By Tony Reekie
Scotland, like most small countries, has had a long struggle to make the case for theatre for children and young people. We have fought for decades to get a small piece of the arts budget cake – yes we are fortunate to have one – and our success allowed us to create a small but vibrant community, one that was full of artists making some brilliant work. So we were stunned when Creative Scotland, our arts body, decided in January to cut the only two full time theatre companies we had. Not for reasons of quality, but ‘strategic’ reasons that were unclear and perverse. The main thrust seemed to be that because they only served a certain audience, their ‘reach’ wasn’t broad enough! The companies were to be moved to an open funding pot, and could only apply on a yearly or project by project basis. So, from our fragile sector, out went long term planning, out went the ability to share practice, coach, mentor and be a support for new artists wanting to make work. And, crucially, out went a career path for those making work for children. What the result essentially said was if you succeed and want to devote your life to this area, then you had to leave Scotland as you could never be supported as a full-time artist, unlike those working for adults.
Of course we fought back hard, knowing deep down that these fights rarely ever succeed. What happened at that point stunned us almost as much as the initial decision. Letters, brilliant letters, mails, posts, tweets started to pour in from around the world. Rather than just expressing shock and anger they articulated the importance of the companies and the work they did, and how they were an integral part of a much wider community. This was my personal favourite among so many, an open letter from production staff and technicians.
http://emmaskaersblog.blogspot.co.uk/ (When Catherine Wheels saw this they thought it was more important than any award they had ever received)
We also had fabulous support from journalists and reviewers who were stunned simply on a quality level. Children’s theatre has been one of the success stories over the past twenty years and everyone, our funders apart, knew it.
To say the ‘establishment’ wasn’t expecting this was an understatement. Life was made easier for us because they chose to do this in the Scottish Governments official ‘Year of Young People’ which just made the decisions appear even more ridiculous. Within four days they were running around looking for solutions and inviting people in to talk despite claiming that there was ‘no appeal process’. And two weeks later, the decisions were reversed. Not to huge celebration, the shock remained and we now will be arguing for our funding to be dedicated or ring fenced, not for individual companies, but to ensure a certain level is always dedicated to ensuring a thriving theatre scene for children and young people.
We in Scotland are always aware that while we fought and won on this occasion our position is always one of relative wealth and privilege compared to many across the world, and we will continue to work with organisations like ASSITEJ to fight with those in much more difficult situations to make art and theatre available to their young people.
On the night we found out we’d won I wrote a letter on Facebook to say thank you, and I got in touch with ASSITEJ to find a way to say thank you properly, to all those who helped make this happen.
My words then still sum up what I still feel now:
I'm writing tonight to say thank you to colleagues and friends at home and across the world. The blow of losing such an important part of our community was both shocking and looked initially very difficult to solve. The wave of support we received from all parts of our community in every part of the world not only caused shockwaves here but gave each and every one of us the strength to keep making our argument. And we won. On a personal note I'd like to thank all of you – you all know who you are – who listened to my rantings with care and love and an eye on the sharp things. So for all the letters, the emails, the tweets, the posts, the smilies, the angry faces, the thumbs up, shocked, sad and laughing faces thank you. Our retention of full time theatre for children in Scotland is down to all of us, and all of you. Raise a glass and take a bow, but please not at the same time. Thank you
What a family we are!