Archive for the ‘Arts Politics’ Category

Rescuing RTE…

Posted: May 10, 2012 in Arts Politics, Development, TV, Uncategorized
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My love for RTE is difficult to explain. To me, it’s like a child dressing up in mum’s lipstick and heals, trying to be a grown-up organisation. Inevitably, the lipstick ends up all over its face, the heals snap and the child tumbles; it may seem sweet, but it has a lot of growing up to do.

RTE, or to use its full name Raidió Teilifís Éireann (the Irish equivalent of the BBC, for those who are none the wiser), is currently at the lowest point in its fifty-two year history. With staff morale equally low, senior management are attempting a very irrational rationalisation– you know the type– where they change all the things that don’t need changing, while plastering over some suspicious cracks.  RTE is not only suffering from a lack of vision and money, but a serious lack of functional infrastructure. A plan to  completely rebuild the Montrose HQ in Dublin appears to have been shelved ‘in light of the current economic downturn’– and this isn’t the only important plan to have been shelved. RTE also put to bed a subscription channel dubbed ‘RTE International’, that would serve the vast Irish community in Britain, and others around the world. Brand awareness obviously isn’t a priority at RTE.

So how can we help this cranky toddler?  Essentially, we need to encourage it to grow– up and out:

GENERATE & SAVE INCOME:

– Sell international broadcasting rights for programmes such as Fair City.

– Integrate the production arm (vision, post production etc.) and offer a full production service. Target international production companies, market the service alongside the attractive lower corporate tax rate in Ireland.

– Bring more services in house. Create ‘Picture Grading’ and ‘Outside Broadcasting (OB)’ sections.

BROADCASTING QUALITY:

– Remove mid-programme commercial breaks to boost audience retention and thereby sell end-of-programme advertising at higher costs.

RTE is by no means a rich organisation: expansion has been slow and without any real planning and it desperately needs a Director General who will shake the company up, find a real solution to problems rather than merely cutting the payroll. Unlike theatre, music, and film, TV seems incapable of meeting the threats of the digital age. Rather than embrace technology and shake up programming and the commissioning process, broadcasters (RTE in particular) are running the same tired programmes.

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Andrew Lloyd Webber has been claiming for months that the Olympics will be a time of catastrophically low attendance in the West End, this demonstrates yet again how out of touch he is with the current theatre going public… In fact theatre in general…

The fact is that the West End has progressed significantly since the 1980s, but Andrew Lloyd Webber hasn’t. He has written a series of flops since 1990: The Beautiful Game (2001), The Woman in White (2004), Love Never Dies (2010), Of course it’s true of any successful person that keeping success up is very difficult, and in the 1980s and 90s Lloyd Webber was at the height of his success, along with other musical theatre composers such as Boublil and Schonberg, but then with the creation of jukebox musicals the West End has shifted towards a more modern spectacle, with the music bearing a closer correlation to current popular music.

I think the Olympics will be a boom period for the West End; with a massive influx of tourists, and most having only one ticket for an Olympic event, tourists will make the most of other London attractions, and seeing a West End show is one of the ‘must do’ attractions for tourists visiting London.

Original BBC article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-16362975

Let me be quite clear, that ANY money spent on local TV is wasted money. Local TV has been tried again and again and again but simply doesn’t work. In an age where local papers don’t make money, struggle to create enough copy to fill a newspaper, and where increasingly people turn to the internet for news, information and entertainment, there is no market for a ‘self sustaining’ local TV station.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, has treated the Arts & Culture portfolio as a springboard in order to gain a more prominent position in the next big cabinet reshuffle, all I can say is that I hope he gets it, before he decimates the arts further. It’s important for MPs to understand that Arts and Culture is not something that can be measured in pound signs (Although the arts generate a colossal amount of money in tax and tourism annually), arts must be measured in the enrichment of lives, not just in terms of entertainment but participation. And so the BBC must be protected, ring fenced infact. The Tory government has already pitted itslf against the BBC, slashing their budget recently by 20%, The BBC produces thousands of hours of content each year, selling it abroad, making it the most successful and diverse broadcasting organisation in the world. It is the envy of Rupert Murdoch’s News International conglomerate. Before the explosion of the hacking scandal, his son, James Murdoch called for the BBC to charge for its news service, saying that it was crushing competition, I note he didn’t call for The Guardian to shut down it’s free online coverage, or The Telegraph, ITV news or RTE news in Ireland, this is because BBC News 24 beams around the world, it’s simply unchallenged, more important than The Press Association and Reuters, in that it both breaks and reports news.

