Today (26/10/2022) marks the day the English arts sector has been holding its breath for: the day many should have found out whether they are to be included in Arts Council England’s National Portfolio 2023-2026. For those not in the know, Arts Council England support organisations of differing sizes and scale from across the country with core funding, to carry out their artistic programmes. Existing NPOs include, amongst others: the National Theatre, The RSC, many, many more big names. From Coventry we have the Belgrade Theatre and our brilliant neighbours at Daimler Powerhouse, Talking Birds.
Each 3-5 years, arts organisations plough hundreds of hours into writing the strictly counted word character-based applications in the hope that their organisation may take another step in developing their artistic vision.
Alas, yesterday saw the announcement that the email we all have been waiting for, since March this year, for the new round of NPO’s will be delayed; a victim of the revolving door that is No.10 and the ever-changing face of the government.
This delay will bring plenty of issues for organisations wanting to secure their futures, as well as a lot more fingernail biting for those smaller organisations. For us here at Highly Sprung, life will continue as normal with our tour of Warwickshire libraries in full swing this week.
The performance of STORM starts with an old acting ‘luvie’ arriving to perform The Tempest but “alas, their fellow players are stuck in snow”. What follows is a whistle stop tour of the library in an attempt to find out more about global warming. The audiences both young and old discover a tree who talks about deforestation and Dewy Decimal who performs extracts from books about the importance of our oceans and the climate. It really has been a joy to perform to so many keen audiences this week, and to receive some incredible feedback.
However, as I sit reflecting on the week so far, I find myself remembering one particular member of the audience. As our performer Prospero discovered that unfortunately the show would not be going ahead as planned, they looked out to the audience and asked if any of them had been in any plays, or if in fact they’d seen any… The response was deafeningly silent until a child sheepishly put up their hand up and exclaimed…
“I went to the soft play”.
For us performers it was a moment of comedy gold that the adult audience lapped up; It was funny, it was gloriously innocent and beautifully earnest in its delivery. However, behind it the comment masks a serious issue we are all facing today.
As the cost-of-living crisis increases, energy prices soar, and mortgage repayments start to increase we ask the question “Why should we go to the theatre?” For me it’s a question that runs far deeper than just who we are today in 2022, more who we are as humans. There is something deeply moving about sharing a theatrical experience with someone else. Many of us who work in the industry have stories of friends not connected to the performing arts having moments of ‘WOW’ when seeing great pieces of art.
I took an old school friend to Greenwich and Docklands International Festival a few years ago and remember the tears in their eyes and the warmest of hugs after I had taken them to see a show –
“I’ve never seen anything like that before. (Expletive that I shall not share) me!”
I also feel that in times like these we need the arts more than ever; whether it’s a bit of escapism on the west end or a piece of performance art that amplifies your voice and speaks to you on a side street in Coventry, it doesn’t matter. At a time when so many of us feel so powerless to what is happening, performance has a way of helping things make sense.
So, to all those organisations waiting on that email from the Arts Council: when you receive that YES or NO, it may feel like a new dawn is breaking, different path is opening. For some, it may well feel like the end of the road. But we need to come together and support each other’s work, because that little audience member who has never been in a play and has never seen a play is there – up and down this country, millions of times.
It is our job, NO!… It is our moral obligation to ensure that ‘soft play’ is not the only play a young person has in their lives!