Several years ago, like so many other emerging playwrights, I was indebted to ACE (Arts Council England) for helping me to get my first theatre tour off the ground.
Recent budget cuts make an ACE-grant an increasingly less-viable means of starting off in the theatre so what are the alternatives?
It has never been easy breaking into the world of professional performing arts but the on-going age of austerity has made it harder than ever. In the last decade, Council spending has fallen by almost £400m; theArts Council has had its funding slashed by a third and 800 public libraries (which often double up as small-scale performance venues) have actually closed.
The answer for new writers could to look at the growth in local festivals, where there has certainly a marked growth in recent years. Local Councils like festivals because they help put their town on the map, and the public tend to like festivals because they give a feeling of cohesion and community. A key example is the Manchester Festival Fringe now in its ninth year with over three hundred different shows performed at over thirty venues around Manchester, ranging from a pub cellar to a Fire station.
Registration, including an entry in the programme, for the Manchester Festival Fringe for example is just £60.00 and most venues are prepared to work on a ticket split basis. That makes potentially staging a new play cheap but performing in a fringe festival offers several ‘fringe benefits’.
Aside from show-casing new work and talent (which in itself is hugely important for reaching casting directors or agents as well as simply gaining experience), festivals are wonderful places to network. There is usually a pre-festival warm-up event, which at Buxton for example, includes opportunities to perform show excerpts to the public as well as meeting other performers.
The end-of-festival party also affords great networking opportunities. In addition, there will often be a system allowing show members to see other shows in the festival free of charge (providing further opportunities for after-show chats with writers & performers and making new contacts).
A big area of growth in recent years is the ‘free fringe’; at Edinburgh this has become very important. Although it means performing to audiences for just whatever they feel like putting in a hat after the show, it’s great way of simply ‘getting seen’ and some professionally-produced national tours have come out of the form of staging new work.
Arts Council Funding is not dead by any means dead but these days, it’s not enough to wait until you get funding. New festivals continue to emerge and they all have one thing in common; they all need new works to be performed!