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Theatres to receive training on staging controversial work

A publicity shot for the cancelled National Youth Theatre production Homegrown. Photo: Helen Maybanks The National Youth Theatre's production of Homegrown was cancelled in 2015 amid claims of censorship. Photo: Helen Maybanks
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Theatres creating potentially controversial work can now receive training on how to handle sensitive subjects, as part of a new scheme from the Index on Censorship.

Funded by Arts Council England and created in partnership with arts advocacy group What Next? and social enterprise Cause4, the support scheme is aimed at chief executives and chairs of arts organisations to ensure they can appropriately handle difficult subjects.

The Index on Censorship said the prospect of controversy, protest, police intervention or possible cancellation if work is provocative can be “powerful disincentives” for theatres and arts organisations from staging certain stories.

“When you see that the majority of recent work that has been cancelled is linked to race and religion, the urgency of addressing these issues is clear if we want to create an even playing field in which all voices and, most importantly, those that are under-represented, can be heard,” the Index on Censorship said.

The programme, called Risks, Rights and Reputations, will offer arts leaders the opportunity to explore these issues, and learn about the legal and rights framework surrounding artistic freedom in the UK. It will also cover ethical fundraising and include elements on how to build relationships with the police around controversial work.

Arts Council chair Nick Serota said: “In recent years there have been an increasing number of high-profile cases raising ethical and censorship issues around plays, exhibitions and other artworks. Censorship – and self-censorship – can stand in the way of great art. That’s why Arts Council England is committed to supporting those organisations who are taking creative risks.”

He said organisations should be aware of the legislation and guidance already in existence around these issues, but said this new programme was “an important step in ensuring that our sector can create vital, challenging and risk-taking work”.

Last week, the Royal Court backtracked on a decision to cancel a run of Rita, Sue and Bob Too, co-directed by Max Stafford-Clark, who has been accused of sexual harassment. The play’s themes of “grooming and abuses of power” were cited as a reason for its cancellation, however the London theatre was subsequently at the receiving end of claims that its decision amounted to censorship.

Homegrown, a production by the National Youth Theatre that explored issues of radicalisation was cancelled ahead of performance in 2015, prompting claims of censorship, while in 2014 the Barbican was forced to pull a performance art installation, Exhibit B, following protests over its allegedly racist portrayal of black people.

The one-day Risks, Rights and Reputations courses will take place between January and June 2018.

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