‘Writers should be given free space to create new work’ – report

Fin Kennedy, who co-authored the In Battalions Delphi Study. Photo by Phil Adams
Fin Kennedy, who co-authored the In Battalions Delphi Study. Photo by Phil Adams
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Theatres should provide more free space for rehearsals and performances to help protect new writing, a survey of UK playwrights, directors and other practitioners has found.

The In Battalions Delphi Study has offered more than 35 proposals on how risk-taking with new work could continue in theatres despite the financial climate.

The most popular solution among the near-70 respondents, which included writers Roy Williams and James Graham, Battersea Arts Centre artistic director David Jubb and Live Theatre Newcastle’s chief executive Jim Beirne, was for venues to provide under-utilised spaces at no cost to producers.

The second most popular proposal was for Arts Council England to ring-fence Lottery money to support community residencies, encourage artists to work in schools, hospitals and other public resources.

This dedicated funding pot would create more public support for new work and highlight the social role artists have to play in the community, the report said.

Playwrights taking part in the survey – who made up almost half of the respondents - were most in favour of theatres jointly commissioning new works with drama schools.

They also strongly supported the proposal for the arts council to form a network of associate playwrights in regional repertory venues.

More attachments and commissions with these theatres would raise the profile and status of contemporary writers and could enable playwrights to have a strategic voice in artistic programming, the study suggested.

In his foreword to the report, playwright David Edgar said: “I’d argue for complementary thinking about the supply side of new writing: playwrights need to develop, improve and enforce the minimum terms union agreements which protect playwrights’ incomes and rights, and keep good writers working for the stage rather than defecting to television.”

He added: “Without a vibrant, collaborative new writing culture, we could end up – like many continental theatres – aridly dominated by the classical repertoire and the single directorial voice.”

The study is in response to an independent report published last year looking at the impact of funding cuts on new writing. It revealed that more than 60% of UK theatres and producing companies had cancelled or postponed at least one production since April 2012, when major ACE cuts came into effect.