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Top Actors Vote 'No Confidence' in ACE’s Funding

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With the 15 January appeal deadline looming for the 194 arts organisations facing funding withdrawal (See News, 17 Dec 2007), 500 leading actors of stage and screen gathered at the Young Vic (pictured) yesterday (9 January 2007) to pass a unanimous vote of no confidence in Arts Council England and demand a delay in the subsidy decision-making process.

Ian McKellen, Kevin Spacey, Samuel West, Joanna Lumley, Richard Briers, Caroline Quentin, Jonathan Pryce, Harriet Walter, Miriam Margolyes, Patrick Malahide, Samanthan Bond, Roger Lloyd Pack, Malcolm Sinclair, Felicity Kendal and Alison Steadman were amongst the attendees at the meeting, organised by actors’ union Equity, at which outgoing ACE chief executive Peter Hewitt was grilled for more than two hours about the controversial culling of one in five of the organisations it currently funds, the biggest shake-up in the Council’s history.

Amongst the theatres facing a complete cessation of ACE money are three regional playhouses: Bristol Old Vic, which shut its doors last August for an 18-month, £7 million refurbishment (See News, 30 Jul 2007); Exeter Northcott, which only reopened last month after a year-long, £2.1 million redevelopment; and Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, which receives major pre- and post-West End tours. Also facing a total funding chop are: London’s Drill Hall, the UK’s leading producer of lesbian and gay performance, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this autumn; devised multimedia group People Show; popular touring troupe London Bubble Theatre Company, which has been taking productions to parks and schools for 35 years; and the National Student Drama Festival, run annually since 1956.

Other big London losers are the Bush Theatre, the highly successful home of new writing in Shepherd’s Bush, which may lose 40% of its funding, and Richmond’s Orange Tree Theatre, which runs an acclaimed young directors scheme and could lose £60,000 annually.

All of the organisations say that, without their annual subsidies, they face immediate danger, and ultimately, probable closure. As it stands, unless they lodge a successful appeal by next week, their funding for the three-year period from 2008 to 2011 will be cut off from April, the start of the next financial year.

At yesterday’s Equity meeting, Hewitt explained that, while seven percent of theatre bodies are being cut in the reallocation of funds, the rest will receive a seven percent, above-inflation increase. The winners include flagship institutions such as the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

But Samuel West, the actor-director whose production of Dealer’s Choice recently transferred to the West End’s Trafalgar Studios, said at yesterday’s Equity meeting: “If you cut funding to our smaller theatres then you will eventually starve our larger theatres to death.” Equity general secretary Christine Payne warned Hewitt that ACE’s credibility would be “fundamentally and possibly irreparably damaged” if it did not alter its course.

The actors’ outrage follows a pre-Christmas statement released by the Theatrical Management Association, the leading body representing middle and large-scale performing arts companies throughout the UK, in which it also expressed “grave concern” and accused ACE of lacking both the “courage” and the “competence” to fulfil its duties (See News, 18 Dec 2007).

- by Terri Paddock


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