Why should the Arts receive Public Funding?

This question was put to me recently and since I am in receipt of public funding for my work I thought I should write my response……

The Churchill Story:-When asked if public funding earmarked for Arts/Culture should be diverted to the War Effort Churchill famously replied “then what are we fighting for?”

The question of why the Arts should receive public funding makes me question what freedom is. The question and its very existence limits thought.  Winston Churchill understood that Art & Culture is part of our freedom, that it is how we make sense of the world around us,  that it holds people together and that it helps build a strong nation. I believe we need to change the terms of the debate and ask different questions….

  • Why do we need to put forward a case? Why are we in a position of defence and explanation?
  • What is driving the question of why should Arts & Culture receive public funding?
  • Why do continually need to explain/justify that Arts/Culture is important, vital, and intrinsic to a successful society?
  • What is the definition of a successful society?
  • Why would A&C not receive public funding?
  • What kind of society do we want in the UK going forward?
  • Why is it not an unquestionable given along with Education & Healthcare for all? We look after the body and the mind but must not forget the human spirit. We must remember to feed the souls of our nation and that is not measurable in terms of ROI. Surely Art & Culture is an intrinsic and inextricable part of our welfare and democratically governed state? Therefore isn’t Art & Culture the right of every UK citizen and access to it, along with access to Health and Education?
  • Why do we constantly need to explain/justify Arts and Culture in economic terms? Can we do that for once and for all and change the debate? Can we therefore concentrate on enlightenment beyond economic growth? CERN –an e.g. of investment in the seeking of scientific fundamental knowledge which is unquantifiable in terms of ROI. Why is this unquestionable and beyond attack whilst the funding to seek artistic fundamental knowledge is continually open to attack?
  • Why is the position of Arts as central to the curriculum constantly challenged and changed? – What is education for? Do private/public schools ever question the importance and vital inclusion of Arts & Culture?
  • Do we want a Britain where Art & Culture only belongs to those who can afford it?
  • Where are all the activists? The Artist as Activist

Proposals

A 20 year longitudinal study of x number of children (or use existing research)) to show the ROI (Return on Investment) of Arts & Culture on the individual over a long period of time and how that investment saves public funding on that individual in ALL other publicly funded areas – Health, Education, Judicial system, Policing, Prison service etc. etc.

  • Equality of Opportunity – Education –Arts therefore needs to be integral and central to the curriculum
  • Leaders within the cultural sector need to own/lead/change the debate. (This is already beginning to happen with such things as ‘What Next?’ and the ‘Cultural Learning Alliance’ but how do we prevent this becoming another decade of answering the same questions?
  • The Olympic Opening ceremony articulated a response to the question ‘Why should the Arts/Culture receive public funding?’  Culture & The Arts equals our cultural national heritage and our country’s identity. That response inspired and created a public pride and consensus. That needs to be harnessed and utilised. Move towards a society/country of culture.
  • We need a greater understanding and therefore support of Arts & Culture by the majority not the minority. If the public do not feel Arts & Culture is part of their life how can they be advocates for it? Currently we are creating a country of passive consumers of the Arts/Culture.
  • As a sector we must influence and change government policy around Arts & Culture

And it’s only Monday….

The All-Female Shakespeare Project is funded by The Arts Council of Wales

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are you actually doing??!!

So a very close and dear old friend (old in our acquaintance not in his years) met me yesterday at the school gates and asked how my all-female Shakespeare project was going. I started to talk to him about the possibility of Comedy or Tragedy and the possibility of doing Richard III. He looked completely shocked. “What you don’t know what play you are doing yet?! But you’ve been rehearsing??!!” And there it was. He, unknowingly, had tapped into my fear. My insecurity. My paranoia. How dare I be so indulgent (my words, not his) as to use public money to simply develop an idea with no product at the end of it? No full-scale production? How dare I spend three months working full-time with actors, a designer, a marketing manager, stage management, movement directors, voice coaches and expert practitioners and have no show at the end of it?!

So for the record this is what I have been doing.

I held five day long open workshops for over 50 female actors who came from across Britain to work on Shakespearean texts. I had a hunch that it was something that was needed. The feedback was overwhelming. These workshops also acted as auditions so that I now have quite an amazing pool of actors to choose from when I come to go into rehearsal for the production in 2014. It also sparked the debate of why there is no Actors Centre in Wales.

I have been working with an ensemble of actors, drawn from the above workshops to explore the obstacles and opportunities of approaching a Shakespeare text with an all-female cast. (see earlier blog for why an all-female cast)

To do this I have brought in expert practitioners, movement specialists – Catherine Bennett (Volcano), Imogen Knight (Frantic Assembly) and an RSC recommended voice expert – Jacqui Crago and a Le Coq trained actor/director – Vanessa-Faye Stanley and will have worked with 10 actors across three weeks.

