Let’s get one thing clear. The Royal Shakespeare Theatre is without doubt, world class. The quality of its output is second to none and its pool of talent, well-chosen. Its record speaks for itself and anyone who says otherwise is an ignoramus and probably related to Donald Trump.
The RSC likes to refer to itself as a family, which I’m afraid is where I start to experience difficulty. As one of its Stage Managers said to me…(I paraphrase)…
‘Back in the day when there were about 500 employees, I knew everyone’s name, we were close, we were like a family…now there are over a thousand of us and I know hardly anyone. I’m glad I’m leaving. The organisation has become faceless’.
I knew exactly what he meant. Although times of course change and the old RSC contained many shall we say, ‘work practises’ that needed to be addressed, it has become as my friend put it, ‘faceless’, an institution. Whereas there used to be an emphasis on ‘community’ or to put it more simply a desire to be part of Stratford upon Avon and all that, that means, what we have now are numerous different companies for different plays and a sea of red lanyards dangling from the necks of frequent strangers. The heart has gone missing.
There was a time when the RSC seemed mightily concerned about its profile in Stratford upon Avon. About how it was seen by the residents of Stratford upon Avon, theatre-goers and non-theatre-goers alike. There was a sense that the RSC was a hub. That part of its ‘duty’ (unwritten?) was to act as a missionary to all thing’s theatre. To spread the word. There was even theatre ‘seasons’ where locals/non-professionals (if you like), were encouraged to display their talents. Now, our pat on the head, our sugar lump is cheap tickets and if you are lucky enough to work for the RSC, a chance for your local theatre group to use the RSC’S facilities. (If this sounds like ‘sour grapes’, it is). And therein lies my point.
I am of the opinion that the Royal Shakespeare should do more. I believe, that there are 16 million reasons (£16 Million from Arts Council) why the RSC should step up to the plate and truly invite the local theatre community in. I’m sick to death of ‘Them and Us’.
And I almost gagged when the RSC put on *Miss Littlewood and then went back to their old ways without a flicker.
In Stratford upon Avon there are small fringe theatre companies (only called fringe because they have no funds) who need help. And by help, I mean space. Space in which to rehearse, experiment etc. I know for a fact that the RSC has the space. I know that there are large rooms that lie empty for days at a time. Rooms, that small companies like mine would die for (yes, I have a small, very small theatre company) because we can’t afford the £10/12 per hour (going rate) that church halls and the like in the area, charge.
So, my plea to the RSC is to remember who you are.
If the conclusion is you are a business and nothing else, then hand back your arts council grant, cut your cloth, be honest and just go out to make a profit. If you still have the desire and haven’t forgotten about the healing power of theatre…help us out.
* FUN PALACES
In 1961, Littlewood and the architect Cedric Price dreamt up the ‘Fun Palace’, a radical space in the East End where local people could come together to enjoy and celebrate the arts, but their dreams were left devastated after issues with land and funding. However, in 2014 writer and theatre maker Stella Duffy called a session at Devoted and Disgruntled asking for support to celebrate Littlewood’s centenary in October 2014. The response to the idea of creating local Fun Palaces across the UK was huge and Duffy co-founded the Fun Palaces campaign with producer Sarah-Jane Rawlings. Littlewood and Price’s vision is now an ongoing campaign for locally-led culture at the heart of community and an annual weekend of action, championing Littlewood’s words “I really do believe in the genius in every person.”