Bring regional theatre to the audiences (your views, December 13)
If audiences and casts won’t come to the regions (‘Regional bosses: We lose stars to London and Netflix’, News, December 6, p1), perhaps regional venues should come to the audiences.
The top regional theatres should embrace National Theatre Live and similar technology to deliver the best they can offer to audiences nationwide – even worldwide.
With the theatregoing public faced with the hassle and cost of travel into London, expensive tickets, poor facilities and inadequate loos, top regional and touring theatres might eventually become the lasts outposts for quality drama in the UK.
Would this be a challenge? Yes, but these venues have nothing to lose but their credibility.
The idea of regional theatres embracing the NT Live concept is interesting, but it highlights a number of other issues:
How is financial compensation going to work? This issue has already been raised in The Stage by Catherine Kodicek (‘I love NT Live, but are its fees for backstage staff fair?’, Backstage, November 15). The earning potential of this model is much greater than traditional box office income, which is great for the theatre and performers receiving an increased fee. But shouldn’t backstage crew also receive financial compensation?
Many regional theatres do not have the funding level of the National Theatre, and producing shows with a view to broadcasting them is a financial challenge. While regional theatres are full of creative people who make fantastic productions with tight budgets, there is a limit to what can be done without proper funding.
The first thing that needs to change is the attitude towards anything regional. I’ve heard comments from London-based colleagues suggesting that work outside London is somehow of lower quality. This goes for theatre as well as film and television projects outside the capital. But if a well-known actor appears on stage in a regional theatre, the audiences do turn up.
Once venues show their audience that they can produce excellent theatre, they don’t necessarily have to rely on big names. Conversely, I’ve seen dreadful productions in the West End that seemed to rely on big names to guarantee bums on seats.
There are plenty of actors to go around. For every one wishing to remain in the West End or hold out for a role in a Netflix series, there are a hundred others ready to be considered for regional theatre productions. Regional venues need to cast their net wider.
Arts companies must pay interns
Ofsted’s chief inspector is barking up the wrong tree when she claims that ‘arts courses promote unrealistic career prospects’ (News, November 29, p1). There are jobs in the industry, but it is harder for working-class youngsters to gain the experience needed to access them.
The Sutton Trust’s research found that 86% of internships are unpaid. Those whose families cannot support them, particularly if they need to move away from home, are excluded from gaining the necessary experience. My daughter completed a six-month part-time internship in London. To do so, she had three part-time jobs, walked there and went without lunch. This was despite our helping towards the rent.
If we really want inclusiveness in the arts, internships need to be paid. Closing arts courses will merely deprive the industry of talented individuals, and make it even harder for working-class children to enter the arts.
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Bring young people to shows
Though retired from teaching drama, I volunteer at my local secondary school and am surprised at the students’ lack of exposure to the theatre, mainly because of budget constraints.
We are located 10 miles from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, which is presumably filled with teenagers from schools with bigger drama budgets. I have been tutoring some of the keenest youngsters in acting skills for LAMDA qualifications. We’ve put on well-received evenings of Shakespeare monologues and compilations of play excerpts, as well as non-Shakespearean offerings.
Frankly, these young people cannot get enough Shakespeare. My wife and I take them to Stratford as often as we and they can afford it. Good theatre is more than just entertainment. It broadens the mind, helping us understand the world we live in and the human condition. It teaches us all to laugh at ourselves, understand and empathise with each other.
Increased funding would help, but schools need to use their English and drama budgets imaginatively. In my experience, when youngsters encounter live theatre for the first time, they are never disappointed and want to go back again and again. Get them started.
Why is ‘relevance’ the yardstick by which good theatre should be measured (Lyn Gardner, November 29, p7)? I value theatre’s ability to show me a world that isn’t necessarily relevant to me. The best theatre increases empathic understanding of otherness rather than confirming what we already relate to.
Does the privileging of relevance reflect the narcissism of our age, by avoiding events, experiences and emotions that do not speak directly to our own existence? This is a time when we urgently need to be stretched well away from our comfort zones.
Quotes of the week
“Where are the black writers in the UK? Open your eyes. All around you! No one can say the talent isn’t here. Look hard enough and you’ll see. We have stories, we have range and our passion will see us through. More than ever, we are a collective. We talk! We support!” – Writer Bola Agbaje (Twitter)
“I hate comments from actors mocking or disregarding panto. Panto keeps many of our regional venues open. It accounts for around 20% of all UK theatre revenue, it’s fun, hard work, and is often the first time kids experience the magic of theatre. Shut up, and respect your industry!” – Actor Alan Mehdizadeh (Twitter)
“The thing about this job we often forget as performers is that we got into it because we loved it. As a kid it was fun – I loved telling stories. You kind of have to revert to that mindset.” – Actor Adrienne Warren (Guardian)
“I don’t think the genius of Shakespeare or Chekhov is that they were above their own time. The more acutely a playwright drills down into the centre of their own time, somehow the plays then seem able to re-exist or be reinvented for other times.” – Playwright Mark Ravenhill (Financial Times)
“Being a writer is about 10% actual writing, 20% making cups of tea, 5% Skype meetings, 25% answering emails, 6% leading workshops, 11% staring off into the abyss, 62% making up percentages, 101% wasting time on Twitter.” – Playwright Stef Smith (Twitter)
“For the first time in history it feels like there is a variety of leadership among London theatres, which has already led to new voices on our stages. This has happened at a time of growing intolerance and division – nationally and internationally – with Brexit looming and national politics rising. At this divisive time, British theatre – and London theatre in particular – is in the vanguard of the fight for inclusion.” – Kiln artistic director Indhu Rubasingham (ES Magazine)
“The stories in the Tina Turner Musical are really important contemporary stories about courage, sexual politics and endurance and joy. For me to be one corner of that, even though it’s a rather ugly corner, is a beautiful thing for me.” – Actor Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, who plays Ike Turner (speaking at the WhatsOnStage nominations event at Hospital Club in London)
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