John Byrne joins campaign to save children's theatre company

John Byrne is one of 150 theatre workers to call for a reprieve for children's company Catherine Wheels.
John Byrne is one of 150 theatre workers to call for a reprieve for children's company Catherine Wheels.
0
Have your say

Playwrights John Byrne and David Harrower are among 150 members of the Scottish theatre community to demand a rethink over a controversial funding cut for a leading producer of work for children.

Actors, directors, writers, designers and composers have joined forces to call for a reprieve for Catherine Wheels after it was hit by a 100 per cent funding cut last week.

They say they are either “freelance artists who have worked with the company, benefited from their expertise or simply been inspired by their work.”

Signatories include Games of Thrones star Ron Donachie, James Rothney, who appeared in the National Theatre of Scotland’s hit production The James Plays, Brian Ferguson, one of the original stars of Black Watch and Scot Squad actress Julie Wilson Nimmo, who also appeared in Balamory.

Also backing the campaign are director Johnny McKnight, theatre-maker Rachael Clerke, playwright Nicola McCartney and dance choreographer Janis Claxton.

An open letter to under-fire arts quango Creative Scotland has been urged to reconsider a decision to scrap a long-term funding deal with the company, which they say has produced work which has become “a marker of excellence both within Scotland and on the international stage.”

An open letter to quango Creative Scotland urges it to reconsider the fate of the company, which they say has produced work which has become “a marker of excellence both within Scotland and on the international stage.”

Creative Scotland is under mounting criticism for the cuts imposed on Catherine Wheels and another children’s theatre company, Visible Fictions, at the start of an official “Year of Young People” instigated by the Scottish Government.

The open letter, also sent to First Nicola Sturgeon and culture secretary Fiona Hyslop, was published hours after it emerged that Creative Scotland is to hold an emergency board meeting to “take stock” of the controversy over its cuts.

The open letter, which has also been set to First Nicola Sturgeon and culture secretary Fiona Hyslop, has been published hours after it emerged that Creative Scotland had been forced to hold an emergency board meeting to tackle the controversy over its cuts.

The Scottish Government, which has suggested the quango has badly handled the funding shake-up, said the special meeting of Creative Scotland’s board was being held to “review certain decisions.”

The new open letter states: “The news that Catherine Wheels are to lose their status as a regularly funded organisation has come as a blow to many of us in the theatre community. The role and influence of Catherine Wheels extends far beyond the core employees that make up the company and as freelance artists who have worked with the company, benefited from their expertise or simply been inspired by their work we wish to ask Creative Scotland to reconsider their decision.

“The value of this company to the artistic community cannot be underestimated. Catherine Wheels have spent 20 years honing the skills needed to support, nurture and inspire one of the most imaginative and thrilling audiences there is; young people and their adults.

“To consistently serve and challenge this audience and respond creatively to their emotional, social and imaginative needs; to take their lives and stories seriously and respond with work that is as sophisticated and complex as they are.

“It is this body of experience and work that make them one of the most thrilling companies for us as theatre makers to work with. Working with them has consistently stretched all our creative capacities; they challenge an artist to go further and as a result they are often the catalyst for substantial leaps in an artist’s creative practice.”

Catherine Wheels was among 20 companies to lose three-year funding deals last week. Others included Lung Ha and Birds of Paradise, two theatre companies who work with disabled performers, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, dance company Plan B, the Ayr Gaiety Theatre and classical music groups Dunedin Consort and Hebrides Ensemble.

Creative Scotland insisted it would still be eligible to bid for support to a new £2 million touring fund, which is due to be up and running from 2019, and would be given transition funding over the next 12 months.

However the quango was forced to bring forward its next board meeting following an intervention from culture secretary Fiona Hyslop, who told her Twitter followers that “a lot of angst and worry” could be avoided if the quango was “clearer” about its support for the theatre sector.

It is not known yet whether the government has offered Creative Scotland any extra funding to offer a lifeline to companies affected by last week’s funding announcement.

The quango was previously offered £6.6 million in December’s budget settlement from the government, which the cash ringfenced to “allow Creative Scotland to maintain the same level of funding for regular funded organisations.”

Creative Scotland chief executive Janet Archer has insisted her organisation is “listening carefully to everything everyone in saying.”

She said: “Given the strength of views being presented, we will be bringing forward the Creative Scotland board meeting, originally scheduled for 15 February.

“We will be taking stock of the decisions made regarding organisations not included in the regular funding network and the options available.”