Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Welfare may be a plus for the Commonwealth

A playwright lister says that no one wants to hear that an educated person can be on welfare and still have experience and talent worth sharing....

I reply:Did you know that when Parliament wanted to pass a punitive US-type Workfare program, artists and musicians and writers rose up all over the UK to defend the Dole as the major support for the people who create the commercially huge music, art, theatre and ideas sector of the English economy? Famous people testified that they had lived on the dole while creating (and rehearsing) their valuable work, and that thousands of other talented people were doing so every day. They argued that forcing artists to take dead-end low paying jobs would kill England's position as a world leader in cultural creativity. And the government agreed to back down! Did you know that Martin MacDonough wrote his entire 3 trilogy body of work in a year or so burst after dropping out of high school and going on the Dole?
In the UK, the Dole for the Starving Artist serves as somewhat of a leveler to allow the poor to compete with those who have the financial support of families or institutions. This is one reason that English drama is written by and plays to more of a cross section, and is more likely to address politics and issues of class.
Salaries for college grads have now been dropping for 5 years in a row, and jobs are not being created at a rate to fully employ new graduates, who are finishing school with record amounts of debt. Many will never be able to repay. Educated people on welfare, dying young from complications arising from no health insurance... these are probably not topics audiences who pay $100 a seat are going to want to see on a celebratory night in an Equity theatre. But as more and more families contain such people, there will be a real hunger for such stories -- we just need to figure out where and how to tell them.

On the other hand, Mark Ravenhill complained in the Guardian yesterday that the English Establishment's funding of artists on the ground of Social Usefulness is not a Good Thing:

Mark Ravenhill
Monday July 31, 2006 The Guardian
Workshop. Not such a big word. I suppose someone in the 1970s thought it sounded more democratic than "teaching", more interactive than "lecture-demonstration". It's one of those vaguely liberal words that the arts world seems so fond of. But it's a word that I have increasingly come to dread......
The trouble is, the more I write, the less I feel I know about writing - certainly, the less I feel I can articulate what is going on when I'm doing it. And the more suspicious I become of anything that pretends to be a rule of playwriting. But tell a workshop participant that there are no rules, that they need to discover what a play means to them and write something that is unique to their sense of the world, and you are likely to be faced with a sullen customer who feels they aren't getting their money's worth. .......
I recently attended a meeting of international festival organisers chaired by the inspirational founder of the London International Festival of Theatre, Rose Fenton. Here, I decided, was a forum to vent my frustration at the whole workshop machine. "Look," I said, "I just think we've got into the habit of doing these workshops but I can't actually see that anybody is getting much out of them."
"We know," sighed the festival organisers. "It's not us who wants the workshops. It's the funders. They demand them, so what can you do?"
And here lies the rub. For the past 10 years, the theatre in this country - and, it seems, increasingly abroad - has had to fight for its existence by proving its social worth. Under the Tories we battled to be businesslike and market-driven to please our masters. But ever since the dull puritans of New Labour have taken office, it's been our social usefulness that has earned us our increases in funding. Never mind that the best theatre has very little direct social use, or that the vast majority of the population need playwriting skills as much as they need a rhino living in their bathroom; it's "social usefulness" that pays the bills - and so the workshops roll on........ Ravenhill 07/31/06


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