Actors join writers in calling on National Theatre Wales to put Welsh artists first

Rhys Ifans. Picture by Rae Hanson 9CC 2.0)

More than 200 Welsh actors, including Hollywood star Rhys Ifans, have sent a letter to National Theatre Wales calling on it to do more for performers from Wales.

It comes after 40 playwrights signed a letter accusing NTW of “undermining” Welsh artists in September.

The playwright’s letter said that NTW was not supporting Welsh writers and was a “roadblock” to success.

The actors who had signed the letter published today said that they sympathised with the issues raised by the playwrights and wanted a public discussion about the purpose of NTW.

“We especially share the concerns of the playwright signatories in regard to the recent low production rate and audience engagement,” they said.

“Many of us now feel a drastic disconnect from what once felt like a thriving and engaging theatrical forum that championed Welsh work and artists.”

They said that they agreed with the aims and objectives set out by the playwrights in their letter published in September:

  • All shows produced by NTW have a Welsh or Wales based artist as the primary artist.
  • Non-Welsh and Wales-based artists and companies need to be (a) world-class and (b) engaged only to support a Welsh or Wales based artist.
  • A NTW show has to have theatre in it.

They also proposed their own objectives:

  • NTW commits to where possible (and appropriate), hiring the very best Welsh or Wales based actors and performers or those that have trained in Wales.
  • If that pool is not diverse enough to fulfil the roles NTW is creating, they suggest that the company needs to invest in those marginalised communities within Wales to rectify that issue long-term.
  • NTW creates work that has strong narrative with parts created that excite and encourage world-class Welsh actors to want to work with the company.
  • They would like to see work produced on a much more ambitious scale, with longer runs with a bigger audience reach, and plays produced that have the ability to engage an international audience.

“We have been encouraged by the willingness of NTW and Arts Council Wales to listen and engage with the concerns of its artists in recent weeks,” the letter says.

“We remain hopeful that this period of debate and scrutiny will encourage growth, positive change and once again strengthen the bond that already binds us together.”

‘Wales-first’

Hours before the embargo on the actor’s letter expired, the Chair of NTW’ Board, Clive Jones published a blog responding to the claims made.

“In keeping with NTW’s eight-year history, Welsh talent will be at the centre of the 2019 season, featuring internationally renowned Welsh artists, as well as offering creative development opportunities for those wishing to further their artistic practice,” he said. “As ever, NTW will work across the whole of Wales.”

“Like the artists of Wales, NTW believes in an open-minded, plural and expansive theatre. One that is internationalist in its outlook but rooted in Wales and which seeks to make different kinds of theatre for Wales’ diverse audiences.

“The company welcomes this dialogue, but will not hesitate to rebut factually inaccurate claims.

“The suggestion that the company’s output has drastically diminished in the last two years is an example of such inaccuracy.

“During the leadership of the company’s founding Artistic Director (2008-2015), NTW staged 41 productions. During the tenure of current Artistic Director Kully Thiarai (since 2016), the company has staged 21 productions in just over two years.

“The company has a Wales-first casting policy. This means that NTW will always strive to offer roles first and foremost to Welsh and Wales-based performers.

“However, the company, in seeking to reflect the rich cultural diversity of Wales and in accordance to its stated aims on diversity, maintains the right to cast further afield to fulfil its artistic ambition.

“From day one, NTW has sought to challenge and explore perceptions of what theatre can and should be.

“It has and always will seek to create extraordinary experiences for audiences and push boundaries to ensure a thriving and evolving theatre culture. That remains unchanged.

“NTW is open to constructive debate about the role and mission of a national theatre, in-line with its policy of being as transparent as possible, a core value of the company’s. As a national company, NTW recognises and respects that it holds a rare and privileged position that comes with huge responsibility.

“The company takes that responsibility very seriously. All strategic decisions are taken with great care and consideration. These are not easy or simple decisions to make – nor should they be.

“Eight years ago the company set out to be a radical and innovative force as Wales’ English language theatre, taking the whole nation of Wales as its stage and its passion. Those aims and ambitions are as true today as then.”

‘Accusations’

The writers who sent the original letter to the NTW responded to the actors’ letter supporting their aims.

“We very much welcome the publication of the letter from Wales’ acting community and thank them wholeheartedly for their courage in speaking out and standing with us in what is a difficult time for Wales’ theatre community,” they said.

“To criticise our national company publicly is heart-breaking. However, since the publication of our own letter back in September, we have met with resistance from NTW to change – despite the many public declarations of openness and statements of their willingness to listen.

“We have faced accusations that our concerns are mistaken, that if they have gone wrong in any way, it is only by not shouting loudly enough about their achievements.

“Meanwhile, actors, directors, performance artists, venue managers, critics, company leaders, former and current NTW collaborators and staffers, and many other workers across the theatre community have made known to us their concerns about NTW’s output, its lack of work and its current direction. In addition, our concerns have been supported by Equity and WGGB.

“We remain committed to working with NTW to achieve our shared goal: a plural, internationalist national theatre based within theatre buildings and without them, drawing on all the communities of our nation, and serving all its diverse audiences.

“We continue to meet with other sectors of the theatre community, with funders and a range of interested parties, as well as looking forward to constructive dialogue with NTW and will continue to push for a national theatre company of which we can all be proud.”

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