This is a thrillingly busy time for us - we're currently in rehearsals for two brand new plays (including my playwriting debut Wondr) and Pixel Dust a play we commissioned from the awards-winning Clare Bayley, for the Edinburgh Festival and this week we're ALSO re-rehearsing our street dance and circus Jungle Book which tours again from next week. First time in twelve years that we've been in rehearsals for more than one show at the same time! Extraordinary. All three shows would not have been made possible without subsidy - the Wellcome Trust supporting the Edinburgh plays and an Arts Council England Strategic Touring grant supporting Jungle Book.
So when the news came in last week that we were not going to be entering the portfolio of nationally funded organisations we were a bit disappointed, but to be honest we didn't have much time to dwell on it - we've got art to be getting on with.
However, amidst a social media sea of celebrations and commiserations across the sector I felt I wanted to add something to the conversation. It's something I've been banging on about for a while - most recently in this article I wrote for UK Theatre about the inequalities of our funding system - that we have to remember at a time like this. We are not in competition.
Like so many other organisations who either lost their NPO funding or didn't enter the portfolio this time round it's so easy to look around you and see fellow companies succeeding or simply maintaining a position who we feel don't 'deserve' the money - the work isn't 'good enough' or the level of subsidy in relation to the 'reach' of the work seems way out of kilter. But in art, as in life, comparing our own progress to those around us is deadly, it's toxic, it's never a good use of our energies - it doesn't help.
After being told of a brand new national touring company - literally brand new - entering the portfolio in the South West (we're a national touring company but that's also our official base and ACE region) on almost half a million a year we were feeling annoyed, we were feeling cheated, we were feeling like the twelve years of blood, sweat and tears we've spent working out of our spare room, making extraordinary and extraordinarily ambitious shows was somehow a waste of time. In that moment we were being self indulgent idiots! We're still here, we're still in the middle of opening three shows, and we're still going to make the next four years of work happen with or without NPO resources.
It was a huge gift to be invited to apply and a bigger gift still that the rest of the sector was behind us so strongly that over that process we became an Associate Company at two mid-scale regional theatres and developed several new co-producing partnerships. Even without the resources of NPO behind us I have every confidence in those partnerships bearing exciting, imaginative and diverse fruit over the next four years. That would never have happened had we not gone through the NPO writing process.
But back to the 'competition' - the advent of a new (funded) National Touring company making imaginative diverse work - that is brilliant news for us - that means the development of the same audiences (and artists) that we serve - it helps us. There's no such thing as too much great art. And undoubtedly the new company in question - Emma Rice's Wise Children will make extraordinary art. I can't wait to see what they produce.
Any form of subsidy is a gift. Given that we live in a capitalist society, a market economy, but a significant proportion of the theatre sector functions outside of this ecology, it is the biggest gift to receive the support and resources to live by our art, even (perhaps especially) if that living is precarious and propped up by the support of friends, family and thousands of hours of childcare in kind. We are still here. It's all still happening. We still manage to scratch a living by our art - and that is not a right.
So I am hugely grateful that we even have an Arts Council, a Wellcome Trust, all the myriad other funders, and groups of individuals passionate enough to support the arts from their own private sources. We must never fall into the trap of entitlement - we don't have a right to these gifts. Societies need art and culture to function, and individuals need art and their own creative outlets to function as their best selves. Society has a right to great art - I believe in the concept of public arts subsidy as strongly as I do free education and healthcare - but no individual artist, no matter how successful or 'esteemed', has an automatic right to that pot of money. It is and will always be a gift. We remain, as ever, grateful for those gifts that have brought us to this place. With the redistribution of 'public funding' wealth across the sector now announced it's time to celebrate those gifts that have brought us to where we all are - and keep looking outwards and not inwards. We still have gifts to share, we all have gifts to share - now is the time to be even more generous.