Wednesday, 30 March 2011


The Arts Council have announced details of their settlement today. There are a few big winners, but hundreds of losers and from the outside it's a fairly strange and unfathomable lottery.

Punchdrunk, many of whose early ideas were workshopped by Drama St Mary's students have received a huge increase of 141%. Other friends of Drama St Mary's Ockham's Razor, Company of Angels and NIE also did well.

Others who've worked with us: Cardboard Citizens, The NYT, Clean Break, BAC, The Orange Tree, Kneehigh have taken a more manageable, but still wounding hit.

Amongst the big casualties were Shared Experience who've lost all their funding as well as The Green Room in Manchester, South Hill Park in Bracknell, The Little Angel Theatre and The Riverside Studios. Unless a philantrophic white knight appears on the horizon it's hard to see how these venues will survive.

If there is any pattern to the funding its that companies that work in spectacle, visual or acrobatic ways seem to be reaping the rewards and that venues and companies more interested in text based or applied work are hunkering down.

In part this is sadly to do with the Olympics. Stratford Circus, a worthy, but fairly unremarkable venue within spitting distance of the Olympic Park has been given a 500% increase. Hard not to conclude it's to enable it to scrub up for 2012. Elsewhere it's flash, ambitious, large scale, athletic, celebratory work that can communicate to tourists for whom English is not necessarily a first language that seems to have persuaded ACE to increase grants. It's art as a harmonious advert for Coca Cola!

I've no wish to begrudge those companies who've done well out of the settlement, but there is a worrying trend here which prioritises devised work that explores theatrical form over centres and companies that support the craft of playwriting. It's a triumph of short term impact over the creation of work which may speak to future generations with poignancy and purpose. It's sad to see that The North West Playwrights Theatre Writing Partnership, The National Association of Writers in Education (NAWE) , The National Association for Literature development (NALD) and The Writers in Prisons Network have all lost their grants.

In austere times this has a further recessional effect as companies focused on creating primarily visceral responses in their audience tend to invest in increasingly sophisticated technical wizardry to fulfil their aims and sate their audience. Overall it means fewer, bigger shows which will need to be populist enough to guarantee long runs. It's ever harder for a unique voice to emerge and capture the truth of our times.

Instead brace yourself for the age of the jukebox musical and the meaningless displays of the big top.

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