WHEN Kate Chapman reached the end of an emotional speech winding down a decade of the Theatre Writing Partnership, she left the gathered well-wishers with a sobering question. “With arts organisations like this being lost to austerity”, she said, “how will we hear those voices from the parts of society that struggle to be heard; how will they find their way into this type of space, and how will they be nurtured in the future?”
This point might not have been too high up on the agenda when the government set in motion the funding cuts that have finished off the Theatre Writing Partnership. But for Chapman, TWP’s last creative director, and hundreds others involved with the organisation, it’s been the biggest question on their mind for the last ten years.
So it was sadly fitting that, in the end, the demise of TWP was a series of new beginnings. With the remains of its resources Nottingham-based TWP created a project, Making Tracks; one last act of giving before the curtain finally came down. Seven writers from around the East Midlands were chosen to go on journeys of discovery. Seven weird and wonderful trips to inspire seven new theatre projects of the future.
It takes a certain kind of mind to see the “grotesque in the beautiful, and the beautiful in the grotesque” at the Blackpool Dance Festival, as Be My Baby writer Amanda Whittington did.
Her journey to the spiritual heart of ballroom dancing became a trip into a dark world of grit, self-sacrifice and a rancorous rivalry that lies behind a thinning layer of gaudy glitz.
Mufaro Makubika lived out a journey of painful and unsettling rediscovery of his childhood roots in Zimbabwe before moving to Britain; a voyage through the experience of an African immigrant to the UK in every sense. Makubika described the experience as “like awakening from a dream”. He said ”I’ve been on a journey that has changed my life. The journey of the immigrant”.
It takes a special kind of mind to want to revisit the quaint, run down Isle of Wight hotel that is the setting of dreamy childhood memories; of happier times before a grandparent succumbed to the cruel torment of dementia. That was the trip Jane Upton decided to take.
With special bursaries from TWP, and a promise to nurture and support the writers throughout the project, these ideas were all lived out.
The Ashes writer Michael Pinchbeck travelled to Paris and Sarajevo in search of the origins of Maurice Ravel’s Boléro, which Nottingham-born skaters Torvill and Dean danced to in their greatest triumph, a Gold Medal in the 1984 Olympics and the highest score of all time in figure skating.
Laura Lomas and Esther Richardson spent several months in Occupy camps and other protest sites, in London, Nottingham, Italy and Greece, getting underneath the surface of the movement. Nottingham writer Andy Barrett travelled to Pristina in Kosovo, one of the world’s newest countries, to meet playwrights struggling to nurture the arts and find hope in their own environments.
And theatre group The Gramophones travelled the length of the country by whatever means they could get their hands on - or flag down - including microlites, scooters, and a pink tractor, asking the often wacky people they met along the way to send them postcards home describing their greatest ever journey.
Now the writers are all home, the work of turning their trips into stage projects has already begun. This will take some time, and TWP will be long gone by the time the projects ever see a stage. But the spirit, says Chapman, will live on in the writing the Making Tracks project has inspired. Speaking at an event to mark the end of TWP, she said: “Making Tracks says all the things that I want to say. I wanted to demonstrate what an amazing range of talented people we have in the East Midlands. It’s really important that we ended with the beginnings of lots of new things”.
Despite the inspired legacy of Making Tracks, there’s a lot of anger in the East Midlands that TWP had to go, and around the UK similar closures are creating the same type of resentment. “Apart from the cultural argument, the cuts to the arts make no economic sense,” says Amanda Whittington. “The VAT earned on West End ticket sales alone is more than the entire subsidy to British theatre but who’s making those world-famous West End shows? Artists who came through the subsidised sector. If you cut off the tree at the roots, how will it ever bear fruit?”
But Michael Pinchbeck is optimistic, saying: “TWP is a great loss to the region and these projects are a legacy of what they’ve enabled writers to do. But the future is more important right now and we have some journeys to continue. It’s more about the potential that still exists. There will always be arts activities going on; they respond to the need and then they find ways to fulfil it”.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to ignore the political implications of the end of TWP, and much of the talk on the final night was uneasy speculation about the bleak future of the arts in the UK. Speaking at the event, TWP chairman Rick Hall said: “We live in an age of miserable ideological cuts to the arts. They are justified by the idea that when the going gets tough, the arts have to be creative, and will find a way to fund themselves. Well bollocks to that”.