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The London Theatre Talks 2010: Banks are More Important to Society than Theatre

Tuesday, 31 August, 2010

London – The Phoenix Artist Club – 24 Aug – 19:00 (0:40)

As a stimulating addition to the London Fringe Festival, the historic Phoenix Artist Club in Soho hosted ‘The London Theatre Talks 2010’.

The talks were a series of panel discussions which featured prominent cultural experts in conversation about issues currently affecting the arts. On Tuesday, August 24th, the topic was: ‘Banks are More Important to Society than Theatre’.

The panel consisted of Nina Caplan, journalist and former Arts Editor of ‘Time Out‘, Shaun Hutchinson, the Editor of ‘New Black Magazine‘, and journalist and actor Ben Holland, who also used to work in the City. The talks were chaired by critic, journalist, and regular chair of the ‘Platform Talks’ at the National Theatre, Aleks Sierz.

In discussing the connection between theatres and banks, the panel paid particular attention to new theatrical works which dealt with the subject of corporate and economic corruption. Lucy Prebbles’ ‘Enron’ was a major point of discussion. Other topics focused on why theatre remains popular, what it should aim to achieve to be classed as successful, which of the two (theatre or banks) had brought society more honour throughout the course of history, and how the current economic crisis would impact the way that each does business going forward.

Thankfully, none of the panellists were biased in their responses and all were, as expected, articulate and well informed. In considering the talk prior to attending, I had feared that the ‘debate’ would in fact be a funding rally in response to the recent governmental cutbacks to the arts. While I obviously disagree with the arts-focused budget cuts, I was interested in hearing a balanced argument for both sides and was pleasantly surprised to find just that. The responses were well rounded and provided interesting insight into how we measure ‘success’ and ‘value’ in modern Britain.

As Shaun Hutchinson said, we go to the theatre to be inspired, entertained, to learn, and to seek answers about ourselves. Nina Caplan added that since the beginning of the financial crisis, the theatre has attempted to provide answers to the questions of what went wrong and why, while the banks have remained largely silent and insular. Likewise, Ben Holland pointed out that the visual medium of the theatre has provided an entertaining way for the general public to gain some understanding of a particularly complicated issue which is considered to be dull and dry. In this way, people have flocked to productions like ’Enron’ for answers, even when they are not specifically related to the topic of the global recession.

However, we have also constructed a society which is wholly reliant upon finance. Major financial institutions regularly back commercial theatrical productions, primarily on the West End, and because of this the relationship between the banks and theatres is incestuous. Still, one of the main differences between the two is their attitude towards profit. While banks are concerned only with their bottom lines, much of the theatre is actually loss-making. As funding cuts continue and with banks less likely to lend financial support to riskier artistic endeavours, the area of the theatre predicted by the panel to suffer the most was the Fringe. The conclusion of an interesting evening was that both financial institutions and artistic outlets are necessary in society. While I agree with that assertion, I know which of the two I prefer.

Panellists: Nina Caplan, Ben Holland, Shaun Hutchinson

Chair: Aleks Sierz

(c) Megan Hunter 2010

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