1. Should we expect public funding and how could we become more self-sufficient?

2. Can we ever have a truly free theatre?

(2 groups joined together)

Convener(s): Becs Andrews and Alison Mead

Participants: Simon Wilkinson, Rebecca Maltby, Madeleine Trigg, Angela, Liz, Andrew, Fran, Francesca,  Tom A, Trish, Lago, Paul, Libby, Steve.

(may not be all present and some may not have been present)

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

1. Becs started by using the example of the Royal Court Liverpool and that it received no public funding, and made a profit from ticket sales alone, (like the West End model.) Two shows that sold poorly would bankrupt the theatre company. They rented the space from the council and had a loyal local audience. They specialized in new comedy plays, had a loyal local audience and often revived their shows.

2. Free can mean free tickets or free as in unshackled from restrictions.

Can we have free admission?

One contributor gave an example of her houseboat being used as a venue for a free performance. Her company has discussed whether they were undermining their work by giving free performances, and decided that No, they were not. They did their publicity for free online, ie through facebook, and had 5 audience members per show, and performed the show on the houseboat 2/3 times per night.

The Forest Fringe in Edinburgh was given as another example of free (tickets) theatre – no artists were paid upfront to perform and no ticket sales took place. Voluntary donations were generous and the artists were paid from this and the work was good quality. (It later transpired that it was partially publicly funded by BAC)

1. Another contributor had put on a play without funding, paid the actors herself (below equity minimum) and had her fingers burnt by the experience.

The Globe is the only London theatre outside the West End that doesn’t rely on public funding and funds through ticket sales.

2. Outside spaces can be turned into performance spaces with a temporary licence that only costs £15.

1. Becs asked (as devil’s advocate) why we should expect the public to pay for theatre productions out of the general public purse when it could be funding cancer drugs with the money instead.

A contributor made the argument that the public had a right to access culture in the same way as it had a right to access healthcare and education.

This provoked the questions: WHO, specifically, is a theatre production made for? And WHAT is that production going to do for the wider community?

2. Is access to theatre prevented by cost of tickets? Cost of ticket prices is not just the issue to why more people don’t go to see theatre: There is an intellectual thing about theatre that may be off-putting and make people feel that theatre is not for them. With the introduction of free museum entry all that happened was that the people who already paid to go to museums went more often, but it did not encourage those that didn’t go to museums already. Gigs and football matches are more expensive than going to the theatre, but this doesn’t seem to put the public off. Point made that this is because people already know what they are getting with football and music – they watch football on TV and listen to a band’s music before a gig. Promotional video campaigns online are being used extensively by theatre companies at the moment to expand their audiences. Do we need to have a more entrepreneurial attitude to making theatre – and spend all our energies on creating projects in the same way as a business would, rather than through public funding?

In Scotland there is a new funding style being mooted which would involve being offered a loan instead of a grant-based system. What happens if you default?

2. Free tickets can be negative. Normally comedians in Edinburgh stand to loose thousands if their material is bad and the show doesn’t sell. The free fringe enables bad material without forfeit, and without this ‘possible loss risk filter’ general quality suffers.

Point made that everyone working in the arts subsidises it personally by working long and hard for low wages.

1. American model of philanthropy discussed – whereby rich individuals will fund a theatre. Has a chilling effect on the kinds of work produced – ie must sit well politically with views of its ‘paymaster’. Contrast with European model – high public funding levels compared to our own. (A question I wishes I’d asked: What is the result on quality of work produced?)

1. Pit Lockery (?) lost its ACE funding because it was doing too well commercially from ticket sales. A discussion about the logic of ACE – If a theatre company produces a performance product that the public are willing to buy then surely it is in the public interest to fund this type of work? Opposing point made that the money should go to another company that needs it more, and cannot survive on ticket sales alone. The analogy of a hospital was used – it wouldn’t spend money treating a healthy person when there is a sick person next to them. Is public funding best used to prop up performances that individual members of the public are not prepared to pay enough for? Surely that is deciding for the public what they should spend their money on and watch, against their own tastes! The ACE approach functions to diversify what is on offer, and is for ‘sick’ companies who need help. Lots of companies who have been regularly funded by ACE for 10 years and should now be standing on their own two feet: the chance for funding should be given to younger companies.

1. The European example of big bucks touring companies that are funded by many countries in massive co-productions (such as Romeo Gasteluci) because that is the only was that they can be commercially viable. This is in contrast to Arts Councils in the UK, who fund locally and are strict about where the show is then performed (cannot fund in UK and then decide to transfer to Scotland after being funded for a UK tour)

1. With the current credit crunch climate, corporate sponsorship is a less viable option now.

2. Suggestion that funding bodies could offer ‘funding in kind’ for young companies such as marketing support, mentoring.

A circus space student contributor told us about a module on her course sponsored by Deutsch Bank, whereby students write a business plan and the best one gets £8000 and a business mentor.

CIDA – Cultural Industries Development Agency in tower hamlets gives advice and support.

Becs mentioned that the Royal Court had pre-show meal and caberet seating and this seemed to help it as an event / night out popularity. Another example given of ‘Play and a pie’ short plays of new writing, little in way of production. Mostly self funded. Where?

You have to build up your reputation as a practioner and be part of the ‘right group’ to get ACE funding, which makes it seem hard for new/outsiders/emerging practitioners.

2.The new empty building tax means that we have a bargaining chip – we can save landlords money by using their empty spaces.

2. Creative Space Agency has relaunched and was set up to broker relationships between artists and landlords / councils / big companies.

2.Scoop – completely free amphitheatre space outside on southbank, which encourages passers by to watch for free for 2 mins or 2 hours. Helps new audiences access theatre. ACE funded, programmes sales and a few donations. Aim is to be accessible: Free theatre gets new users.

1. Audiences – predominance of white middle-class intellectuals. Is theatre appealing to other groups? More culturally diverse theatrical experiences are happening in schools, and is intended to sew the seeds of future audiences and practitioners

1. Stadium theatre – massive audiences – is the only way to make decent profits from the theatre, as if you extend a run of an average sized production to get more audience you also increase the overheads.

Street Theatre is spaceless, and the public access is max – the way forward perhaps? Processional and a very different beast from space-based theatre.

1. Necessity versus Luxury debate in public funding – Liverpool 08 Capital of Culture. Taxi Driver: Why fund this **** capital of culture when there are massive areas of deprivation? Very similar to arguments about the Olympics.

Olympics funded by Property Developers – does happen to theatres occasionally – like Rose Theatre in Kingston..Government makes it a condition that a theatre is built as part of a new development. Therefore theatre is seen by Gov as inherently valuable. Developers can’t get rid of Arts Theatre for same reason.

1. Model of Not for profit American Subscriber Theatres. Celebrate Theatre being a middle-class thing. Theatre sit within affluent areas. Run seasons – autumn, winter, summer, and subscribers have to buy tickets for all the seasons. Very late on tickets are released for general sale. Therefore the money for the production is provided upfront. BYO in UK is similar, as is Perth Rep, Lyceum Edinburgh, Southall, Sheridan, etc. Circus is the other model and runs 18 performances per week at £12.50 per ticket.