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Leading writers back campaign against theatre funding cuts
Over 60 of the UK's best-known writers and other theatrical professionals – including Sir Tom Stoppard, Michael Frayn, Caryl Churchill, Mike Leigh, Sir Richard Eyre and Vicky Featherstone – have signed an open letter to Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, urging him to take seriously a recent report into the threat to new British playwriting posed by the Government's latest round of spending cuts.
The independent report, In Battalions, researched and written by playwright and Writers' Guild member Fin Kennedy, with support from Oxford University's Helen Campbell Pickford, drew on data from surveys sent to theatres across the country. The results showed venues having to cancel productions, produce fewer new plays, commission fewer writers, and cancel a whole host of creative research and development – from attachment programmes, to open access workshops, to new writer development schemes, to unsolicited script reading.
As well as cuts closing down entry points to the profession, the report also identified a creeping culture of risk-aversion around new work, as financial instability takes hold.
Theatre professionals contributing to the report voiced serious concerns about the diminishing opportunities for today's young playwrights to develop their talents and stressed the importance of theatre as the training ground for the TV, radio and film industries. All stand to lose a generation of talent, with writers from less privileged backgrounds particularly badly hit.
The report was sent to Ed Vaizey's office on 12 February 2013 but its authors have yet to receive a response.
The open letter to Mr Vaizey expresses disappointment with the Minister's public remarks, in particular a recent speech in which he said that to suggest there is any sort of crisis in the arts is 'rubbish' and 'scaremongering'.
The letter reads: 'We believe the findings of In Battalions are to be taken seriously. They are representative of a wider trend within our industry. If the next generation of playwrights are not properly supported, this could seriously affect output in a few years’ time, and new plays are vital to the future health of British theatre – not to mention a driver of growth in the economy.'
Fin Kennedy, the report's author said: 'Ed Vaizey and the DCMS have had my report now for two months. That's as long as my researcher and I took to research and write it. We took the project on in our own time in good faith, and in response to comments made to me by Mr Vaizey himself, that Arts Council cuts were having "no effect". He offered to look over any evidence to the contrary, and even to raise it with the Arts Council if I could show there was a problem. I believe we have showed there's a problem, but Mr Vaizey seems unwilling to accept the evidence we have sent him. In an email to one concerned young writer he said: "There is no evidence of any impact on new writing." Anyone who's read my report will see that that's demonstrably untrue. We're still really keen to engage with Mr Vaizey about our ideas for how to fix this problem - he's our Culture Minister after all - but we really do need him to take this issue seriously and to engage with us, as he promised he would.'
The open letter calls on Mr Vaizey to undertake his own research, ending: 'If [your] response is still that there is "no evidence” then we would ask that you provide evidence of your own, which backs up your position as thoroughly as the In Battalions authors have backed up theirs.'
Review of Public Lending Right Scheme results in few changes
After two years of dithering and a desultory consultation process, the Government has finally decided the fate of the Public Lending Right scheme – it will cease to be an independent agency and come under the wing of the British Library, but the office and staff in Stockton-on-Tees will carry on as before.
PLR – which pays authors 6p each time one of their books is borrowed from a public library – was an unfortunate victim of the incoming coalition government’s 'bonfire of the quangos' (which also cooked the goose of the UK Film Council, only to transfer most of its functions to the British Film Institute).
PLR Registrar Jim Parker welcomed the announcement: 'The Government realises staff here do a great job and we have had tremendous support from authors from all over the UK.' In fact the overwhelming outcome of the consultation was opposition to any change at all.
According to Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, authors should notice no change to PLR. He claimed that transferring management to the British Library will save £750,000 over 10 years.
Writers’ Guild general secretary Bernie Corbett commented: 'This whole affair has been an unnecessary charade, wasting the time and resources of authors’ organisations and the government to achieve a purely cosmetic change and a saving too small to be measurable – all for the sake of one headline over two years ago.
'In the meantime the government has done precisely nothing to extend the PLR scheme to ebooks and audiobooks, as legislated by the previous government just before the 2010 general election.'
Writers' Guild AGM will be on Friday 14 June
This is the time of year for Writers’ Guild members to think about motions to change the policies or rules of the union, or to put themselves forward as officers or members of the Executive Council.
There is a record number of EC vacancies to be filled this summer, both for national/regional seats and craft sector representatives, so we are hoping to see plenty of new blood coming forward. Please consider seriously whether you could contribute to the Guild in this way.
