The arts in the UK, across the UK and into every pocket of community and fringe, owes a great debt of gratitude to Lyn Gardner and her employers at the Guardian for believing in the importance of widespread reporting of emerging arts. Sadly, that is about to change. Lyn continues to offer her wisdom and insightful championing, but as I understand it, the Guardian editor has cut 150 articles a year from her funded output.
We have seen a steady decline in the quantity of arts coverage in the press over the last 10-20 years. I well remember the days of the regional Guardian critics, and the regional first nights where it was possible to attract The Observer, the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail and other major circulation papers for an important play. Now a celebrity opening a superstore is more likely to get the editors excited. The pages and pages of sport continue to “sell papers”. The daily bulletins on the Today programme about the favoured horse at Wincanton will, we are told, continue to ensure listeners, but the arts are not treated as a respectable part of daily news reporting.
The Stage and Whatsonstage, the amazing Terri Paddock and My Theatre Mates, plus the array of more and more essential unpaid blog writers are what most of us have left to go for as an emerging creative or regional producing house. There are some surviving regional, part-time, theatre critics – but even this seems to be a dying breed in England at least [please please tell me if I’m wrong]. And so, if Lyn and others are being cut, it relies on grey-beard blog writers to keep cheering (and at times criticising) new work coming through.
I see, and write about, quite a lot – but I only have seven nights a week and they include family duties, work duties, hosting emerging producer events, and travel time to be in another place to start work at sparrow’s **. In the remaining nights I try to see the unexpected work, and to leave the main stages to others. I do get embarrassed to find that my friend Jamie Newell has been in two RSC productions for nigh on two years in Stratford, then Chichester, then the Haymarket, and I haven’t made one of them. My Keswick chum Sarah Ball is playing 17 at the Lyric Hammersmith and I doubt I will make it. I’ve not seen Kinky Boots or Play Wot Goes Wrong or Girls or a heap of other shows with friends producing, assisting, starring or playing in them. I suspect neither has Lyn Gardner because she is too busy championing the next generation.
So please Guardian, change your mind. We need you to keep championing the arts in Keswick and the favourite horse at Wincanton – there’s a place for both.
But in the meantime, this week I managed to see 6 new plays at the Bread and Roses from Free Rayne Artists – showing off new writers at the start of their career. Keep a watch out for writers Frances Bushe and Tomas Kinney especially, and do follow the company to their next Spiral of plays at Southwark Playhouse Sun 9th April
I hosted a gathering of Somerset House resident artists for an Open Space exploring how they, working with Kings College academics, could collaborate to make a difference in the world. Then a quick trip to Mountview’s production of Morning To Midnight directed by the inspiring Rebecca Frecknall and, after a day trip to Liverpool John Moores University to help validate a new MA in Musical Theatre scholarship being created by Dr Nicholas Philips, it was off to Foreign Body at Rix Mix developed as a solo show with stunning design/lighting/ soundscape by movement artist Imogen Butler-Cole .
Imogen, with her director Fran Moulds, and designers Tara Franks & Filipe Sous (sound), Ana Ines Jabares-Pita (set) and Ali Hunter (lighting) have created a fractured reflective world where the real stories of perpetrators and survivors of sexual assault are blended into a movement theatre piece which packs an immense punch. Beautiful, haunting, hurting, and real. Thank you to Imogen Butler-Cole for your honesty and your journey. After the performance, which is now ready to tour to colleges, theatres, and festivals led by producers Ine Van Riet and Adrienne Miller, there was a Q&A which perfectly complemented and enriched the experience. Touching on reconciliation, forgiveness of self, the power of the design and movement to allow us space to interpret the stories, and the absolute need for education of young boys and girls before things get out of hand. The following day there was a double page in the i newspaper about Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger collaborating and coming together to challenge “toxic attitudes to sex”. This show continues that journey of opening hearts and minds. If you run a school, theatre, festival or education programme do consider booking this beautiful dance-theatre piece.
This is also a week where our producers & directors at Mountview have taken ownership of a new name for their summer festival “Catalyst” which will feature 16 new productions – 8 plays directed by the MA Theatre Directors, and 8 solo shows commissioned by the MA Creative Producers. Now they can prepare for audition announcements for the 40 strong professional cast, and they move forward to finalizing their plans to bring 16 premieres to land safely in the small studio Karamel Theatre over the 5 weeks 9th June to 7th July.
Dear Guardian – please think again. Theatre producers and directors coming out into the world to start new lives, new companies, new projects need Lyn Gardner and many more like her to check out the runners and the riders. Some of them may make the grand National one day – and it is people like Lyn who spot them early on.