Arts Council should prioritise audiences, not box-ticking (your views, April 25)
In his speech reported on your front page (April 11), Arts Council England’s Simon Mellor declares that “relevance” will be “the new litmus test” for subsidy, trumping quality. Those hoping for public support must show that they face “stakeholders and communities in ways that they value”.
The new priority is meant to address the fact that less than half the country bothers with publicly funded culture. This should make the job of the council’s functionaries easier: a list of subjects considered relevant, with boxes to tick, will be sufficient. Evaluating quality has always been a much more imponderable and subjective operation.
But whether filling publicly funded theatres with even more worthy but mediocre projects will get the bums of the bored masses on those seats is another matter.
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At least Arts Council England is being upfront about it now: it’s a socio-political decision, not an artistic one.
I think the organisation should be renamed, though, as Arts Council is rather misleading.
The audience is who the work is for: why should excellent work that has forgotten its audience get grants? Also if no one is seeing it, who is deciding the work is ‘excellent’, apart from people in the sector?
This is why venues employ freelance marketers and audience development consultants: to show they prioritise their audience.
Leather-free dance shoes
I read with interest your article on actors calling for more vegetarian and vegan make-up, pointing out how limited the choices are (News, March 21, p3).
Another essential piece of kit that is still frustratingly hard to source for vegans is good-quality professional dance shoes.
Some brands are starting to tentatively produce a small range of vegan shoes. However, the choices are woefully slim, often only for entry-level and beginner dancers. Character shoes and tap shoes that are free from leather and animal by-products are particularly hard to come by.
Dance brands: please start offering quality, professional dance shoes without the leather.
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New approaches to funding
Daniel Evans said an invigorating Arts Council workshop gave him hope for the future (Opinion, November 29, p10). Funding organisations outside London might be a good start.
If venues can’t survive in the country’s capital, with its high concentration of philanthropists, hedge funds and foundations, then it’s a sad state of affairs. Most funding should be spread across the country.
We need to establish theatre companies that develop proper repertoires of the modern and the classical, of English plays and foreign plays in translation, and we need them to employ permanent ensembles of contracted actors as institutions that know what the job is they should do and can do it – as in most German towns. Germany has about 250 theatre ensembles all over that country. It has between 60 and 70 opera companies and spends €3 billion in subsidy annually on opera.
We need towns such as Bristol and Plymouth and Norwich to have properly established orchestras – as they would have in Germany. We need more dance and ballet companies serving their home towns.
The reason the live performing arts need full support and painting, sculpture and literature need far less is simply that the rich are always happy to fund new buildings on which they can inscribe their names. But the live performing arts need performers in bulk, and that costs serious money. And tickets to provide access for all need to be at a price that more people earning less, can afford.
This is the German way and it works. Our system has failed. We need to try something completely different. That’s why it is time to scrap the arts councils and spend money on the arts much more wisely by supporting institutions. Project funding or anything like it is no way to support the live performing arts – which are the arts that really need government support from the taxpayers.
Theatreland ticket pricing
West End shows may be commonly known for stratospheric prices (‘SOLT president Kenny Wax urges industry to take ‘good hard look’ at West End ticket prices’, News, April 11, p3), but the imbalance in the number of seats at each price exposes the cross-subsidy argument as marketing hype.
When I started theatregoing, the stalls at most venues had two or three price breaks. Now it’s rare to find any West End stalls or dress circle seats, other than the back row or those with restricted view, at less than top price.
The difference in quality between a top-price seat in row D and one at the identical price in row V is enough to discourage future attendance by a customer at the back who feels royally ripped-off, just as audience members in the cheaper balcony seats won’t experience the same show as those in the premium stalls.
Unfortunately, some producers seem to prefer having empty seats when a show goes up rather than pricing the house more realistically in the first place.
Quotes of the week
“The Donmar board has been very honest in its views. One trustee did leave when we won the argument to introduce cheap front-row tickets. After Phyllida Lloyd’s first all-female Shakespeare, a trustee, concerned about alienating donors, said: ‘That was very good, but you won’t do another one, will you?’ We did three.” Director Josie Rourke (Times)
“To be in a room with these people has been amazing. Anne-Marie Duff is a bit of a friggin’ legend. You’ll have never seen Charity played like this before. It’s such beautiful work, beautiful acting, and she’s a beautiful human as well.” Actor Lizzy Connolly (LondonTheatre.co.uk)
“The recognition of the greater value of culture and art is still something we lag behind in. Whether that’s economic value, well-being or the value for a community in terms of understanding or knowledge, There’s still a lag, and that’s because it still doesn’t seem to appear on the political agenda for voting yet. It’s similar to green issues that are desperately trying to turn a similar corner and become as important as the economy.” Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre artistic director Damian Cruden (at launch)
“It’s a masterclass in how to construct musical moments in theatre and how to effectively use different voices. Add to that some very memorable tunes and some of the best orchestrations ever written. It’s destined to remain one of the great scores of all time for years to come.” Composer Alex Parker on Carousel (Broadway World)
“Terror from above at the Almeida this evening – in the second half of three sisters some dangerous loon dropped a pint pot from the circle onto my guest and/or the playwright Simon Stephens.” Critic Andrzej Lukowski (Twitter)
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