Eyre Talks Subsidies & Contracts at Theatre 2001Date: 2 March 2001
Theatre 2001 - Future Directions, billed as the "first-ever conference on the future of the performing arts", opened yesterday in London with a rousing keynote speech from former National Theatre artistic director, Sir Richard Eyre.
In it, Eyre addressed the myriad problems that face the theatre, from crumbling facilities to litter and street crime in the West End to dwindling audiences. Above all else, though, he said, the main concern for practitioners was whether or not what they were offering was good enough.
As part of this analysis, Eyre thought it important to clearly differentiate the purposes of commercial versus subsidised theatre. Subsidised theatre - including the National, the RSC and the Royal Court - should, he said, "exist to do the kind of work that, in content and execution, can't be done or isn't being done in the commercial sector". Rather than being concerned with "expediency, profit or opportunism", it should take "artistic risks" and "act as a gold-standard for the whole body of theatre".
Eyre also used his keynote as an opportunity to criticise the Arts Council. According to Eyre, the Council has historically demonstrated no strategic thinking and, as a result, has "starved" the regions and administered "equal misery for all". He put forward his proposal to link funding to "people and art, rather than buildings and institutions" via a system of contracts for artistic directors.
Despite its problems, however, Eyre was optimistic about the future of theatre. Younger writers and actors, he noted, are increasingly flocking or returning to the theatre because of the freedom and control if offers, away from "ever-growing homogeneity of television or film". Further, he said, theatre was evolving by exploiting its unique characteristics of "liveness...spectacle...intimacy and intensity". "The theatre's salvation will always lie in itself," Eyre concluded, "by following its law of gravity, by achieving an intensity of experience which will ravish the eyes and enchant the soul."
The Theatre 2001 event features a series of workshops and guest speakers - including Melvyn Bragg, John Tusa of the Barbican Centre and Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Chris Smith. It continues until tomorrow, 3 March, and precedes an Arts Council briefing next Thursday, 8 March, to reveal how an extra £25 million, the largest-ever funding increase in the theatre sector, will be spent.
- by Terri Paddock