On Writ Large

Monday 11th January 2010

Arts Council England
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It’s been a quiet time for theatre for a couple of weeks now. And as the snow muffles all sound from the streets, Pirate Dog seems to have taken to hibernating (with occasional mad explosions of energy as he chases phantoms in the snow!). So it feels like a good time to catch up on some reading. This time, I don’t mean Henning Mankell, Donna Leon or Fred Vargas, but the serious stuff, namely the latest Arts Council report on new writing. Called Writ Large, and put together by the excellent British Theatre Consortium (led by playwright academics David Edgar and Dan Rebellato), this is a fascinating document which gives plenty of sound information about the new writing scene nationwide (well, England actually, because that is the extent of Arts Council England’s remit). Not only does the report show how new work has boomed in the state-funded sector over the past decade, and discusses some of the latest trends in its production, but it also fields some statistics which outline this growth. But wait a minute, doesn’t the Arts Council collect its own stats? Surely, it asks its clients to give them information about what plays they put on, and how successful they are. Ah yes, but because for some unfathomable reason, they have for many years stopped collating stats, they now find themselves commissioning others to do this work. Naturally, not every theatre gave the British Theatre Consortium the same information, although they did get a large amount of positive responses. So despite their good work, the reality of what every subsidised theatre is doing (and not just a sample, however large), what shows it puts on and how well they are attended, remains a mystery. Why can’t the Arts Council just collate its own stats? Like it did in the past? It’s great that new work is booming, but wouldn’t it be good to know more about what type of work it is?

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