Theatre directors met at the National Theatre with Danny Boyle to stand against futher funding cuts. Nick Ahad on the argument.
To set the tone from the off, it seems frankly ridiculous that this argument is still on-going.
It seems even more preposterous that the only way to get people to listen is to have a meeting in London, but there it is.
Regional theatre needs, deserves and earns the funding necessary to survive and thrive. The argument is that simple. Artistic directors of regional theatres have been making the argument from atop their soapbox for the past few years. That soapbox yesterday became a megaphone when artistic directors from around the country – including a number from Yorkshire – travelled to London and the National Theatre where the man in charge, Nicholas Hytner, was joined by famous film director and Olympic opening ceremony creator Danny Boyle to add their voices to the collective.
The above description of Boyle is pertinent because that is how he is best recognised these days. However, before he was Danny Boyle, famous film director..., he was Danny Boyle, the lad who fell in love with the craft at a regional theatre.
Early last month Hytner opined that regional theatres faced a “clear and present danger” if hit with more funding cuts. Because he’s Sir Nicholas Hytner, people took note, but yesterday he really put his money where his mouth is and hosted a gathering of regional theatre directors and national press.
Danny Boyle, reminding us that as many people in the regions go to the theatre as go to football matches, said: “I thought it was really important to be here, and my journey to the Olympic opening ceremony began at the Bolton Octagon.
“I was an usher when I was at school and watched the plays there standing at the back, and the sense of wonder you got from the theatre as a young guy was extraordinary and I got the bug.”
Daniel Evans, artistic director of Sheffield Theatres, James Brining of West Yorkshire Playhouse, Chris Monks of Stephen Joseph Theatre Scarborough and Damian Cruden of York Theatre Royal were among those attending.
Brining says: “The argument for theatre funding has become far too simplistic to the degree that it is put as a choice between two kidney dialysis machines or a theatre production and that is a nonsense argument.
“The idea that philanthropy, which is what we are all being urged towards, can work outside of London is also a nonsense. More than 80 percent of the philanthropic giving is in London – what benefit does that have for regional theatres? Our productions on stage are just a part of what we do – there is education work, community outreach, all kinds of work that is absolutely vital and that can only happen if we are properly funded.”
Danie Evans says: “My life changed because I was completely and utterly inspired by theatre. Now, I have the privilege of running a subsidised regional theatre. We produce our own work, which is always about bringing the best of theatre to Sheffield, and we host a whole variety of touring work. Our turnover is £9.5m.
“We sell over 350,000 tickets a year. Around 7,000 people come here every week. We know that 80 per cent of our audience come from within an hour’s drive of the theatre. And we know that people travel from all over the world to see some of our productions. Over 90 schools from the region came to see our recent production of Macbeth.
“In fact, over 15,000 young people came to the theatres as part of a school trip last year. I’m proud of the part we play in the UK’s wider theatre ecology. It’s a rich and delicate biosphere. In imposing disproportionate cuts on the ecology, we affect the balance of the ecosystem. This will eventually, in the short and long term, have a devastating effect on communities, our sustainability and the future of the arts in the UK.”
Chris Monks says: “When 80 per cent of philanthropic arts giving in England ends up in London, regionally we are all competing for the remaining 20 per cent. And this will never be the solution for Scarborough.
“We can replace some of our ACE funding, but there are not enough wealthy people in the area to regularly underwrite our work without continuing support from central government. We will also have to spend precious time raising these funds rather than putting our energy into doing what we’re supposed to be doing: making theatre.”
It is as simple as that. The hope is, with Danny Boyle and Sir Nicholas’s voices added to the argument, it will finally be heard loud and clear.