As part of this process we are also exploring which text would be the most powerful to a) use with an all-female cast and b)engage a non-traditional theatre going audience.

That is a big part of this project for me. I believe Theatre is for everybody and so is Shakespeare. How do we engage a traditionally non-theatre going audience? I am working with a great Marketing Manager (Alice Baynham) to explore that. We have been out on the streets on Cardiff with the ensemble getting people’s feedback. We are going into schools to talk to young people. We are working with venues in Cardiff to try and work out where to do this future production and maximise audience engagement. I am working with a designer (Gabriella Slade) on this also who is working with school children on costume design. I am also working with a young documentary film maker who is making a film of the process.

Who is benefitting? Well 50 actors have. So are nearly 20 people that I have created work for. So are about 50 young people who are engaged with a professional designer. And possibly some members of the general public who are being asked their opinion and being given a voice and as a result might, just might engage with a final production that they otherwise would never have done. Oh and me. I am benefitting as an artist in South Wales. I am being allowed to develop my practice.

And you know what, I’m going to say it…I think Wales’ Arts & Cultural scene is benefitting. I think it is about raising the bar. Who is producing Shakespeare here? Where is there another all-female company in Wales? Bringing in expert practitioners from outside Wales who work regularly at The RSC, The Royal National Theatre and nationally acclaimed companies such as Frantic Assembly can only be a good thing surely?

And all this takes time. Omidaze has no core funding. And so I got a grant.  I have struggled with this from the moment the funding was secured and have to have a quiet word with myself on more than a daily basis for many reasons…… I believe as a society

  1. We are an increasingly product driven and capitalist society which constantly seeks financial justification for every activity and The Arts and The Artist are increasingly marginalised.
  2. We encourage less and less  the development and exploration in the Arts
  3. Much production development funding in Wales is used to produce an actual show which I believe is to the detriment of the overall standard of work being produced here.

Now I have really put my head above the parapet and set myself up to fail and be judged. Lengthy production development does not always equal a brilliant final production. But it does allow us to develop, learn and grow as artists and that I believe is essential. Not just for the artist but for how we live.

What I did last week

So I put together an ensemble of 10 talented female performers to work with across three weeks. Some extremely experienced. Some less so. All up for this work. And so we began..

Imogen Knight came last Monday & Tuesday to work with the ensemble on behalf of Frantic Assembly. On Wednesday they worked all day with Catherine Bennett from Volcano who is the project’s movement director and on Friday they worked with Vanessa-Faye Stanley on Le Coq based movement/approaches – busy week. Excellent, funny, brilliant week.

Oh and the Thursday they worked with little old me and dressed each other in men’s clothes and improvised and created a myriad of wonderful male or genderless  characters. They then chose their favourites and we took them out into town to meet the people of Cardiff on Queen Street. Some were absurd. Some were quite moving and subtle. Some caused offense. One gave out artificial red roses. Another swept the streets.Some quoted lines of Shakespeare at confused shoppers who replied

“I’d love to help you mate only you need to talk English”

and

“I go to opera…contemporary dance and theatre and your actors are simply not good enough and cannot portray men….” (I decided not to mention, because she is not my target audience, that one has been a working actress in Wales for over 30 years and has rarely, if ever, been out of work and another has performed regularly at the National Theatre in London and all six actors have more extraordinary talent, generosity and spirit than a director could wish for!)

And when asked about Theatre, Shakespeare and women playing men these were some of the  responses:

“I go to see musicals when I’m in London because it’s part of the London experience, but no not here. It’s not part of life here…..I haven’t been to the theatre for quite a while…I used to go when my kids were young…Shakespeare – it’s alright…yeah, I get it he does romantic stuff…yeah I would come if it was on here in Cardiff…people think men have to play the male parts but if a woman plays it it’s different I can’t explain why, I would come if it was on here in town…I would go if there was a good show on…”

When asked if they could think of any women playing men in theatre, TV or film the majority cited pantomime. One woman mentioned a sketch show and one woman mentioned Julie Andrews in Victor Victoria which was made over 30 years ago. No one we spoke to had any problem with women playing men.

The majority of people they spoke to said they would go and see something if…..it was something new/different…if it was good….and if it’s in the centre of Cardiff. Just the last one then to sort out.

Why an all-female Shakespeare?

I had no idea until today just how closely linked this project was to my last. When we started exploring movement with Imogen Knight (Frantic Assembly) which led to discussions and practical work around  women and their sense of entitlement to physical space and the relationship with that entitlement and the female body during puberty.

Too deep?

