Wednesday, 10 October 2007

A Gloria Gaynor moment

I've occasionally been the among the first in the theatrical blogosphere to bemoan the latest degredation to arts funding, but I have to say Lyn Gardner's trounced me this time. There was me still plashing about in the shallows of what information I could find. Meanwhile Lyn's waded right in to the deep and said everything I was going to say. But with less semantic gallimaufry.

In my earlier post (below) I urged Brown to be bold. I expect he's pondering my words as we speak, wondering how best to take my medicine. What I didn't mention then was the arts, which are, quite frankly, skint. A bold move would be to give them a huge booster injection of cash and see if it's true that we stimulate the economy like Will Hutton says. Even I don't expect that to happen.

As Jon Spooner says in his comment at the bottom of Lyn's blog, it's going to be an interesting month. Guaranteed, though, is that the emerging companies, the ones you haven't heard of yet, will be the losers. I emerged at just the right time, in a period of unprecedented feast between one biblical famine and the coming period of Herodesque child murder. The big organisations currently receive the sort of funding they could only dream of ten years ago, and rightly so: we need healthy standard-bearers, and I don't propose to advocate redistribution. But if we want the bold artists of today to be the standard-bearers of tomorrow, we need to support them, and that's what standstill funding (especially as it's standing still having been cut back) doesn't do.

So it's going to be an interesting few years. Companies who are just starting to establish themselves, companies who are just out of college, even some more well-established companies, are going to fall off.

Unless we are bold. To survive, companies are going to have to estalish new models, new frameworks in which to create work. They are going to have to form partnerships with universities, schools, corporations. One of the more idiotic statements made in that Work Foundation report (linked to above) is that "Shakespeare required no subsidy; his work was self-supporting and arguably the stronger for it." No it wasn't. His company was The Lord Chamberlain's Men and subsequently The King's Men because the gentleman in question paid handsomely for the company to perform for him; the equivalent of a benefit gig or a testimonial. On top of that, Shakespeare wasn't alone in anonymously penning doggerel for mooning lovers desperate to impress their beaux. Of course he needed subsidy. It just wasn't paid for by income tax, which wasn't invented for another two hundred years.

I predict that companies working in intelligent partnerships with larger institutions, and with one another, is going to be the future. Witness the wonderful things being done between the Bolton Octagon and Bolton University. Masses of students are gaining experience in all departments of the theatre, the theatre has become an increasing part of its community, and audiences are up. Thanks to a generous initial investment from the University, the Octagon has been able to upscale its ambitions, and thanks to the spirit of friendship between the two the University has been able to trumpet all sorts of successes.

On a much smaller scale, touring companies can bring great kudos and valuable expertise to any number of institutions, and those institutions can be a valuable life-support machine to the companies even without pumping in the sort of cash Bolton University gave the Octagon. The lowering of the overheads alone would be enough to keep some from going to the wall. But of course, the worry is that this affects the kind of work done by the companies: if Unlimited were to suddenly take up residency in a hospital, wouldn't they end up making a moribund series of shows warning us to give up smoking?

Of course it will affect the work. If the partnership is the right one, it will affect it for the better. I for one can imagine Unlimited, whose previous shows have tackled teleportation, quantum physics and the science of coincidence, making some magnificent, provocative work about the ethics and sociology of human health. It'd be a farsighted PCT that took them in, for sure, but the opportunity to have a theatre company working with its patients could benefit everyone. Surely it would be healthy, and not just financially, for any number of companies to plant good firm roots in any number of community settings?

And if there's not enough money to go around from the central pot, it's in our interests to go out and make the case that we can really bring something of value to whatever institution we happen to find ourselves in. Because yes, art does stimulate the economy, and yes, art needs money to survive. But no, art is not reducible to economics. There is another way through.


Andrew Haydon said...

Lovely though the idea of Unlimited, or any theatre company, working in co-operation with any part of the NHS is, I suspect that given the still massively problems of NHS under-funding and near financial collapse may militate against such things.

Moreover, I wouldn't want to be the Minister who was bundled onto the Today programme to explain why a couple of courses of Herceptin's worth of a PCT's money was being spent on making plays when the Daily Mail started kicking up a fuss.

Now, private health companies, such as BUPA, might well have the money to lavish on such schemes, but then one gets into that tricky area of at the very least tacitly endorsing infrastructures with which one has no truck. After all, I bet BAE Systems could offer some neat synchronicities and suggested themes for a young company (not to mention some ace props). But I'll be surprised to see the company that jumps at the chance. Or are we beyond all that Eighties ideological baggage now?

Lake said...

I don't know... Corporate sponsorship of theatre work is pretty common, isn't it? And banks and so forth love playing patron, at least when things are looking rosy for them. But I can imagine that for unknown outfits doing difficult work in low-capacity venues, things could be tricky. Corporate sponsorship may not be forthcoming. Still, perhaps they should consider switching to a form of art which is cheaper to make or easier to sell.

And frankly if BAE Systems want to pay for a play, I'll have a crack at it. This is no time for dithering. Bring it on.

Jon said...

I'd just like to state, for the record, that Unlimited has no plans to deprive cancer patients of the potentially life saving drugs that the government is already depriving them of. Certainly not during the course of the next three years, anyway.

Also, while I think we're flattered to be mentioned here, I'm not sure that I'm so keen on the words "Unlimited" "moribund" "series" "of" and "shows" appearing so closely together in the same sentence for search engines to pinpoint. Not that there aren't some (cruel, vicious, stupid, jealous) people who wouldn't put those words together (without the succeeding caveat) in any case...

Jon said...

p.s. because the written word on t'internet is a hopelessly flat world, I'm just going to add that I was smiling and twinklin-in-the-eyes when writing the above. Not moodily reacting to criticisms of morbidity that I'm unaware of towards a body of work with the company I most often work with.

Are we all clear....?

danbye said...

Yes, perhaps the health service wasn't the best example.