Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Standing Out of the Light

In response to numerous requests, here follows a transcript of the speech given by the playwright Sarah Grochala on behalf of the Conservative Party at Theatre 503 on the 15th, 16th and 17th September 2010.

With grateful thanks to Jacqueline Bolton, Melissa Dunne and Abigail Graham.

The playwright enters, greeting friends and family in the audience.

Hello. Hello everybody. Hi. Nice to see you. How are you? Good? Good.

To those of you who don’t already know me. Hello. I’m Sarah and I’m an Amnesty award winning playwright and a lifelong supporter of the conservative party.

I just want to start by saying thank you. Thank you all for coming along tonight. And to Papercut Theatre and Theatre 503 for hosting this exciting event.

This is a great little theatre isn’t it? The last time I was here was just over a year ago to see a show about Martin Luther King called 'The Mountaintop'. And I have to admit that standing on this stage tonight, I’m feeling a little bit like Martin Luther King. Because I’m here to talk about reform. About the positive steps that the conservative party are taking to reform arts funding in this country.

When Melissa invited me to take part in this event I was both delighted and, to tell the truth, a little surprised. But like all good theatre makers, Melissa knows that there are two sides to every argument and that both sides need to be represented onstage with equal validity.
Just ask David Edgar or Michael Billington.

Now I know what you’re thinking, this must be some kind of play. Any minute now, someone else will come on and there’ll be a thrilling scene in which the pros and cons of different models of arts funding will be dramatically illustrated.
It isn’t.

I did think about writing a play. And I was going to write one.
Okay. Imagine this.
We’re in the office of a mid-scale theatre company. Anywhere in the country – it doesn’t really matter. The carpet is stained, the furniture mismatched, and the slats on the cheap IKEA blinds have all gone a little bit wonky.
At his desk sits the artistic director. He’s clutching a tear stained letter from the Arts Council in his hand. Opposite him, his old mate from Cambridge – now a Tory politician. The artistic director begs his old friend to save his company’s RFO status. He uses all the most emotive arguments about the value of art to society.
But to no avail.

Then we flash forward to 2014.
The artistic director is now standing in a pristine Libeskind office. He sighs, leans back and sinks his whole weight into the dramatically slanted wall. Raising his eyes towards a light fitting in the gently tapering ceiling, he takes a long slung of single malt from his glass.
Has he had to give up the world of art for the business you ask?
Have his artistic frustrations driven him to desperation and drink?
Enter the Tory MP. A glass of champagne in one hand. A canapé in the other. The artistic director starts, turns to see the politician. They lock eyes.
What will happen you ask?

Then you realise that this office is no ordinary office. This office is the artistic director’s new office in the theatre company’s new state of the art building and tonight is the opening night of their opening show.
The artistic director and the Tory politician raise a toast and embrace, non-sexually. They stare out of the interestingly shaped window and off into their bright privately funded corporately sponsored new future.

But then Melissa pointed out that thanks to the latest round of arts funding cuts, she had no money to pay me to write the play.
So that was that.
Then the other day, I popped down to see my old mates from Oxford, Ed and Jez, at the Department for Culture Media and Sport – or the ministry of fun as we like to call it – and they asked me about what had happened with Melissa and the whole arts funding evening thingy.
Ed had been terribly excited when I’d first mentioned the idea.
- (I said) Look Ed, the thing is the girl hasn’t got any money and I’m running on a business model now. I can’t just give anyway my skills for free.
- Too right Saz (Jez chipped in).
- Well that’s a bit of pity (Ed said). Would have been good to have the opportunity to stick our oar in. Otherwise it’ll all just be the same old alarmist bollocks everyone’s cribbed out of the Guardian.
- Well Ed (I said). I don’t suppose you’ve got any cash you could give the poor girl? Jez?
The room was silent, and that’s when Jez had the genius idea
- Well, if the girls not got the cash to pay for a play then she can’t have one, that’s obvious. So why don’t you just go down there, have a little chat with everyone and let the facts speak for themselves
That’s what he said.
- Let the facts speak for themselves.
So I thought for a second. And then I thought again.
- But what are the facts? (I said). I mean, I get the whole private donation, corporate thing. If there’s one thing rich individuals and big companies love, it’s giving their money away. And I know that we’re planning to offset a 30% trim in the arts budget, a cut of about £120 million, by donating an extra £43 million a year from the lottery. But when it comes to the actual logistics of public funding, I’ve no idea what we’re doing.
- Well (said Jez). I really shouldn’t be telling you this. I mean we’re not announcing for a couple of weeks, but .. oh, what the hell ...