Why an all-female Shakespeare? Why not? I would simply love that in my lifetime that question ceased to be relevant because all-female casts of all texts had become the norm along with  gender-blind casting and women feeling entitled to and therefore achieving 50% of leadership roles within the UK.

They say that I’m a dreamer….but I’m not the only one….

It is argued by some that the failure to represent women on the stage is deeply entwined with society’s wider failure to put women’s voices on an equal footing with men’s

We have only had over 450 years of all-male Shakespeare’s being the accepted norm. It wasn’t illegal by the way for women to be on stage but that’s a whole other blog. We have a strong tradition in our culture of men portraying women from the Pantomime Dame to Little Britain and I would just like to be able to understand why we don’t have a strong tradition in the other direction. I am not doing something radical and new but I am slightly concerned that it sometimes feels like I am.

Oh and here are some other reasons…

The statistics quite clearly show that women outnumber men in the acting profession
and yet..
“equity has called on arts council England (ace) to introduce comprehensive and
transparent monitoring of casting in subsidised theatre so that the imbalance
of roles for women and men can be addressed…last year, members of equity’s
women’s committee undertook research on published cast lists for a selection of
subsidised theatres…of the 36 theatres surveyed only one, the Manchester
Royal Exchange, appeared to have employed more actresses than actors in the
2009/10 season” Equity magazine summer 2012

But this inequality extends beyond acting in the industry

“women are seriously underrepresented on stage, among playwrights and artistic
directors, and in creative roles such as designers and composers. On the other
hand, women are a substantial majority when it comes to the audience. According
to ipsos mori figures produced for the society of London theatre in 2012, women
make up 68% of theatregoers” The Guardian 10.12.12

It is widely accepted that there are fewer roles for women but lots of
evidence that there is a demand for more given the ratio of girls to boys in
Youth Theatres across Britain and in applications to Drama training. Omidaze
would like to, in some small way, help to address this imbalance. It is argued
by some that this failure to represent women on the stage is deeply entwined with
society’s wider failure to put women’s voices on an equal footing with men’s.

“the theatre world remains strangely passive in the face of overwhelming evidence of
its failure to address the gender imbalance both on and off stage. Programming,
commissioning and casting decisions are routinely made without any
consideration of gender” Elizabeth Freestone (Artistic Director Pentabus
Theatre) Guardian 10.12.12

Why Shakespeare?

Omidaze therefore wants to be proactive with regard to getting women’s voices
heard and take a production further than simply gender blind casting by
exploring the female ensemble and all female theatre company in more depth and
with text by a playwright where out of 981 characters in 37 plays only 155
(16%)are female and out of those roles the amount with 500 lines or more is
only 13%.

It has become increasingly apparent to Omidaze that in order to give more women
the room and forum to express themselves artistically we must occasionally
operate positive discrimination.

Glad I got all that off my chest!

 

 

How it all began

I wrote my last blog in November 2012 when ‘Things Beginning With M’ finished it’s tour. It took me a while to recover and much has happened since then, not least three further funding applications.  So now Omidaze Productions has finally embarked on it’s next project with funding from The Arts Council of Wales and I have a few things I would like to share….

I have a bit of a thing about Shakespeare. All those who have worked with me will already know this. Growing up I never really ‘got’ Shakespeare. I quite liked some of the stories. I quite enjoyed exploring some of them but essentially it bored me.

My school had a fantastic Drama department but we never did Shakespeare. It had a brilliant English department but they never did drama. At University I remember starting to engage but when afterwards at Drama school when faced with a director shutting his eyes and beating time with a pencil on a table as I struggled unguided with text from The Tempest I felt stupid and under-educated. When later I was mentored by a director who spoke of people being unable to ‘hit the verse’ I felt ashamed at my lack of understanding and knowledge and took another step back. I was disempowered. I was the wrong class for Shakespeare. I would never direct a Shakespeare. I was not entitled to do so.

And so fast forward a few years. One afternoon I meet Clare Venables. In one afternoon she did more for me with Shakespeare than 11 years of Education and training had managed. She made sense of it by, amongst other things, explaining Iambic Pentameter. It was like giving me a key.

And so fast forward to 2013. I have been busy giving that key to others. mainly to young people  (sometimes via their teachers) because access and ownership of these 450 year old texts empowers them and raises their expectations like nothing else.

And so I got to thinking, thanks to the beach at Barry and a conversation with a friend at a cashpoint one grey morning, that this thing I had done with my last show ‘Things Beginning With M’ of getting all these women collaborating together was good. That starting those conversations was a good thing and why not extend that conversation. And she asked me. So what else makes you passionate?

I finally got my cash out along with the idea for The All-Female Shakespeare project.

Next time I need to tell you about the people I have met this week……….