13 April 2013
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.'