Details of the vacancies, application forms and instructions for proposing motions can be downloaded below. If you would prefer to have paper copies please contact the Guild office.
The closing date for the receipt of Officer and EC nominations is Thursday 9 May 2013 and the closing date for the receipt of AGM motions is Tuesday 14 May 2013.
The Annual General Meeting of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain will take place in London on Friday 14 June 2013. The full details are in the Notice of Meeting and Preliminary Agenda, which can also be downloaded from our website. The Final Agenda, Annual Report and Accounts will be made available shortly before the AGM, in accordance with the rules of the Guild.
Gavin Grant explains how he took conflict resolution from the office to the screen, and won a Scottish BAFTA New Talent nomination for The State of Greenock
(Photo: Gavin Grant with actor Rowan King filming on location)
There is an acronym in corporate-lingo-jargon known as the BATNA. The letters stand for the ‘Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement’. The theory goes that whichever side in a negotiation has the better BATNA, is therefore in the stronger negotiating position, as they are less likely to settle for an unsatisfactory (albeit fully negotiated) agreement. When I first heard about the BATNA, I was a solicitor who wanted to be a screenwriter. My goal was to somehow negotiate my way to becoming a full-time, paid, screenwriter – even though I naturally assumed this was a totally unrealistic dream. In trying to maintain a level head about my career, I knew I had to work out the best alternative that would make me happy. What was my BATNA?
Back in 2009, I wrote an article for a Scottish legal magazine as part of a feature called ‘Films in Focus’, in which lawyers were asked to reveal their favourite film about the law. When I heard the magazine was running the feature, I remember being very keen to write something – anything – just to get the chance to talk about films and filmmaking. I wanted to avoid the courtroom drama and the predictable Grisham adaptation, so I plumped for the crime thriller Dirty Harry. And I got completely carried away. I effectively wrote a mini academic essay on the right-wing attitudes and ‘rule of law’ themes underpinning the film. Oops. I have always loved movies.
At that time, I was working as a solicitor with Shepherd and Wedderburn LLP. Outside of work, I had developed a growing interest in screenwriting and was attending evening classes at the University of Edinburgh. I became mildly addicted to books about the art and craft of screenwriting. I was learning about the film and TV industry, but, more importantly, I had started writing scripts.
Show your support for local theatres
A major campaign, My Theatre Matters!, has been launched by Equity, The Stage and the Theatrical Management Association. The campaign has grown out of concern about the threats to funding of many theatres across the UK, particularly from local government. Sheffield Theatre, for one, is facing a council cut of £100,000, only weeks after being names regional theatre of the year at the Stage 100 Awards.
The campaign aims to encourage theatres to mobilise their audiences to voice their support for their local venue and tell their own stories about why their theatre matters to them. Harnessed into a national campaign, these local voices can give real weight to the argument in support of public funding for theatre. Actors will be delivering curtain call speeches in theatres asking for support from audiences and the campaign will receive prominent and branded coverage throughout the year and will be spreading the word through social media and a dedicated website.
Latest signatories to the campaign include: Hugh Bonneville (Twenty Twelve, Downton Abbey); Kevin McKidd (Trainspotting), who with 51 Moray-based artists and arts professionals has signed an open letter to Moray Council, arguing for a rethink of the recently announced 100% cut to its arts budget; and David Haig (The Madness of George III).
David Edgar, president of the Writers' Guild, said of the campaign: 'Regional British theatre was one of the great success stories of the 2000s – particularly in its production of new plays. There’s now a real prospect of all that going to waste. Playwrights join directors, actors and other theatre-makers in defence of the network of local and regional companies which is at the heart of Britain’s great theatre achievement.'
A free event on 18 April in London
Facilitated by writer Jenifer Toksvig, and featuring a panel of representatives from the Writers’ Guild, the Musicians’ Union and the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors, this free event for writers and composers will address issues such as: acquiring rights, agents, commissions, contracts, copyright, development, optioning, percentages, productions, publishing, recordings, royalties, showcases and workshops. A representative of the Arts Council will answer writers’ questions about applying for Arts Council funding for the development of new work.
The Guild and the Musicans’ Union are running a survey in tandem with this event, the data from which will be used for the sole purpose of strengthening support for writers of musical theatre in the UK, in the continuous development of fair and reasonable guidelines for all aspects of the business. Complete the survey
6.30-9.45pm, 18 April, The Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3GA
Doors open: 6.30pm
Panel presentation: 7pm
Drinks and networking: 8-9.45pm