What the arts can learn from football
Tonight sees A Dream Play by August Strindberg open at the Peacock Theatre. It’s got a heavyweight production crew behind it, with Jimmy Fay calling the directorial shots with a pared-back Caryl Churchill script in hand.
The actors are where the real interest lies – it’s being performed by the National Youth Theatre using actors selected from youth theatres around the country. The would-be thesps had to be between 16 and 19 and, if successful, faced five weeks of rehearsals and full-time living in Dublin, sharing houses with their fellow actors. You can read more about what went on behind the scenes here.
This sounds like a fascinating experience for someone to get involved in – a shot at acting in the national theatre while still a teenager, working with some of the best production crew in the country. This project is being principally funded by the Arts Council, but perhaps it is time the powers that be enforced a little more grass-roots investment in the arts.
Football is hardly an industry that one should look to for ethics (and yes, it is an industry). But there are clubs that have a famous policy for investing in youth programmes and have had a fairly stunning number of stars work their way through their ranks (Ajax springs to mind). Current changes in football squad rules (bear with me, we’ll be back on an arts footing soon, I promise) mean clubs are being forced to focus their investment in home-grown talent, and these are changes that cannot have come too soon. This, hopefully, means that the behemoths of the Premiership , for example, will have to put more money into their youth training programmes and nurturing talent, whether they like it or not.
What does this have to do with the arts, then? Well, if football can force its clubs (and admittedly some clubs have strong youth systems) to invest in yoof, surely the arts can do the same. How about a system where large touring productions have to invest or divert part of their profits towards funding the arts in Ireland? Admittedly Ireland doesn’t get a lot of these major bandwagons, but the Grand Canal Theatre and the O2, for example, should go some way to changing this. This idea is not specific to theatre – in fact, it’s probably an area where the pickings would be particularly slim, given that the massive Broadway or West End hits don’t generally make it over here. But when Arcade Fire, Springsteen or the Killers roll into town for their latest cash cow, could a percentage of the ticket price be funnelled directly into programmes that pay for young musicians to hone their craft?
There are those who will argue that this already happens. Imro, for example, charges venues for performances and on its website it says “each year Imro sponsors a large number of song contests, music festivals, seminars, workshops, research projects and showcase performances”. In fact, it says that if you have a particular project that you would like considered for Imro funding, “provide a detailed proposal to the contact details below: Irish Music Rights Organisation, Copyright House, Pembroke Row, Lower Baggot Street, Dublin 2; tel: 01-6614844, email: keith.Johnson@imro.ie.” Get scribbling, people.
This is all fair enough (oh I can already feel the anti-Imro comments welling up). However, if as a punter I was going to see a show, gig or exhibition by a major international performer or act, I would be very happy to know that, for example, a euro from my ticket price was been re-invested right here in getting young people involved in the arts, or that this percentage was earmarked to fund youth-training schemes within the venue I’m sitting in, enjoying a show.