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Cast together

A while ago I was in Brno in the east of the Czech Republic, participating in "Seeding a Network", an East-East, East-West seminar set up to explore "the role of the performing arts in the life and development of a civil society". Drama in Education was one of its main themes.

"Seeding a Network" was created in 1990 as a partnership of Jenny Harris, head of education at the Royal National Theatre, and Jean Horstman, an independent Arts Consultant. It has focused on Eastern and Central Europe and the management and technical skills needed to address the changes facing theatre in these countries.

The 50 delegates were from each of the eight participating countries and supplemented by an observer from Bulgaria. We were to spend three days discussing common experiences and difficulties.

From the comparative calm of Hungary and the Czech Republic to the turmoil of Romania and Slovakia one might be able to find similarities but to expect to find common solutions was Utopian, while to draw comparisons between Estonians and Bulgarians, separated by 1,000 miles, was impossible.

The main part of the seminar was to be devoted to nationalism, political theatre, subsidy and collaboration, while breaks were set aside for discussion by small groups on new writing, developing new markets, responding to change and drama and education.

I spoke to the managing director of the Latvian Daile Theatre in Riga and asked why he thought that marketing and education might be of less interest to the delegates. In his opinion the reasons were simple: marketing was not yet an issue for most of the participating countries - subsidies remained high, so box office as a percentage of income remained low.

As for education, we in the West must understand that education in the Eastern Bloc was synonymous with dogma and compulsion, not imagination and discussion. Of course, everyone knows that the audience is getting older and that the new technology and the "old" Rock and Roll were drawing away the young. But the actors, directors and management were largely of the old school and didn't have the skill or understanding to develop education programmes. Art and artists were still the key words, not marketing and education.

The following morning the delegates reported back on the work of the small discussion groups: new writing should be encouraged, information should be exchanged, diversity should be celebrated, and training should be funded. These goals were to be supported by initiatives instigated by theatres and ministries with the aim of encouraging new audiences. As for drama in education, theirs was the longest, most impassioned presentation which concluded with a call for "Seeding a Network" to continue and diversify.

The lesson of "Seeding a Network" over the years has been that the exchanges lead to friendships and allegiances which in turn lead to collaboration. The problem has been that up until now it has been wholly East-West. During this seminar new associations were made between former Eastern Bloc countries. What is needed now is a new exchange programme.

Giles Croft is Literary Manager of the Royal National Theatre.

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