So here’s the plan.

You know how everybody loves participatory theatre at the moment. Shunt, Punchdrunk, You Me Bum Bum Train. You name it, if its participatory we love it. And thanks to our clever friends at the Adam Smith Institute, we’ve come up with a way to make arts funding more participatory as well.

On the 6th April 2011, you will all receive your first arts voucher. That’s a voucher for £11 for every man, woman and child in the UK to spend on a ticket to the arts event of your choice. It’s like a Selfridges voucher, but it’s for the arts.

The £11 represents both the money that you pay each year in tax towards the arts plus your share of the contribution raised by the national lottery. If you like a particular artist or arts organisation, spend your £11 voucher with them and we’ll give them the cash. No more of your money wasted on endless administration, no great reams of bureaucracy, no arts council. Just a few people to post out the vouchers and deal with their redemption. So you can be sure that your money is going directly to the artist or arts organisation you want to support.

And even better. You, the consumer, get to decide exactly what sort of art, we should be funding. Excellent art will be the art that you consider excellent - whether it’s the RSC or X Factor Live – there’s no more waiting for some stuffy old expert pass judgement on it. No. It’s excellent because you say it’s excellent, by spending your voucher on it.

Just think, if everyone in this room tonight spent their voucher with Papercut Theatre, then that would be a whopping public donation of £500. And if everyone in the audience for this show across all three nights spent their vouchers with the company, then would be massive donation of £1100.
Just think of all the theatre you could make with that, Melissa.
You’ve supported the arts, just by spending your voucher on a ticket. Aren’t you brilliant! Give yourselves a round of applause.

The audience applaud themselves.

But why stop there? Why not have vouchers for sport too? I hate sport but my brother loves it, and he hates art. Well we could just swap then, couldn’t we? My £13 sports voucher for another his £11 arts voucher, and then we’d both be happy.
Come to think of it, I hate war and bankers just as much as I hate sport. So if I had vouchers for those too, say a yearly £530 war voucher and a special one-off £16,000 bankers bail out voucher, then I could exchange them with people who do like those things.
The possibilities are absolutely endless!
Say I’m having a really good year health wise, but my grandfather, he’s having a little trouble with his heart. Then I could give him my £2000 NHS voucher, perhaps for Christmas or for his birthday, to spend on the treatment he needs. And me? Well, I’d just have to be a little bit extra careful for a few months not to get hit by a bus.

So you see, we’re not the same old conservative party as we were before. We’re no Thatcherites in liberal clothing. We won’t be slashing the arts left, right and centre. No. Quite the opposite, in fact. We’ve found a way to make arts funding more democratic, more transparent and less bureaucratic. A way to give you, the consumer, a real say in the kind of art should be funded. And a way to provide public funding for artists and art organisations without the need for endless form filling and the twisting of precious artistic visions to fit the latest bureaucratic fad.

The best way, we believe to let the arts shine, is for the state to stand out of their light.

Any questions?

Music: D:Ream ‘Things Can Only Get Better’.

Fade to blackout.

Sarah Grochala is here identified as the author and owner of this play in accordance with section 77 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. It may not be performed or reproduced without her permission. The author has asserted her moral and unassailable rights, in regard to her property.

The playwright is available for after dinner speeches for a modest fee.