FURIOUS actors demonstrated in Piccadilly Circus on Tuesday against swinging Arts Council cuts which threaten to close nearly 200 theatres and theatre companies around the country.
Many on the 500-strong demonstration said that these companies are the lifeblood of the British theatre and demanded Equity takes the lead in defending them against the life-threatening cuts.
Daniel Goldman from the Genesis Young Vic Directors Network and Tangram Theatre Company, which organised the demonstration, told News Line: ‘Basically, there are about 500 of us on this network and we decided to respond to the situation.
‘You look at the 194 companies that have had proposed funding cuts – the National Student Drama Festival, the Bush, which is one of the most important new writing theatres – the scope of it is massive.
‘The Arts Council is given a certain amount to distribute and the way they’ve chosen to distribute it this year is flawed. The brevity of the appeal process is ridiculous – five weeks over Christmas and that period ends today.’
Jamie Baughan, a young Equity member from North London, said: ‘Rep has been disappearing for years and these cuts are the final nail in the coffin.
‘Since the Olympic bid came through the cuts have increased.
‘It’s the theatres that are doing the most challenging work and giving a voice to the most exciting artists that are suffering, rather than the huge West End theatres and household names that appear to have more money than they know what to do with.
‘Equity must call a national demonstration to defeat these cuts. It would send a strong united message to the government and the Arts Council.’
Equity member Emma Darwall-Smith, from south London, said: ‘We must defeat these outrageous cuts, which hit small theatres where challenging writing and productions come from, as well as prestigious theatres like the Bristol Old Vic.
‘My last job was playing Viola at the Northcott in Exeter and I grew up going to the Bristol Old Vic and performed there with the Oxford Stage Company.
‘We need to fight now – Equity and everybody. We need a national demonstration to bring this to a head.’
Equity member Nigel Planer said: ‘The Arts Council has an extra £50 million this year, yet they are cutting around 200 companies.
‘The criteria for the cuts has been mystifying and secretive. They’ve used the buzzword “excellence” as their criteria, yet the companies coming under threat are the Bush, the disabled theatre company, the Asian theatre company – the list goes on and on.
‘It’s outrageous and disgusting. If you look up “excellence” in the dictionary it doesn’t say anything about size. I’ve been e-mailing everyone.’
Equity member Mike Grady said: ‘There’s been sleight of hand by the government and the Arts Council. They haven’t been transparent.
‘There is a great deal of money at stake here. Companies will go out of business and communities will lose their local theatre. Audiences are the key. We all need to badger this government and the Arts Council.’
Equity member David Schofield said: ‘The way the Arts Council has done this is terrible. A lot of companies that are losing grants can’t support themselves.
‘The question is, do we think the cultural life of the country is worth preserving, or does it all have to be about business?’
Equity member Timothy Carlton said: ‘I’m here to protest against the misuse of Arts Council funds. Culture is more important than sport.
‘These theatres do marvellous productions, particularly the Bush and the Orange Tree, and the theatres in the provinces are equally important.
‘This is a short-sighted, philistine move. Equity must call a national demonstration to wake the Arts Council up.’
Equity member Karen Ascowe said: ‘It’s horrifying. These cuts are threatening the whole fabric of theatre in this country. This isn’t a load of fluffy nonsense, it’s very important. Everyone must make a stand.
‘I start working at the Bush next Monday. It’s one of the central venues for new writing where new work gets done. It’s unbelievable that it’s under threat.’
Equity member Shane Chester from south London, said: ‘It’s getting worse and worse and soon there will be nothing. There’s loads of funding for sports, but nothing for the arts, yet the arts are a huge part of British tradition.
‘Equity should follow the example of the Writers Guild of America, show its strength and call a national demonstration to make a stronger statement of opposition to these cuts.’
Equity member Celia Imrie condemned the fact that the planned march to the Arts Council headquarters had been banned.
She said: ‘It’s terrible we’re not allowed to march. We’re high-spirited but we’re not going to do any harm, we’re passionate but just standing still is not going to be noticeable enough.
‘People do go to the theatre and these theatres must be saved – the plight of the Northcott for instance, where I had many happy days.
‘You can see here we have a very willing band of people who want to fight these cuts, so I do wish Equity would call a demonstration.’
Equity member Juliet Stevenson said: ‘They are savage cuts to places where new writing is fostered. It shows that the Arts Council is not taking the arts seriously.
‘One of the things they’re cutting is the National Students Drama Festival, which is marvellous, where students from all over the country take their productions. It’s a great breeding ground and showcase for new talent.
‘Equity must keep the pressure up and make it public. Get the public on board. Who are these people making these decisions anyway?’
Cast members of ‘Blair on Broadway’, which is running at the Arts Theatre in Leicester Square, told News Line that if these cuts go ahead shows like theirs will be threatened in the future.
Equity members William Hazell, Sophie Behn, Dan Wheeler, Joshua Martin, Peter McMillan and Chris Cambridge said: ‘This show required Arts Council funding to kick it off, and the first place any such show goes to is the Arts Council.
‘One of the big problems is that new writing and experimental theatre is threatened and the emphasis is being shifted away from grass roots to high art and opera. It’s like the Premier League and lower divisions – the gap is widening.
‘It’s disgusting today’s march was banned – what’s happened to freedom of speech? Equity should take a lead and call a march to defeat these cuts.
‘Our show is a political satire about Blair’s years in Downing Street and if these cuts become the norm such shows will no longer be seen.’
Equity member and director of the New Factory of the Eccentric Actor, Penny Dimond said: ‘The way these cuts have been organised has been very underhand and undemocratic.
‘What everyone objects to is the fact that the cuts are made not by people in the arts but by administrators.
‘I think the whole system needs throwing out and starting again, it doesn’t work as it is. It’s all about so-called criteria and ticking the right boxes and not about art.
‘Equity should call a national demonstration. It’s time to take to the streets to defend the arts.’