"Unavoidable systemic Issues that demand to be addressed"

Following the twitter response to our Welsh Director’s Survey, here is the full report written by Board Member and Director Simon Harris 

REPORT FROM THE SDUK WELSH DIRECTORS’ SURVEY – SUMMER 2017

Introduction

SDUK thought it would be useful to share with you some of the results taken from its recent survey of Welsh and Wales-based directors. We are grateful to the many of you who took the time to respond and we hope to put these initial findings to good use.

As many of you will already be aware, opportunity for directors in Wales is limited and the structures supporting development bear disappointing comparison with elsewhere. For the first time, we have some data that supports that supposition. We know that arts funding is generally at a premium and that there are many deserving priorities. But the survey clearly points to a damaging and impoverishing lack of capacity around the job of director in Wales. Of course, directors are not alone – other artists and creatives face challenges too. However, at their best, directors are initiators, visionaries, producers, leaders, communicators, innovators, makers, facilitators and thinkers that are the life blood of theatre in Wales and are too often discouraged by the reality of the profession. More often than not, theatre in Wales seems structurally designed to keep people out, rather than to include and enable. For a sector that prides itself on its progressive qualities, it is sometimes hard to fathom. Little wonder then that there is a talent drain as people move out of Wales or leave the profession entirely, as is evidenced by this survey.

While there is always much to inspire and encourage us about our theatre-making, there are now unavoidable systemic issues that demand to be addressed. Challenges around diversity, class, exclusion and earning a living can only get worse, if no serious consideration is given to how individuals that choose Wales as their home, who are inspired to make their work here by the unique characteristics of this nation, can develop their craft and careers. Not everything involves large sums of money. But if we are to address talent development, the inter-connected needs of the small, medium and large scale, the lack of succession amongst artistic directors, the debilitating level of fees and the lack of freelance opportunity, we need to start with the kind of evidence this survey presents and move quickly to a new approach.

Overview

In breaking down the survey, 65% of the respondents were female. The largest number of respondents (32%) was in the 35-44 age category. 13% were aged 18-24, 16% were aged 25-34, 19% were aged 45-54 and an equivalent percentage was aged 55 plus. 75% identified their main language as English while 12% identified as bilingual Welsh and English. One respondent identified as mainly Welsh-speaking. Others identified as bilingual in English and other languages, including BSL.

Two artistic directors of ACW portfolio organisations completed the survey. The clear majority were freelance directors. Two respondents were neither Welsh nor Wales-based. Sixteen respondents were self-producing artists and so much of their opportunity and work is self-generated.

What professional work have you obtained with ACW Portfolio organisations in the last three years?

An encouraging number of respondents – 80% – have received some form of work with portfolio organisations in the last three years. However, once we look beyond the headline figure, the picture is much less encouraging and in some cases troubling.

Very few of the respondents had directed fully-realised productions and most of the opportunities represented support for R&D that did not go to full production. One of the most employed freelance directors is neither Welsh nor Wales-based. The other mainly works in the Welsh language. As two artistic directors completed the survey, the results are somewhat skewed away from freelance opportunities.

National Theatre Wales offered 19% of the opportunity available, but, other than productions by its own artistic director, it was entirely manifested as support for R&D, assisting, rehearsed readings and dramaturgy. Of 31 events hosted by NTW since May 2014, 20 have been theatrical experiences, as opposed to curated events or online experiences. Of these 20 distinct theatrical presentations, 4 have featured Welsh or Wales-based artist/theatre-makers – none of whom were respondents to the survey or typically identify themselves as directors.

Sherman Cymru is also well-represented as a provider of directing opportunity at 15%. This may be said to represent more meaningful experience in that, beyond assisting opportunities to emerging directors, some directors are employed on full productions. These are either as part of coproductions – for example, the Christmas show for young audiences or as part of the lunchtime new writing partnership with Oran Mor – or as part of work on productions through the Sherman’s community and engagement work.

Some portfolio organisations are clearly unable to offer any work to freelance directors and do not feature in responses to the survey. 20% of the respondents have had no work from portfolio organisations whatsoever.

What mainstage productions have you directed?

The scale of the challenge to a freelance directing career in Wales is represented most clearly by the response around opportunities to direct at scale on its main stages. 88% have never had an opportunity at any point in their career to direct on a mainstage in Wales, despite some doing this at theatres elsewhere. It is worth emphasising that many of the respondents were extremely experienced and, in some cases, award-winning directors with an acknowledged track record of work. Of the remaining 12% who had directed mainstage work, two were specialist opera directors based with the WNO and one was an artistic director producing work they had commissioned themselves.

What Studio Productions have you directed?

The proportion of directors working in studio spaces is much healthier with 55% having had some experience of directing at this scale. More precise insight is elusive, however, and may be worthy of further research.

