More clarity than hope at Theatre Forum meeting
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Above: Annie Ryan, artistic director of The Corn Exchange.

More clarity than hope at Theatre Forum meeting


The meeting held by Theatre Forum in Dublin last week was an opportunity for practitioners in theatre, dance and opera to air their reactions to the severe cuts in revenue funding for this year, and to discuss their implications. Responding to a series of questions posed in a letter from Theatre Forum to the Arts Council about the current theatre strategy, clarity of communication and transparency of process, the Arts Council’s Director Mary Cloake made a presentation at the meeting, which Fergal McGrath, Chair of Theatre Forum, said “brought some clarity, but didn’t bring a whole lot of hope.”

Outlining the Council’s budget from Government, Cloake revealed that the Arts Council had €20 million less to spend this year than in 2008, following two successive reductions to its annual budget, combined with a series of intermittent cuts that had not been passed on to its clients. It has since been reported that the Arts Council received a further €500,000 cut this year to its budget, which it is attempting to absorb.
In seeking a rationale for the cuts – which saw Barabbas, Bedrock, B*Spoke, Gare St Lazare Players, Hatch, Landmark, Loose Canon, Meridian, Ouroboros, Purple Heart and Yew Tree lose their funding entirely, while several other independent companies were cut severely – Theatre Forum asked if the Council had already adopted a new theatre policy and urged it to publish one as soon as possible. Cloake said that any new strategy would stem from last year’s widely circulated discussion document, ‘Examining New Ways To Fund Theatre Production’, one that proposed to reduce the number of production companies, to encourage shared administrative resources and to direct more support towards individual artists. Such a policy was not yet ratified, but with proportionally more money now directed to Project Awards – €12 million between ten art forms – its proposals more than resemble the current plan of action, as though economic events had outpaced consensus.

“[The Arts Council’s] strategy is to increase the number of shows produced,” said McGrath. “The danger is if you take a large slice of an ecosystem out, what kind of damage does it cause?”

Annie Ryan of Corn Exchange (pictured) whose budget this year is earmarked for artistic programming only, has not received funding for the company’s core costs, such as office rental, salaries, etc. “The bigger picture is the more important thing,” she says, voicing concerns about a potential broad shift away from company models to individual artists, “which makes the whole thing inoperable”.
“In the theatre if you even do a one-off show you become a company. It’s by nature a company thing.” Without the legal and administrative framework of a company, Ryan added, individual theatre makers would find it harder to access other funding bodies, to plan work far in advance, retain actors or nurture and develop artistic relationships. “I know they have to make cuts to companies,” she says. “And they have to find ways to allow people under the age of 35 to make work. But my worry is that if everyone is to slide into the project-funded world, how can anyone forward plan?”
Several contributors to Theatre Forum’s discussions were reluctant to accept that theatre companies were inefficient or unduly costly organisations, some calling for cost analysis. “It’s not about the money,” says Ryan, referring to the development and discovery of ensemble-based work, “but being able to deliver a long-term vision, nurture and hone relationships with artists and continue that trajectory of work.” Ryan also voiced concerns that if only the biggest institutions would be resourced to make work within a company structure, while others developed ad hoc, “the quality of the work in general in Ireland will suffer so badly it will affect the festivals and our international profile.”
Ryan may have characterised the Theatre Forum meeting as “very, very grim. Frankly it was like a funeral,” but she was not without more sanguine reflection. “It’s grim, but you know, we are all really good at making something out of nothing. It’s where our expertise is. It’s where our value is, in our flexibility and ingenuity. And they can’t take that away from you.”
The Theatre Forum meeting concluded with what Fergal McGrath called a commitment to “reboot and refocus” the National Campaign for the Arts. “We got a result last year and we’re determined to get a result again this year,” McGrath said. “We may be down, but we’re certainly not out.”



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