I’m not pretending that the BBC isn’t without fault: the drama department for example, seems to be able to only produce crime drama. Diversity is a buzz word that it would seem applies only to the ethnicities of the characters (which is great) rather than a diverse selection of the type of programme commissioned. I would love to see something on the Beeb that breaks barriers, really challenges people and maybe, just maybe, is a little bit naughty! But aside from this very minor criticism the BBC is an organisation central to British culture, Local TV will NOT ‘in time’ replace it in terms of influence and importance in people’s lives, instead the move distracts from focusing funds at building a stronger BBC, wasting money on a local TV project which like so many before, will fail.

Regional theatre and new writing are inextricably linked. Compare for a minute that sort of theatre you see in London’s West End, to the theatre you see in Leeds, Sheffield, Birmingham and even Hull and Scarborough, these places boast some of Britain’s best contemporary playwrights: Alan Bennett, Alan Aykborne, John Godber. Would the work of these men have seen the light of day on a West End stage? What producer is willing to take that risk!? Regional theatre offers new writers an important opportunity to shine, and therefore holds a key position in discovering and developing the talent of tomorrow.

So. Ireland. I’ve ranted before about the lack of performance infrastructure, but there’s more to say. Where are the development plans for regional theatre? Where are the theatre in education departments? Do they exist at all!? Take my local theatre, The Hawkswell Theatre in Sligo. Last September the position for Director came up, I applied, having enough ‘senior management experience’ and skill to meet the requirement, obviously I didn’t get it (Arts in Ireland are very nepatistic) less than six months later it came up again. In my letter I mentioned briefly that audiences can be developed through building active relationships with schools and other institutions educational and social. I briefly outlined the benefits of working with third level institutions both in terms of reaching new audiences but also in presenting material. There is NO money and very little benefit in theatres operating purely as receiving houses in the regions, they just don’t create the community buzz that producing houses do. A perfect example of this is Druid Theatre in Galway an organisation that not only the city is proud of, but the country; They have an international reputation. Of course Druid is entirely producing, but Sligo needs a theatre that people can get excited about, theatre that attracts the student population, and producing in-house productions in association with Sligo IT, offers a real opportunity to generate income and develop links with education. Is this too progressive? It’s difficult to get people to think out of the box… particularly in the regions. Why is that? Is it all about empire building? Key players enjoy the control they have over organisations, they don’t want to relinquish their control and so any newcomer that has a good idea is an immediate threat. I really wish this wasn’t true, but it is, and when I was a teenager it was the reason I was so keen to get out of amateur theatre -apply a business model and flat corporate structure and like alchemy, theatre becomes a lot more creative and communication flows a lot easier.

Regional Theatres need to work together strategically, and on a more local level arts organisations need to collaberate more, create clash diaries, share marketing and where possible resources. Theatre in the regions will never be the money spinner that it is in the West End (no appropriate Irish equivalent) but it can become more economically self sufficient, more robust and most importantly, it can revitalise tired communities, generate income through cultural tourism and create employment. Win win.

I once attended a meeting with a number of regional arts practitioners in the UK, I remember one lady saying ‘we need to move away from our preoccupation with infrastructure’, that’s all well and good, but first of all you need to have the infrastructure to move away from. A theatre isn’t just a place to perform, it’s a cultural focus point, a point of contact between artists and the community in which they work and live.

