Can theatre companies survive without Arts Council funding?

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Facing a future without major Arts Council funding, Rod Dixon of Red Ladder tells Sarah Freeman why he’s confident that the show will somehow go on

When we speak it’s just gone 10.30am, but Rod Dixon has already had a busy morning.

The artistic director of Red Ladder is preparing for the opening night of the company’s latest tour. In between ensuring the cast are happy and the set has arrive, he’s also been fielding a flurry of texts from Phill Jupitus.

“He wants to help,” says Rod. “So many people want to help, it’s been quite overwhelming.”

In Yorkshire, Red Ladder was one of the big losers of last week’s Arts Council funding announcement. As a National Portfolio Organisation, the Leeds-based company had received £160,000 a year, which covered the cost of two national tours. Last Tuesday, the rug was pulled under the lot.

As news spread through social media, Rod was inundated with messages of support and Jupitus, who starred in one of Red Ladder’s shows a couple of years ago was among the first to get in contact. The company, which prides itself on its radical credentials, has remained pretty philosophical about the decision and just 24 hours after receiving the bad news had set up an online fundraising campaign #GisATenner.

“If every one of our 8,000 followers on Twitter gave £10 it would rescue one entire tour,” says Rod. “If it works out hopefully it will be a reminder of how industrious , resilient and vitally important this sector is.”

Red Ladder, which was behind the acclaimed stage adaptation of Anthony Clavane’s book Promised Land, are hopeful they may be able to access some of the Arts Council’s other funding streams, but with no guarantees the online assault may prove vital.

“Ahead of this round of funding I think everyone was feeling vulnerable,” says Rod. “Some one had to lose out and unfortunately this time it was us. It was particularly disappointing because I really felt we were getting to the peak of our powers. When I joined Red Ladder in 2006 the company was on its knees, so much so that a lot of people thought it had folded. We’ve worked really hard since then to rebuild it and I think we’ve been pretty successful.

“We don’t go into schools as much as we once did. Financially it just doesn’t make sense, but may be it meant we didn’t tick that particular box.”

Rod also believes the company’s close relationship with Unite may have also affected the decision. The union has funded the latest show, We’re Not Going Back, about the lives of three women whose lives were changed forever by the miners’ strike, which is currently touring pit communities.

“When we wrote our application we were very conscious not to be seen as donkey jacket wearing left wing agitators. While our work leans to the left, ultimately what we do is tell stories which bring a different kind of audience into the theatre.

“My immediate reaction to losing our NPO status was to say, ‘Well, we’ll just go it alone’, but as Boff Whalley (former Chumbawamba and long-time Red Ladder collaborator) said, ‘I’m a tax payer, our audience our all tax payers, right there is your argument for public funding’. The big opera, ballet and theatre companies need and deserve public money, of course they do, but it would be nice to think that in return they would all help smaller organisations whether it be offering them office space or just a bit of mentoring.

“If we had lost our funding and another Leeds company like Paper Birds, who do some really interesting work, had been welcomed into the Arts Council fold, then you know what, I’d have said, ‘fair enough’. However, they weren’t and I do wonder where the next generation of theatre makers will come from.”

To make a donation follow @saveredladder on Twitter, visit saveredladder.co.uk or localgiving.com/redladder