Writers' Guild deplores BBC3 & Pobol y Cwm cuts - meetings with BBC execs will seek assurances for writers http://t.co/pbvbG64Dtd
Good news for playwrights
The Writers’ Guild has agreed significant increases in minimum fees and other payments for writers working for the flagship national companies and many local and touring theatres.
An increase of just under 8% takes the benchmark fee for a play at the Royal National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company or Royal Court Theatre to £11,500. Attendance fees rise to £291 per week. These fees were last increased in April 2010, but the new deal more than compensates for the rise in the cost of living since then.
Under the Guild’s agreement with the Independent Theatre Council, which mainly covers smaller theatres and touring companies, a 3% increase has been agreed, bringing the minimum for a full-length play to £7,880 and attendance fees to £57.50 per day. These fees were last increased a year ago.
Discussions are continuing about revisions and updates to other sections of both agreements.
Writers’ Guild General Secretary Bernie Corbett said: 'We are pleased that these important theatre organisations have readily recognised the central role of the writer and agreed higher minimum fees reflecting recent rises in the cost of living. This is welcome at a time when theatres are having to cope with cuts in Arts Council and local authority support.'
The Guild is also seeking comparable increases in writers’ minimum fees in its other main theatre agreement, with the Theatrical Management Association, mainly representing larger regional and repertory theatres, whose fees were last increased in December 2010.
The full texts and rate cards of the Writers’ Guild’s theatre agreements can be found in the Rates and Agreements section of this website.
John Morrison reports from the Writers' Guild’s annual forum for theatre literary managers
(Photo from the literary managers fourm by John Morrison)
Is your play a Primark play, designed to be performed once and thrown away, never to be seen by an audience again? That was the pithy metaphor Guild Theatre Committee chair Amanda Whittington used at the Writers’ Guild forum of theatre literary managers on 30th March to sum up the difficulty many playwrights find in getting their plays performed a second or third time.
The forum, hosted by the Almeida Theatre in Islington, brought together around 40 literary managers, mostly from regional theatres, to focus on whether the current stress on developing and promoting ‘new writing’ tends to discourage theatres from putting on plays that, in fashion terms, are almost new, but not quite. ‘In the last ten years we have seen a unprecedented amount of writer development,’ Amanda explained. ‘There’s a fantastic back catalogue of contemporary British work, but do we value it in the way we should? Are we seeing plays passed over in favour of the new, the new, the new?’
Suzanne Bell, formerly of the Liverpool Everyman and now at Manchester Royal Exchange, warned of the danger of too many regional theatres performing the same plays. ‘We want a model that doesn’t recreate the ubiquitous High Street in which a range of cities across the UK have the same plays throughout any given year. When I visit anywhere I don’t necessarily want to shop in Zara or Next or Topshop… I want to find the places that are unique to that city, that give me a glimpse into the identity of the place.’ Suzanne’s view is that only a small proportion of contemporary work will stand the test of time and become modern classics; second and third runs of new plays should happen on a case by case basis, rather than being built into a formal system.
Jackie Elliman of the Independent Theatre Council pointed out some other obstacles standing in the way of second and third runs. Many plays are created by companies for a specific reason or are linked to specific funding streams. ‘And there isn’t Arts Council funding for re-runs and revivals.’ Some companies which invest money, time and creative skills in creating a stage work have a strong sense of ownership and want to hang on to the rights. The third panellist, Nick Hern of Nick Hern Books, explained what his company was doing to ensure that worthwhile plays secured an ‘afterlife’ on the professional and amateur stage, rather than vanishing after an initial run. New technology means playtexts can now be produced faster than before, and can be revised and reissued more easily if a playwright produces a new version.
Most literary managers agreed that they should be trying to create a theatrical legacy, but pointed out they were often hemmed in by Arts Council funding rules. ‘New writing’ means just that. Elizabeth Newman from the Octagon in Bolton complained that writers’ agents were rarely in contact and often proposed revivals of plays which did not match the theatre’s remit. One literary manager pointed out that London critics rarely visit regional theatres, and when they do, only review first performances of new work.
Amanda Whittington, whose plays including Be My Baby have been staged by a long procession of regional theatres, reminded the forum her career and her earnings relied on revivals: ‘We don’t want a Primark culture where you put on a play once, throw it away and find a new one! If an audience in Portsmouth have seen a play and an audience in Manchester hasn’t…in the end, an audience is an audience.’
A podcast from the literary managers forum will be available on this website soon.
