Serious concerns have been raised about the state of English language theatre in Wales in a revealing report by arts consultant Peter Boyden.
The report, which has laid down a template for a radical overhaul of theatre provision across the country, states frankly that ?theatre culture in Wales has been weak? and cites a lack of funding as the main cause of an ?alarming? drop in the range and volume of professional English language theatre production.
Boyden, who undertook an investigation into the state of English regional theatre four years ago, was commissioned by the Arts Council of Wales (ACW) in January to gauge the health of theatre in Wales. His 87-page report recommends that a ?strategic vision? be urgently put in place to arrest the decline of theatre production and audiences across the country. He sets out a range of proposals which will now form the basis of what ACW is describing as a ?national pathway? for the development of English language theatre in Wales.
Key recommendations of the report are for investment in the capacity of existing companies to produce more and better work. Specific proposals include the establishment of regular seasons of large-scale performances in Cardiff and Swansea by Clwyd Theatr Cymru, and bolstering the position of the Sherman Theatre to make it the base for theatre production in Cardiff. He also calls for a network of venues across Wales to be established and a professional training programme to be put in place. In addition, Boyden recommends that the Torch Theatre in Milford Haven should be funded to enable it to tour mid-scale work to venues across Wales, and a creative producer, based in South Wales, should be appointed to generate collaborations and partnerships.
Despite a raft of proposals, which also encompass young people?s theatre and Welsh language theatre, Boyden declares that salvaging theatre from its current position is dependent on funding. ?No such vision will be achievable without a programme of incremental investment... A failure to invest may undermine the existing infrastructure to the point at which even the current low level of production becomes unsustainable.? Commenting on the plans, Geraint Talfan Davies, ACW Chairman, said, ?We have put forward a strategic vision that will shape how we spend our existing money, but which will also require increased resources.?
The report is now open for a short consultation period with the theatre community in Wales before being finalised and absorbed into ACW policy. The clear ambition of ACW in first commissioning the report and then accepting its recommendations wholesale, is that political pressure may lead to an injection of funding. Peter Boyden?s stark report into English regional theatre in 2000 was widely credited with prompting the government?s decision to increase annual theatre funding by £25m in 2001. This is also the hope of practitioners across the country. Peter Doran, Artistic Director of the Torch Theatre in Milford Haven welcomed the proposals for improving Wales? existing infrastructure rather than creating a central producing organisation. However, he added ?...we would seek assurances that additional production and touring would be supported by increases in support for staffing and finance rather than only covering the direct costs.?