Despite having a culture of culture, Ireland has a distinct lack of performing arts infrastructure. Aside from the recently built Grand Canal Theatre, there are few venues in Ireland that can accommodate large scale productions. Even the two big producing houses in Dublin (The Abbey and The Gate) are tired venues, in desperate need of a complete technical update. So out of the five big theatres in Dublin only the Grand Canal Theatre offers a great deal of potential to producers of large scale theatre. If Ireland is to compete with Britain in terms of cultural tourism, then a great deal of investment needs to be put in to building new venues and redeveloping existing venues across the country. I was very surprised to discover that even Galway doesn’t have a large theatre with a fly tower and large amounts of wing space.

The last tourism and culture minister said that Ireland needs a ‘broadway’… I’d like to contradict that, Ireland needs a ‘West End’. But further than that it needs infrastructure in the regions, major theatres in every gateway city in the country. Investment into the cultural economy pays dividends not only in money generated by tourism, but in the community enrichment that happens as a direct result of culture and creativity. The world knows that Ireland is culturally rich, isn’t it time that the full potential of this was realised?

I don’t deny the fact that Labour were most definitely not without fault, however they were strong advocates of culture and the intrinsic value that it has. David Cameron’s ‘cool conservativism’ doesn’t fool anyone, and I particularly enjoyed the Banksy defaced billboards that demonstrated this fact. Near where I lived the graffiti wasn’t so clever, a simple ‘Fuck off Torys’ sprayed over the billboard delivered the message loudly and clearly. Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt (or as BBC presenter Jeremy Naughtie inadvertantly called him: ‘Jeremy Cunt) jumped straight into his new position in goverment wielding the hatchet, abolishing the UK Film Council and cutting Arts Council England’s already cut to the bone, housekeeping budget by a further 50%. The result of this is being felt already with one County Arts Officer telling me ‘[ACE] literally can’t afford to show an interest anymore’. It’s very easy to say ‘we’re cutting administration money’, but surely they understand that the Arts Council doesn’t run itself, and anyone who’s completed an Arts Council Application form as I have, will know just how much information there is to plod through PER APPLICATION? The very depressing fact is that that is exactly what the average Tory party member does think. I worked for an high brow arts festival for years and at one strategic development meeting the chairman (a Tory party member) turned to the Arts Council Officer running the meeting and said ‘Is this your job?’ To which the lady replied ‘yes’, to which he responded ‘You mean somebody pays you to do what you do?’

Don’t act surprised. The Conservative view of Culture is of something that’s ‘nice to have’, it’s an occasion or event that’s used to further social status. Maybe this is a little unfair, but for years quality was judged in output only, not in the experience gained for participants and workers involved, not to mention the wider community enrichment that the arts bring. An excellent example of this (and one of my favourites) is the amount of money that Opera North receives between 2008-2012, just over £38m. I fail to see how this is true value for money (value for money being one of many assessment criteria used by ACE). Don’t get me wrong, my brother’s an opera singer, and obviously I don’t want to threaten his employment in any way at all, but really, £38m! The Royal Opera House in London over the same period receives… wait for it… just under £110m. It’s like ACE and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have forgotten that without grass roots arts projects, youth theatres, theatre in education departments, in the future there will be no performers, no artists, no musicians of the standard that there are today. I noticed that Julie Walters and a number of others wrote a letter to the Observer last Sunday with a similar message.

Since London won the Olympic bid (and I say London because really where else in the UK is benefiting from the Olympics?), more and more money has been channeled out of the arts and into sport. I love sport, I do, but where is the value for money in this!? And we’re promised that as of 2012 Lottery money will be returned to the Arts. But in these past few years of economical drought for grass roots/ middle of the road arts, how many organisations will have gone, and gone for good?