Let's stand firm and hold our nerve

Let's stand firm and hold our nerve


It has been a disconcerting couple of weeks for everyone in the industry, as theatre makers have grappled with and digested the recent funding decisions made in Merrion Square. Some would say the cuts made were presented like a virtual bombshell through the post, and others would argue that we had all been well warned. Whatever about the varying viewpoints on how the message was delivered, the one thing we can all agree on is that the challenge facing the arts in Ireland is a serious and substantial one.

I am sure that those facing severe cuts, or complete removal from the annual funding process, may feel they have been led to the edge of the cliff, blindfolded. Others may feel that they are facing a long, hard slog up the rocky path of perseverance. Others still are scratching their head at the bottom of the cliff, wondering how they can even begin the ascent. Whatever else, it seems unlikely, according to Mary Cloake’s recent speech to Theatre Forum, that the crisis in public funding will improve in the near future. The arts funding of €84.6 million secured in 2008 suddenly seems a shimmering peak.

So bearing all this in mind, what are the challenges and opportunities we face as creators and producers, in the coming months and years:

Protect quality
There is a need, as ever, to present the highest quality of work to the public – particularly considering there will be far less work on offer. It is up to the makers constantly to query, scrutinise and interrogate the work, so that it is as well formed, pertinent and as electrifying as it can be. Of course quality control should always be applied, not just in times of financial constraints but now there is perhaps less ability to “Try again’ and more pressure than ever to ‘Fail better’.

Maximise potential
We need to concentrate on unleashing the maximum potential from the work that can be made, by extending its life or broadening the platform where appropriate, while ensuring to manage any strains that would then place on our resources. Hopefully touring support initiatives by the Arts Council, long awaited, will kick in, to enable at least some strategic touring presentations.

Market furiously
For those of us fortunate enough to be in a position to produce work, let’s market the **** out of it. We have to concentrate our focus on developing our income streams, so what better way than to ensure that as many of our seats are filled at the same time as generating revenue? Yes, marketing can be expensive, but if we are more time-rich and cash poor than in previous days, let’s work harder at the viral and affinity marketing opportunities, and let’s build our press angles well in advance, so that we have a well timed campaign of many layers. Budgeting box office income realistically in the current climate, as well as issues of pricing, also come into play here.

Call for appropriate and strategic funding structures
The arts sector is a complex ecosystem. The funding structures at the Arts Council need to be sophisticated, strategic and multi-layered, to reflect and respond to the needs of the national arts world. Let’s ensure that both individual artists and production companies are given incentives to play to their strengths, to expand outwards as well as upwards, to contract or to extend.

Expand income streams
I believe it behoves those in structures that do remain intact this year to concentrate some effort on enhancing skills in the areas of fundraising and marketing, so that we are equipped to expand and diversify our income streams in time as the economy stabilises, thereby becoming more independent and resourceful. That may help to change the dynamic of the relationship between public funder and funded to be a more balanced one, where all the eggs would not lie in the one basket.

Protect our working conditions
Within the current funding turmoil, we cannot forget the importance of protecting the professionalization of the industry – by insisting on fair working conditions for artists and arts practitioners; by putting a value on every resource or contribution made to a production even if it is in-kind support, and basically by not selling ourselves too short. I was a little taken aback at the recent Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards by the number of times we were reminded of how particularly successful thrifty productions had been – but at whose expense? This is by no means a dig at those who achieved a huge amount on little, but we have to be extra careful about how we communicate the value of our time and resources, otherwise the world will argue back that we don’t need funding and investment.

Concentrate on collaboration
Theatre thrives on collaboration. Let’s not spend more time splitting hairs over whether roles are artistic or administrative. Many times I have attended production meetings where artistic ideas have come from a technical company member, and where technical ideas have come from an artist. Let’s not box each other in. And if we really need to bicker, let’s ensure we do it away from the media, in private.

Keep innovating
All makers, programmers, presenters and producers should continue, as much as possible, to stand firm and hold our nerve to make work that we truly believe in. The only way we will keep our heads above water when it comes to audiences, is if we keep innovating in surprising ways.

Argue for the arts
The National Campaign for the Arts last autumn, with a lot of hard work by Theatre Forum and individuals on the ground, had significant impact on a national level. Let’s each do our bit to keep flying that flag.

Orla Flanagan is Producer & General Manager at Fishamble: The New Play Company. Its production of Forgotten (above) by Pat Kinevane, is currently at the Irish Arts Centre, New York. It tours to Washington D.C, then back to Carlow and Cork in May. www.fishamble.com


Stephen Byrne says Fri, 05 March 2010 22:49
That all sounds like good stuff - I saw Forgotten, and it's great. You don't really mention people who go along to see theatre, the audience, I mean. You do, but it just doesn't seem to be there.

I suppose I'm saying don't forget about the people who are not working in the arts but who like to enjoy them. This is all a bit like insider talk. But fair play to you anyway, and the Fishamble Theatre.
Diego Fasciati says Mon, 08 March 2010 14:55
This is an excellent overview of what all us working on the arts should focus on - it's clear, it's rational, it's practical. Thank you Orla!

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