Many directors in Wales, including a large number who responded, are self-producing artists frustrated with the lack of support available to them elsewhere – some respondents specifically mentioned that their only opportunity to direct was with work they had produced themselves. Given that working in studio theatres, such as those available at Chapter, is an acknowledged pathway for emerging directors and a platform for freelance directors working outside the portfolio, it is somewhat disturbing that 45% have had no experience of this.

Moreover, self-producing artists must make many sacrifices to present their work and one can only speculate about the financial consequences of this in relation to fees and earnings. This is may well be evidenced by the fact that one respondent has recently left the industry.

What assisting work have you done?

Opportunities to assist would seem to be available in Wales, especially at The Other Room, Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Sherman Cymru and NTW. 39% had been able to avail themselves of this opportunity with some theatres offering distinct schemes.

However, it is an issue of concern that some respondents reported that they had undertaken assisting without pay and that assisting opportunities were mainly considered to be there to enable emerging directors to find their way into the industry in a county where resources are limited and competition intense.

The opportunity for mid-career and established directors to further develop their practice through experience in working at different scales or within more specialist areas was rare to non-existent.

What training or development have you had?

The nature of training and development for directors was inconsistent and patchy, although 45% had benefitted from it in some form or another. While one or two emerging directors cited Sherman Cymru’s Directors group in association with JMK, others had found opportunity where they could through a pick and mix approach sourced from self-initiated R&D projects such as NTW’s Waleslab, time in academia and occasionally from visiting festivals.

What opportunity would you like for yourself that doesn’t already exist in Wales?

These are selected comments aimed at preserving the anonymity of the respondents…

• Associate Director positions

• Support that takes r&d through to production. Venues that act as co-producers in more than name only.

• Wales based directors being employed by portfolio organizations to direct mainstage productions

• There are no opportunities at the moment for freelance theatre directors in Wales. This is mainly due to a lack of money to produce work and, in the case of NTW, a commitment to a type of work that I don’t make. Wales has, historically, also harboured a lack of faith in its home directing talent and haemorrhages talent to other major cities.

• In the past I have worked for other organisations but in recent years I have only directed productions for my own theatre company. I would welcome an opportunity to direct for an organisation other than my own.

• Mid-career skills development, directing productions (many directing roles go to directors outside Wales/who aren’t Welsh), • Some directing opportunities!

• More widely accessible Assistant Director work at established and prestigious creative theatrical organisations in Cardiff such as Sherman, The Other Room, Chapter, Weston Studio (WMC) and more importantly, placements with existing and successful theatre companies. • An opportunity to network with commercial producers

• Paying Assistant Directing jobs.

• More productions on larger scales. More investment in youth policies. Investment in advertising and engagement with communities to build more of a network of theatres that can co-produce work to export to the rest of the UK and abroad.

• Opportunity for work developed with a Welsh theatre to tour throughout the UK to be seen by wider audiences. More transparency from theatres looking for directors / looking for work for their programmes.

• More international opportunities with Portfolio Companies support

• More opportunity to direct main stage work

• A development route for directors past assistant director placements eg: Open job applications for posts such as Resident Directors, Associate Directors, Trainee Directors.

• Working with choreographers, integrating more music in my work, working with young people with challenging behaviours.

• More development opportunities that are to a high level

• Mid career development and some more of my own work in WALES.

• I have now left the industry.

• More opportunities to direct main house/studio productions, with the bigger companies. I have considerable expertise in working with new writing but very little opportunity. I’d have liked to work as a Director on productions – rather than always doing ‘the ground work’ in communities or side-work, when outside Directors would be brought in for the main event. Would have loved the opportunity to work on bigger shows – being able to realise a much bigger vision.

• I would like to be able to gain experience of working in a building as an Associate and receive mentoring training on being an AD of a building based company. There are no opportunities to develop as an AD beyond early and emerging director opportunities. I would like to see this addressed in partnership with the major portfolio funded companies and venues.

• More CPD Opportunities and chances to share. More forums – it’s a lovely place as a director sometimes. Nice to explore more opportunities for co direction/collaboration

• Further paid or subsidised opportunities for Emerging Directors to Assist; I find myself relying on the Sherman Theatre and National Theatre Wales to find paid Assisting work. All my Assisting work in Wales, so far, has been unpaid. More bursaries and paid opportunities would be great to see in Wales, especially Cardiff.

• As a mid-career director who specialises in directing and facilitating participatory opera, I would like to be able to access a bursary to go and see work / talk to directors who are doing the same work as me. Sadly, this would probably be in England / Europe.

Conclusion

SDUK will now look at what it can do to support change on behalf of directors in Wales. Nick Capaldi (Chief Executive of ACW) has promised to look at any evidence provided and to consider what can be done. If you would like to help in any way – as an SDUK member or otherwise – please get in touch with us at info@stagedirectorsUK.com and let us know.

Report written by Stage Directors UK Board Member Simon Harris