Thursday, December 10, 2009

Writ Large - new writing on the English stage since 2003

In the Guardian, Guild President, David Edgar, reports on his involvement in research commissioned by Arts Council England (ACE) from a group of playwrights and academics into what happened to new theatre writing following the ACE spending uplift in 2003.
Since 2003, the amount of new work in the repertoire of the replying companies has more than doubled, making up 42% of all productions. Half the new plays are presented by 10 theatres (including the National, the Royal Court, the RSC and major regional theatres in Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds), but only one of the responding theatres did no new work at all.

One reason for the upsurge is that writers are doing different kinds of work: there have been significant increases in new adaptations and writing for children (20% of all new writing). There has indeed been an increase in work devised by actors (7% of performances), but clearly this form of work is not taking over from individually written new plays. And new plays sold well: over the decade attendances grew, and new work actually did better than the average in the final year of our survey.

But the most striking finding is that new plays have broken out of the studio ghetto. The majority of new plays are now watched in auditoriums with more than 200 seats. Nine out of 10 individual attendances for new plays in our responding theatres were in main houses. And the average box office performance of new plays on main stages was a healthy 65%, and rising.
It is, says Edgar, an encouraging picture.
The last decade represents a triumph for Arts Council policy, and for artistic directors who refused to accept the presumption that new plays empty theatres...

For 10 years, much public policy thinking, academic study and critical taste was based on the assumption that writing plays was a dying art – while, in fact, there's more of it than ever before.
The research has been published by Arts Council England as Writ Large: New Writing on the English Stage 2003-2009.

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