More photos from the event are at http://www.facebook.com/thewritersguild
In an extract from his new book, Arnold Wesker argues that many artistic directors are in a state of denial
(Photo of Arnold Wesker by Leon Kreel)
My contention is that there is no such institution as ‘a writer’s theatre’; I speak with the authority of one whose first five plays were performed in the Royal Court - probably the first theatre to lay claim that it was a theatre for writers.
Of course, every theatre that mounts a play could be described as a writer’s theatre because what is offered, whether by commercial management or state-subsidised management, is written by a writer! But we all know what the description implies: ‘A writer’s theatre’ is the boast of an artistic directorship that wishes its policy to be understood as one that gives priority consideration to new writing by new writers. Not, note, a policy simply of new writing but new writing by new or newish writers, a policy that could be termed ‘ageism’.
The Royal Court, the Bush, the Young Vic and many others lay claim to being ‘a writer’s theatre’. But is it true? Can it be true? What really can it mean? Let’s look a little more closely at the boast. We know it doesn’t mean that writers read and choose the plays that will fill each season’s offerings. It certainly can’t mean — to go to the ridiculous extreme — that anyone with a first play can knock at the theatre’s door and expect it to be performed; but might it mean that a playwright with a track record could expect his or her next play to be performed? Apart from Sir Alan Ayckbourn, who was the Artistic Director of the Library Theatre in Scarborough (retired in 2009), where his plays were premiered, I know of few others where a writer has such power of entry.
Available as a podcast on iTunes, or via the Writers' Guild app for iPhone and iPad.
By Gail Renard
In his recent Budget statement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered good news with tax breaks for TV, animation and video game production, that should mean more work for British writers. The new tax credit scheme is a way of keeping creative talent in Britain and can only mean more work for writers.
In recent years, many TV, animation and video game productions have moved abroad at great cost to our industries and national identity. These new breaks should make working in Britain competitive and attractive.
Many groups have worked hard for this change and the Guild have also played their part with constant lobbying and excellent, concise papers which politicians have welcomed.
A special mention goes to Jayne Kirkham, Children’s Committee Chair; Andy Walsh, who oversees video games at the Guild and also members of the Television Committee for their tireless work in lobbying for these tax breaks. We got them.
Gail Renard is chair of the Guild's TV Committee
Let’s not call it piracy, let’s call it what it is: theft - by Stella Duffy
Recently I noticed that a couple of my books are available on a downloading site. To obtain the book – that neither I nor my publishers will be paid for – someone needs to buy the equipment on which they will download. They need to pay the downloading site.
Apparently then, these pirates who like to see themselves as the Captain Jack Sparrow of the high seas (and seem rather more like modern-day pirate-thugs to me) have no problem paying Apple or Microsoft or Dell or whoever for the hardware.
They have no problem paying the site that is hosting the theft. The only person they mind paying is the originator of the work, the writer. So basically the only person these people hurt is the artist at the bottom of the heap – they’re fine with continuing to pay the man, but not the writer. Because after all, writers are paid so much. That Katie Price, that JK Rowling, they get millions in advances don’t they? So all writers must get millions, right?
Well I don’t. I’ve never had massive advances for my work, I’m proud of the fact that many of my books earned out their advances and I’ve earned royalties from them. I do not have a private income and earn my only income from my creative work. I’m proud that, having worked part-time since I was 15 and full time since I was 21, I earn my living from my creative work. I inherited debt when my father died and the grand sum of £1422 when my mother died (and had less than three weeks to clear her flat because it was an almshouse flat needed by another old lady) – there was no property to inherit, no car, no nothing. Just what my mother had saved from her pension because she wanted to leave us each (we’re a large family) a ‘little something’. And, of course, we wished she’d spent it on herself, the something that was really brilliant was a massive box of brilliant old photos and letters. Lovely stuff.
The point is, I do not come from money and I cannot afford to give it away. (And actually, even if I did, even if I was rolling in it, it would still be theft. No matter how rich an artist might be, to take their work without their permission, is always theft.)
When writers cannot earn from writing, we will quickly return to a time where the only writers are those with a private income or supported by a rich partner. The day of the gentleman/gentlewoman writer returns.
The really sad thing is that the pirate likes to think of him or herself as a rebel, taking from the man, undercutting the big boys, making all art free – in truth, they’re still paying the big old rich man on the hill for the hardware and the internet time – it’s only the little craftsperson they’re stealing from.Nice going guys, that’s the way to change the world.
Here’s publishing industry writer Danuta Kean saying the same thing, but with a much more business-like analysis!
Oh and this too from the Guardian last week Lloyd Shepherd and Mobolism. Loads of interesting comment discussion too.
A longer version of this article first appeared on Stella Duffy's blog.