‘AN IMMEDIATE HALT TO ALL OF THE CUTS!’ – Theatre workers demand

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Actors protest in London’s Piccadilly Circus on January 15 against the Arts Council funding cuts
Actors protest in London’s Piccadilly Circus on January 15 against the Arts Council funding cuts

CLOSURE-THREATENED theatre companies are lobbying today’s meeting of the Arts Council in the Roundhouse in Camden, North West London today at 1.30pm, demanding a reversal of the ‘death sentence’ cuts imposed on 200 companies around the country.

Freelance theatre director and organiser of the Norwich march against Arts Council cuts on Saturday 19 January, Peter Beck told News Line he would be at today’s lobby.

He said: ‘We had a great turnout for our Arts Council cuts protest march.

‘We think there were 800 or nine hundred there, with speakers from Creative Arts East, Norwich Puppet Theatre, Eastern Angles Theatre Company, Momentum Arts and Dedalus Books.

‘Various other speakers came forward on the day, including the Head of Culture from Norfolk County Council, head of culture from Norwich City Council, North Norwich MP Ian Gibson and Peter Wilson, Chief Executive of Norwich Theatre Royal, who all gave rousing speeches to the packed crowd, culminating in a unified vote of no confidence in Arts Council East.

‘We then marched through Norwich City Centre with Norwich Samba Band to Norwich City Hall steps, where there were performances from local arts groups, and speeches from drama students from the University of East Anglia.

‘Over 1,000 signatures were collected on the day, which were then taken to the Arts Council offices in Cambridge on Wednesday 23rd January.

‘ACE have promised that these signatures and letters will form part of their decision-making process.

‘We’ll be at the Roundhouse in Camden Town on Tuesday and we call on all threatened companies to be there to lobby the arts council to call an immediate halt to all of the cuts.

‘Today the East of England Regional Assembly met at Norfolk County Hall and a motion was passed calling for a halt of Arts Council cuts.

‘Arts organisations in Cambridge are planning to hold a public meeting and invite Andrea Stark, Chief Executive of Arts Council East, to attend and give us information about the process which these cuts were agreed upon.’

Alisha Whittington from Quicksilver company, which is being cut 52 per cent which amounts to £130,000, told News Line: ‘We’re a children’s theatre company doing new writing for children from three to 11.

‘The cuts threaten our existence, the ongoing work, particularly the touring work. If the cuts go ahead they will take place from 1 April.’

Jennie Clarke, from London Bubble, said: ‘We took a package of documents to the Arts Council London Office comprising letters and messages of support from a variety of sources, includings, participants, academics, fellow theatre professionals and MPs.

‘People wrote of the high esteem in which they hold the company’s work.

‘The Arts Council are planning to cut 100 per cent of our grant – £420,000 from this April, which will undoubtedly close the company.

‘We’ve been going for 35 years. We’ve grown as an organisation massively, to become today one of the most vibrant and accessible participatory programmes in the arts at the moment.

‘We have a really rich history of education work across South-east London and beyond, predominantly Greenwich, Southwark and Lewisham, working in a variety of education settings, with youth offending teams, with early years settings.

‘We do a lot of our creative work outside the classroom and within it.

‘We are essentially an intergenerational company, basically pioneering it, meaning that an eight-year-old can participate in the same project as an 80-year-old and they are both given an opportunity as performer as well as audience, to make and watch theatre.

‘We are one of the few companies where if you like what you see on the stage, you can try your hand at creating it yourself.

‘We have pioneered a really open and accessible model and we believe that that is excellent.

‘The McMaster Report talks about excellence in the arts and we believe that the process of creating theatre and involving people in the theatre needs to be excellent as much as the end product itself.

‘That’s especially important given that Southwark is one of London’s most deprived boroughs.

‘There are a lot of disengaged young people here, it’s well documented that there is gang trouble and knife crime and to remove organisations like ours that work to give young people a focus and an opportunity to build skills is really worrying and negligent.

‘We can only hope. We’re in a kind of limbo for a week until we’re informed of the decision so it’s a question of keeping the spirit of the company and its participants raised, keeping the media informed of what’s happening and also we’re actually currently delivering work in education settings here at our base and in schools.

‘We have a base where members of the community come to make theatre in Rotherhithe.

‘We produce work at our base in the summer and we take it out to London’s parks and open spaces.

‘The work we produce is done in promenade style so instead of laying a rug out you move from scene to scene within the park visiting up to six different sites.

‘Theatre is about connections, it is about people and their stories and ultimately it’s an exchange, and it’s that exchange that needs to be excellent as much as the end result.’

Sarah Foster, from Creative Arts East, said: ‘They are completely cutting our grant of £160,000 a year from April 1. It will mean we will cease to exist.

‘Basically we’re an arts development and delivery agency. We put live professional theatre in the community of Norfolk and Suffolk.

‘It was a brilliant march last week. Peter Wilson, the Chief Executive of Norwich Theatre Royal described the cuts as a cull and that is what it is. There will be a black hole in the region.

‘Equity calling a national march would be a good idea. The more that people can demonstrate that the arts are really an important part of their lives the better.

‘The public want a bigger say. The people making the cuts are bureaucrats and administrators.

‘Those making the cuts in Norfolk clearly don’t understand Norfolk. It is a vast rural area and people are going to be disenfranchised.’

Arts Council spokesman Emma Russell told News Line on Friday: ‘Each Regional Council has looked at the recommendations of the Arts Council along with responses from the organisations and on the 29th the National Council meets and they ratify all the decisions made by the regions.

‘Then from there we will be contacting all our funded organisations in writing and making the final decisions public on February 1st.

‘We are having a small press conference at the Hampstead Theatre at 11am next Friday morning.’

Playwright Ronald Harwood alleged: ‘The government has abandoned the arms length principal of arts funding and is trying to use the arts for social engineering.’