Wales

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Company Confirms Low Theatre Output

National Theatre: Comment

National Theatre of Wales Publishes Its Deviation from Theatre , Culture of Wales , October 23, 2023
National Theatre: Comment by National Theatre of Wales Publishes Its Deviation from Theatre The playwrights of Wales wrote about the National Theatre of Wales in September 2018:

“A National Theatre Wales show has to have theatre in it. If it’s a song, then it’s a song. If it’s a comedy night, then it’s a comedy night. But if it’s not in some sense theatre, NTW should not be funding it.”

Roger Williams, long-standing dramatist and producer, spoke on BBC Cymru Wales on 15th October. His words were crisply delivered, representing long-held views across the artistic and critical communities of Wales.

His comments on the National Theatre of Wales were fourfold: the nature of the artistic programme, the irregularity of productions, the lowness of appeal and availability to the public, and the corporate culture. From its peak the company had performed an about-turn. It was in his word “a clique” that oversaw a public company as a private club.

That was a television feature. Five days later the company featured in a print article. Nation Cymru, founded in 2017, is a valuable source for daily news stories on and relating to Wales. It goes some way to remedy the deficiency of news that comes via the subsidiaries of London-based media conglomerates.

On 21st October an article on National Theatre Wales was published. It opened: “National Theatre Wales (NTW), which is fighting for survival after the Arts Council of Wales proposed ending its funding...”

Richard Huw Morgan, a theatre practitioner for thirty years, pointed out that the phrasing was not quite correct. There is no proposing in the air. The deed is done.

* * * *

Nation Cymru elicited a statement from the company. It comprised 573 words and was a pick-and-choose compilation. A sensible company board would have gone through the substantive commentary about its organisation and produced a line by-line, point-by-point riposte. Instead the statement was a dance around different topics.

The statement opened:

“A spokeswoman for NTW responded: As a charity, all of NRW’s annual reports outlining our activity and reach can be found on the Charity Commission website.”

FACT-CHECK

The Trustees are subject to two kinds of compliance. The first is the legal duty as embodied in the London bodies. The second is the adherence to the conditions of receiving public funds from a body in Wales.

The article from last winter, below 2nd February, is headed “Quality Standards & Compliance Waived.” It points to the Arts Council of Wales' handbook of January 2017 which covers the governance of companies accorded national status. The content was not adhered to.

The enquiry into the failure of a national arts company will take an interest as to whether trustees and managers had read the handbook.

* * * *

The statement continued:

“Due to the nature of some of our projects, for example in Pupil Referral Units, we do not share all activity publicly on our website, but they are reported on in our annual report.”

Surprisingly the statement started by homing-in on a non-theatre activity. There is no acting, directing, writing or stage management to be had for young people. From the company:

“....projects with Pupil Referral Units...as part of this project, the students made a documentary. Taking part in every element of its creation – from storyboarding and interviewing to filming and editing...watch their documentary below.”

The company confirms its deviation from making theatre for the benefit of young people of Wales.

* * * *

The statement continued:

During our first 12 years, we have connected with 331,000 live audience members; last year, we reached 2.5 million people digitally and 54% of our 34,000 audiences were children and young people.”

FACT-CHECK

The company has not had 34,000 audiences.

The nature and validity of these numbers are evaluated in the previous article.

* * * *

The statement continued

“The spokeswoman went on to list some of NTW’s projects since 2020:

“14 Network commissions with the BBC and Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, which you can explore in our archive, including six play readings in digital spaces and eight digital commissions.”

FACT-CHECK

The template for the archive has an entry for venue. The record next to venue is stated as “empty.”

The company confirms its deviation from putting on theatre for the benefit of audiences of Wales.

* * * *

The statement continued

“Dat’s Love – reviewed well”;

FACT-CHECK

The review is not identified. The company's own title is “Dat's Love and Other Stories”. It is described as: “captured in three parts, Dat's Love and Other Stories, filmed over three nights, performing intimate readings from Leonora Brito's short story collection.”

It is a performance. Reading short stories is a literary event. It is not a theatre production.

The company confirms its deviation from putting on theatre for the benefit of audiences of Wales.

* * * *

“Possible – which had 4 stars in The Guardian”

FACT-CHECK

This is misleading. The review refers to a screening where camera close-ups and editing are wholly different to seeing a theatre piece.

It also repeats an ingrained part of the corporate culture. Media in England always ranks higher than those from Wales.

Phil Morris wrote for Wales Arts Review:

“This is a substantial failure of dramaturgy that is even more unforgiveable given the inclusion of yet another narrative – a meta discourse on how Possible developed from an earlier pre-pandemic commission from NTW.

"Giving a cutesy shout-out to NTW artistic director Lorne Campbell, thanking him for putting the show into production is a post-modern joke without a punchline. It’s not that companies like NTW shouldn’t maintain support of their freelance collaborators and associates, that was a vital function to perform while theatres remained closed, it’s just that such self-referentiality smacks of smug self-satisfaction.”

The directors report that 10 venues managed an aggregate audience of 600: once again fringe venue audiences averaging 60.

* * * *

The statement continued:

"FRANK – Received a very strong critical and public response;

FACT-CHECK

The company records that this is a film.

The company confirms its deviation from putting on theatre for the benefit of audiences of Wales.

