THE GUARDIAN: SHOULD THEATRE FUND AUDIENCE AND NOT JUST ARTISTS?

In a recent post, Lyn Garnder of British based The Guardian, writes about funding initiatives in England that attempt to link established theatres with younger theatre artists in hopes of ensuring the survival of the art form.  However, Lyn argues that a better route would be to help fund relationships with audiences instead.  I think that Company One strikes a great balance between these two ideals, but it’s an interesting read nonetheless.  The article can be read in its entirety below, or you can follow THIS LINK.

At this year’s Edinburgh TV festival, Kevin Spacey talked about the need to develop new talent. He’s right, of course – there is no art without artists. Theatre provides a stream of talent for the TV and movie industries. As funding streams dry up, one of the concerns is where the next generation of artists will come from. What’s talked about less often is how to nurture the next generation of audiences. It’s all very well creating a funding culture that supports theatremakers, but it starts to look far less sensible if there is no one to see their work.

 

Back in 2006, I wrote a piece for this blog about play-development schemes and the way their proliferation had created a situation where it had become far easier for a talented writer to have their talent spotted, but increasingly difficult for the work to be staged. The result was masses of plays in development, but very few being produced. To some extent the same thing now goes on in theatre with devised work, and work which is not traditionally script-based.

 

As part of their Arts Council England agreements in the last funding round, many buildings and organisations were charged with finding new ways to collaborate with younger artists and groups from different backgrounds. The result was a lot of shotgun marriages – some that have turned out happily ever after; others that were more troubled unions. The truth is that it’s often pretty easy for theatres to offer development time and scratch performances, where work can be tested on stage; what is often harder is to actually programme the work or help it to tour and find an audience.

 

More forward-thinking organisations who consider not only themselves, but also the entire theatre industry, have recognised this problem. This is why initiatives such as House, which is run out of Farnham Maltingsand aims to connect the ambitions of artists and audiences, are so important.

 

Our funding system is skewed in favour of big over small, and emphasises London over the rest of the country. But it is also skewed because some venues have high subsidies, but very low box-office sales. At those venues, the subsidy per audience member is fantastically high compared to venues that try to support artists and develop an audience for the work. So the same piece of work can play in two different venues, but the subsidy per head is vastly different because of the size of the audience.

 

Of course, I’m all for artist development. But if we want theatre to thrive in the future we need to think about audiences, too. As the director Steve Marmion once so eloquently put it, art without an audience is just wanking.

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