Cuts will impact on new writing, say leading theatre directors

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Theatres are becoming more “risk averse” when commissioning new writing due to cuts to art funding, leading theatre directors have warned.

National Theatre associate director Marianne Elliott said that venues will be less likely to take on new writers in the future if they are seen to be too much of a risk.

Speaking at the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting launch last week, she said: “The spending cuts will mean that a lot of theatres will be risk averse, and that will also have an impact on taking risks with new writers.”

James Grieve, co-artistic director of touring theatre company Paines Plough, which specialises in new writing, agreed. He has found that many venues would now rather book a more commercially viable show rather than commission new writing.

He said that in recent years it had become increasingly difficult to convince venues to take on his company’s shows if they did not include a well known actor or writer.

“What we’ve found over the past few years is that the national cuts combined with local authority cuts are making it harder and harder for us to book tours,” he told The Stage.

Grieve added: “We’re having to think in greater detail about the way shows are marketed to audiences. We’re having to think more about if there is someone well known associated with the production, and what unique selling point the production has.”

Erica Whyman, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s new deputy artistic director, said that in tough financial times the focus on commercial or critical success becomes “more honed”.

Speaking at a conference organised by Index on Censorship about how arts organisations support artistic freedom, Whyman said that a combination of the current arts cuts and the way funding has become organised over the past 20 years to target “project-by-project working” does not provide long-term support for writers.

She added: “If you drop someone after a project, whether it’s successful or not – because you haven’t got another slot or another pocket of funding – then you make it really difficult for artists to develop a clear sense of what they want to say and how they want to say it.”

Vicky Featherstone, incoming artistic director of London’s Royal Court Theatre, said that because new writing is “high risk” and takes time to develop it is in danger of being “slashed very quickly”.

She added that increasing amounts of private funding could alter the content of new work: “When we are looking for funders that aren’t [providers of] public funding, there is an issue about the content of the play and what the writers want to write about. And there are big questions around the formula that a corporate sponsor would feel comfortable sponsoring.

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