Once again this August, we at Filskit Theatre have resisted the call of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and opted to stay put in London to start working on our next piece. However, thanks to social media, we’ve managed not to miss the huge buzz that can be felt emanating from the north. Our Facebook and Twitter feeds have been full of talk from excited first-timers, reminiscences, celebrations and revealing reviews, all of which have filled us with envy at not being able to be there. However there is one message in particular that has received an overwhelming response online and that message comes from British playwright Mark Ravenhill.
Ravenhill delivered a speech at the launch of this year’s festival focusing on a plan B for the arts in which he discusses the contradiction of having a pure and honest voice on stage versus the “necessary” corruption in order to make work and get it seen with the hope of making some money. In addition, he explores the hopelessness in trying to remain radical and rebellious when in receipt of public funds. Is it possible to rally against the institution that funds you?
Ravenhill gives the call to arms identifying the desperate need for more exciting and more radical work on our stages. He appears to glorify the struggling artist, who disregards multinational conglomerate funding or the public purse, who instead makes work that is truly independent. Let us all imagine this for a while – what a truly wonderful way to work.
The artists in our hearts agrees with this and would love to live in our small shared flat off just bread, wine and cigarettes whilst making exciting, challenging and beautiful work. However, we either simply don’t have the balls to live like this (probably true – we also adore cheese, cake and tea – and none of us smoke), or is this a little bit of a rose tinted view of the world (also probably true)?
The cynics within us do detect a feeling of hypocrisy running through the speech. Ravenhill is one of the RSC’s associate writers and the RSC is one of the largest publicly funded arts organisations in the country; it also attracts high levels of philanthropic donations. Equally, it is very easy to look back at your youthful struggles when you know it ends with great critical and (presumably) financial success.
But could austerity be the key to making more exciting work? At this point in time outside the West End, the theatre world is struggling for audiences. Why is this? What is it about theatre that makes the general public think it is not for them? Working in children’s theatre we often see families who are not only bringing their child to the theatre for the first time, but themselves too. There is the risk that we can start to make theatre for other ‘theatre people’ – a small self-serving community that does not talk to the very people the work is created for. What is the point of honesty, truth and freedom in theatre making if no one sees it? Is there a massive difference between work that the public want to see and the work they ‘should’ see? Why is this and how can we combat it?
We don’t know what the future will hold for arts funding. At Filskit we continue to try and walk the tightrope of keeping the activity of the company going, making work we love and needing to pay the bills. Despite two small Arts Council England grants, the lion’s share of the support we have received to keep us with a roof over our heads and food in our bellies has come from working other jobs. However, this cannot happen forever. We are already feeling the need to spend more and more time on the company, and having dedication to the different projects we run that cannot be supported by the status quo. How we achieve the next step we do not know, all we do know is that it’s coming.
Money is such a dirty thing to the arts. Too much and the work becomes safe and comfortable, too little and it won’t be made at all. We have to put our creative minds to making the future of the arts not just financially viable as a means to exist, but also to flourish creatively. Answers on a back of a post card please!
Photo by Flickr user Images of Money under a Creative Commons licence.