Pulse’s publicity had billed it as the Big Debate - regional versus London-based theatre. Peter Rowe, artistic director of Ipswich’s New Wolsey Theatre, chaired a panel comprising Pulse’s director Emma Bettridge, Andrew Clarke (arts editor of the East Anglian Daily Times), Alan Lane (artistic director of Slung Low), Peter Warwick (associate producer through China Plate at the eponymous Warwick Arts Centre in Coventry) and [Ric Watts, Manchester-based independent producer).

 

The focus turned out to be on small-scale and experimental work as opposed to the major subsidised monoliths, such as Covent Garden, the National Theatre and the RSC. All the panellists felt that small companies still focused on London showcase seasons, even though there’s a diminishing number of available venues.

It was felt that London venues do not co-operate fully between themselves. Selling the idea to regional-based ensembles that they should treat London as simply another date in the touring schedule would not be easy. 

Another problem identified was the reluctance of London-based media to cover out-of-town shows, major festivals and productions excepted. Yet the number of shows in London far outnumbers the possibility of media coverage. An exception might be made, however, for the bloggosphere.

 

Money reared its sometimes-ugly head throughout the discussion. Cuts in local government and Arts Council funding combined with the limited appeal of local, small-scale and experimental work to major corporate sponsors – who in any case are thicker on the ground in London than in small regional centres­ -  are already affecting some companies.

 

The “niche angle”, “value added” and “life enrichment through culture” arguments seem to have had little financial effect so far. The desirability of tax incentives for sponsoring the arts was extolled. It’s something, of course, which has been proved to work well oversea; successive British governments have always proved reluctant to consider such a change.

 

It is generally acknowledged that the arts make a high monetary return for any subsidy they acquire, much in excess of such funding. What is lacking is the political will to effect change. A recent Norwegian study into the effect of exposure to all sorts of cultural activities was cited in this context. Apparently it proves that overall well-being, both physical and mental, is enhanced by such exposure.

 

Co-production would appear to be an attractive route for regional theatres and production companies; it’s one which the New Wolsey itself has been following over the past few years with some success. The need to develop partnerships was however queried by Bettridge, who felt that it was more honoured in theory than in practice. She wants such partnerships to be far more actively promoted by venues. Too many seem reluctant to support outside work.

"Creative producer" is a job title which may not be familiar even to theatre practitioners. Bettridge was clear on this point as well. "Trendy titles don't matter. What does is people getting things done. And providing a supportive frameworks for visiting companies".