The Theatre Assessment (we’re not allowed to call it a review in case it gets muddled up with the Theatre Review five years ago) must be a welcome development for a sector which still feels somewhat battered following Arts Council England’s funding review (p3).
It’s also nice to know that the acres of data amassed by ACE in its monitoring and evaluation procedures will be put to use, though there can’t be anyone out there who envies the task of Jodi Myers and Anne Millman in having to wade their way through it. It is understood that the decision to have this Assessment was made well before the funding decisions were made, by new broom Barbara Matthews, now Director of Theatre at ACE. Her background in theatre – she was an independent producer for many years before being lured into Great Peter Street – may reassure the jittery theatre world, which feels under threat from a number of directions. Back in January, at the highly charged Equity meeting at the Young Vic, Peter Hewitt was accused by Sam West and others of favouring street art and circus over text-based theatre, a charge which he very firmly rebutted. However, ACE’s new definition of theatre does include street art and circus, and that unease must still be there in the minds of venue-based and touring companies. It will be interesting to see how the exercise pans out: should other artform departments perhaps be undertaking similar assessments? On the other hand, when the 15% cut in ACE’s administrative costs starts to bite (p1), would they be able to afford to carry it out? Perhaps Matthews is just getting in under the wire, before such projects are put out of court by a lack of resources. ACE is already beset by office overload: many of us will have heard their officers’ plaints on the inadequacy of administrative support. If the admin bill is to be cut, then the red tape quotient will have to diminish too. Myers and Millman will be in a good position to see precisely which of the data ACE currently collects are actually useful. ACE could then cut out the dross, thus completing a neatly reciprocal exercise in economy.
Catherine Rose, Editor