I’m a member of a professional writers’ group for the Bath / Bristol area. Great people, all quite different in style and temperament. Very supportive. I don’t get there often enough (childcare, blah de blah) but without fail, it’s inspiring.
So here’s last night. After a session on another writer’s work, we rolled up our sleeves and got talking about MONEY. Some of us had already been to-and fro-ing this on Facebook, with much debate about how theatre buildings should spend their dosh (how far can it be stretched between writers, actors, techies, the building itself, marketing, and reaching new audiences – what’s a theatre’s duty?! – but that must be saved for another day).
Yes: How do we make money?
We were told that a recent “new writing” event paid the actors (dead right) but not writers. It was a funding / budgeting accident. And, of course, it was (yet another) Development Opportunity. And we are genuinely always grateful for Development Opportunities. I have had loads and could not be where I am without them. It’s just that – well, didn’t these opportunities used to be called Work? Why are actors “developed” and getting pay, when writers of their lines aren’t? What line have they crossed that most of us haven’t? Where is it and what’s the password (and is it John Cleese on the bridge or a troll underneath?)
The thing is, we all sympathise with the financial struggles faced by theatres and the like. And of course, with actors. This must not become divide and rule, with theatre-devotees ripping the ticket money from one anothers’ bleeding claws. If we do that, we may as well give up now.
Scripts (or their devised equivalents) are the bedrock of theatre. But just now, our best hope outside of large-scale commissions (but often with small ones) is to be paid £1,000 for several months’ work, or the same as an actor, but only once we hit the rehearsal room.
Is this a model that will sustain our theatres? How can we grow as the writers of the future? Is our trade going to go the way of acting, with the independently wealthy being the only ones who can afford to train, to sit for sustained periods to write?
Off a great script, hangs a show, grows a company, which grows the talent, spreads the word, brings a tear, raises the roof, and perhaps, perhaps, wins a prize.
There are theatres that do very well with new writing and new writers. And there are writers who work bloody hard and refuse to take non-writing work. I thoroughly admire that gumption and determination (and skill). Until now, I’ve always subsidised my own work. I now have a Peggy Ramsay grant to work on a new script and am seeking funding for my quantum mechanics show (blethered about on most posts this year). Obviously, if you want to help out, my door is open. But I’m a freelancing single mum in a “post”-recession economy. Bread, butter, etc.
So what to do? This is wider than getting more funding from Government. But, as the Conservative Party knows all too well, the older generation – the voting, theatre-going generation – will not be holding things together forever. Adaptation to the new needs is vital. If people aren’t coming to new writing, or even to theatres, we can’t force it down their throat – why would we want to?
I can’t stop that bloody nursery rhyme going round my head:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.