On 15 November 2012, The Telegraph published an article about Ian McKellen and why he believes there will be no more acting greats. In the article McKellen states “…today’s young actors will never develop into fine middle-aged performers because they have not honed their talents in repertory theatre”. He then goes on to say, “The situation is desperate. There are no [resident] companies in this country – not even the National Theatre has one. There’s a desert.”
But this is where we come in.
In January of 2012, a group of nine individuals came together to start a theatre company. But not just any theatre company: a repertory theatre company we called Paradigm. What makes us different is that we plan an entire season of plays in advance (which fit a certain theme), and pull from the same body of actors to play various roles in all of our productions. We obviously pull in actors from outside Paradigm as well, but we make sure that none of our company members ever go for too long without being in a show. That way, as McKellen puts it, we are able to “hone our craft”.
In a little over a year, Paradigm has produced two fundraisers, one benefit show, and four full-scale productions at different venues across London. We’ve been able to do this with very little money and very little help… and it’s been hard. As Artistic Director of Paradigm, I don’t think I’ve ever been as busy in my life. The same can be said for our Resident Director, Cat Robey, who has directed all four of our productions, as well as for our fantastic Artistic Associates (company members).
We are currently half-way through our final production of the 2012/2013 Season The Many Faces of Love, which is Tartuffe at the Canal Café Theatre, which will close on the 27 April. When Tartuffe closes, we will be left with one question: will we be able to survive another season without going bust?
Every year the arts budget from the UK government seems to get worse and worse, and now it’s almost impossible to find funding. Even schemes that are available online for emerging artists tend to be for less than £1,000, which doesn’t even cover half a week’s rent at most theatre venues in London. Even fundraising can be tedious, because once you’ve had one fundraiser, it gets harder and harder to keep having them, no matter how much you jazz up an event. Arts Council England is bombarded by applications. For most theatre companies, it’s hard enough to produce one decent piece of theatre per year, let alone four! It’s going to be a risky business seeing if we’ll be able to pull it off again as we have already.
If it were up to me, and if I had anything to do with the way in which the theatre industry is managed in London, I would probably ask some of the larger theatres to run schemes where they give companies the chance to do a full-run of a show in that space for free. That would be worth more than any money that could be given to a production. I would also ask that more theatres open themselves up to new writing, and be willing to take more risks with the kind of material they produce. Theatre is an ever-evolving art form and should be given the chance to morph into all sorts of interesting shapes. Lastly, the UK government needs to wake up and stop cutting arts funding; I could go on all day about this. England’s great contribution to the world is theatre, so it’s a shame that the current government is trying to destroy that. A real shame. And to be honest, I think that’s really what’s at the heart of the article that was published in The Telegraph; we are living in a new era that is lacking in the funds that make it possible for theatre to thrive like it should.
I just hope that soon we’ll be able to push theatre in the right direction, or even bring it back to where it once was. As McKellen says, “The strength of British theatre should be that these actors in their middle-years know what they’re doing and are good at it. Not rich, not famous, but making a living.” I hope that as Artistic Director of Paradigm Theatre Company, I’ll be able to at least make that happen for my company.
Image: Paradigm 2012-2013 season poster