* * * *

The statement continued:

"Go Tell the Bees – which involved 4,300 people as participants and audiences attending sold-out live showings of the film (created due to lockdown restricting live performances) – and over 90,000 people engaging digitally;

FACT-CHECK

The company records that this is a documentary film.

The company confirms its deviation from putting on theatre for the benefit of audiences of Wales.

* * * *

The statement continued:

"Petula – nominated for UK Theatre Award”

FACT-CHECK

The award is not specified. “Petula” was a strong production. It had all the hallmarks of its main producer, August 012, with a re-uniting of director and writer. A co-production with Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru there is little evidence of artistic input from the company.

* * * *

The statement continued:

"Circle of Fifths – sold out performances and a strong critical response."

FACT-CHECK

The phrase “sold out” on its own means little. This is even more so with the company's liking for locations of restricted size. It is true that the critical response, although not identified, was warm.

* * * *

The statement continued:

"GALWAD – Five million+ reach globally; finalist in the SXSW Innovation Awards 2023 for immersive storytelling;

FACT-CHECK

The Sherman and Theatr Clwyd have won Olivier Awards in the last decade. National theatres win theatre awards.

SXSW stands for South by Southwest, a set of festivals and conferences about films, interactive media, and music.

The company confirms its deviation from putting on theatre for the benefit of audiences of Wales.

* * * *

The statement continued:

"A Proper Ordinary Miracle – sold out, strong critical response. A project conceived, developed and delivered by over 250 artists in and around Wrexham. The culminating show involved 150 theatre makers and 550 audience members across nine fully booked shows over six days.

FACT-CHECK

The average attendance was 61, an audience size to fit a studio theatre or a fringe show. .

The critical response is not identified. It had no press night.

* * * *

The statement continued

"The Cost of Living, engaging 60 freelancers and 800 audience members.”

FACT-CHECK

The Swansea Grand Theatre has a capacity of 1000. The production ran over 8 days, 14th-25th March 2023.

* * * *

The statement continued

"Kidstown, reaching 2,600+ children and grown-ups over 16 days with positive feedback across press and audiences.”

FACT-CHECK

The television broadcast of 15th October showed several pictures of “Kidstown.” The pictures showed a children's play event.

The company's own description is: “After being handed a passport, kids will enter the giant outdoor arena. Here, they'll find stuff to play with, build and wear. Assistants will be on hand to help them realise their imaginings.”

It is not theatre. The company confirms its deviation from putting on theatre for the benefit of audiences of Wales.

* * * *

The statement continued

"Remount of Circle of Fifths and tour to eight venues across Wales and London, with three dates already sold out.”

FACT-CHECK

The word “sold out” only has meaning when the size of the venue is identified. One sold-out venue is a community centre. Another has capacity for 49. This is a national company with fringe company audiences.

* * * *

The statement continued:

“The spokeswoman added: “Alongside these projects and productions, we have year-round activity including:

"Through TEAM and other collaboration activities, we deliver outreach and engagement work across Wales: from young people and children in schools and with those outside mainstream education, to projects for all ages with a range of partners, from Foster Care Wales to Pembrokeshire Pride to Refugee Week.

FACT-CHECK

This is good. But it is a secondary activity.

* * * *

The statement continued:

“Holding Creative Chats and Freelance Fridays every week for theatre makers alongside creative talent development opportunities like an Industry Day for 100 theatre makers in March exploring better models for supporting and empowering freelance networks to create and deliver projects in partnership with larger organisations.

FACT-CHECK

Creative chats every week are good but they are not theatre.

* * * *

The statement continued:

“We are constantly developing new theatre projects, from seed commissions to research and development weeks from Caernarfon to Grangetown, such as with Krystal S. Lowe and Jeremy Linnell.”

FACT-CHECK

The constant development of new theatre projects is not manifested in the constant appearance of new theatre productions.

* * * *

The statement continued:

“We offer sector upskilling opportunities across many areas such as sustainability and our series of talks for theatre makers across Wales on the climate crisis.”

FACT-CHECK

This is nice to have but the primary mission is to be a producer of theatre.

* * * *

The statement continued:

“Regarding our international work, GALWAD in 2022 had an international reach of over five million people.”

The Unboxed Festival will receive a full assessment at another time. “International” in the context of theatre means the Torch in New York City, Bale and Thomas in Minnesota, Flying Bridge in Australia and Vienna.

Billions of pounds of venture capital money is invested in chasing online clicks. Public subsidy has existed for 83 years to fill the gap of market failure. It is not the business of public arts companies to go in chase of clickery that lasts a few seconds.

The company confirms its deviation from putting on theatre for the benefit of audiences of Wales.

* * * *

The statement continued

“Looking forward, we have plans to tour a show to Australia and Canada; we are in advance conversations with other European national theatres for new co-productions; and we are developing a high profile co-commission with a producing partner in New York. Over the summer, we ran a two-week workshop of a new large scale musical theatre show with commercial touring potential and invited international promoters.”

FACT-CHECK

This is the first that any of this has entered the public domain. Whatever the plans they failed to convince the Arts Council of Wales.

It makes imperative that a new management be appointed to assess the best course of action over the next five months. The qualities for this new management are: commitment to theatre, experience of theatre, management competence, and most importantly integrity that holds respect among the arts community and public.

Source:

https://nation.cymru/news/national-theatre-wales-accused-of-hardly-staging-any-theatrical-productions/

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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