A crisis in Irish theatre
Sir, – I am writing in support of my freelance colleagues, who are taking up the conversation around the reduction in opportunities for independent artists in the Abbey theatre, and the challenges faced in making work under current funding structures. I believe it is essential to take a holistic view of theatre provision, and the well-being of its makers.
The contribution made by a whole generation of independent theatre artists to the world reputation of Irish theatre must not be underestimated. We are lucky that so many have stayed the course beyond the heady days of unfunded fringe successes, and the formation of small companies. But my impression is that a number are reaching the end of their endurance; and the sector will be poorer if we begin to lose some of our most valuable creative talent.
I have worked outside Ireland many times – including in Scotland during the establishment of its National Theatre. At that time the Irish theatre scene was regarded with admiration and envy, and it was principally the work of independent companies that was seen as defining our vibrant culture. Most people were unaware how minimally these companies were resourced.
Since then many Irish companies have either disappeared or been reduced. Co-production offers from producing houses can help to extend the reach and life of a project, but they shouldn’t become a substitute for the ability to generate, develop and deliver diverse artistic visions. Really useful partnerships need to be built up over years and supported by sustained, confident investment in the people who form the ideas.
I am not freelance, but most of my friends and colleagues are. Rough Magic and other independent companies provide opportunities for freelance theatre artists wherever possible and have an excellent track record in this regard. However, as our funding shrinks and we grow fewer in number, those opportunities become limited. It is therefore more vital than ever to provide career sustenance through enlightened, artist-empowered investment and the support of the comparatively well-resourced National Theatre. The Abbey is the most powerful production engine in Ireland; besides its ability to remunerate, it is able to offer the chance to work on a scale, with reach and ambition, that any mature artist needs to look towards, in order to develop and fulfil their potential.
We are conscious of the endeavours of the Arts Council over recent years to support the individual artist; also of the welcome steps taken by the Abbey to increase access for both audiences and practitioners.
However, it is clear from recent discussions that there are significant gaps in the current structures, however well-intentioned the policies. This problem is not of the current Abbey directors’ making. But as the head of our National Theatre they, and the Arts Council have a responsibility to provide leadership in making it possible for artists to live and work as skilled practitioners and valued citizens in Ireland; and in making that case to government.
So I join with my peers in seeking an imaginative approach to a problem that has been growing apparent for some time, and has now become critical. – Yours, etc,
Rough Magic Theatre Company,