TAG counts the cost as three win funding

6th February 2004 at 00:00
Few will blame Emily Gray for her decision to resign as artistic director of the TAG Theatre Company after just a few weeks. Barely a fortnight into the post, the Scottish Arts Council cut the company's funding and put a question mark over its future independence by hinting it should go back to being the education arm of Glasgow's Citizens Theatre.

What was Scotland's flagship theatre for young people is now struggling for its very survival, for reasons it can find no one to explain, though the gossip is the SAC wanted level playing fields for young people's theatre companies.

The crock of gold for these companies is called core funding. Set at about pound;130,000 a year, it pays for a creative and office team and two touring shows. Companies that miss out can get the consolation of project funding. The difference between the two is the difference between having a salary and doing piecework, between planning ahead and wondering where the next job is coming from.

Even though the SAC is doubling its funding for young people's theatre, to find core money for three previously project funded companies it has to take pound;100,000 from TAG.

Disastrous as this may be for TAG, no one denies the deserving merits of the upcoming teams. As chairman James Boyle says: "The SAC has to recognise the number of award-winning companies that have emerged over recent years, adding to the diversity of work and extending the range of theatre for younger people."

None of the three companies achieving core funding status - Visible Fictions, Catherine Wheels and Giant Productions - expects it to make a big difference to their output. In the case of Visible Fictions, the core money will more or less match what it got in project funds and grants from charities.

Administrator Douglas Irvine sees the change as "a reward for our reputation for innovative work and value for money, and the chance to tour to more schools". He says: "We welcome with open arms the security and the chance to plan our work more coherently."

For Gill Robertson, who founded the Catherine Wheels Theatre Company in 1998 and has devised and toured plays to national and Broadway success, core funding came in the nick of time.

"My producer, Paul Fitzpatrick, and I really couldn't have carried on," she says. "Growing and developing new ideas takes time and money and having to be creative and administrate, living hand-to-mouth on project and development grants, was becoming impossible."

She plans to recruit an administrator and develop a partnership with East Lothian Council, devising projects for schools. She also hopes to give wider exposure to three of her successes, Martha, The Little Gentleman and Lifeboat. "Good children's theatre has a long shelf life," she says.

Giant Productions' unique quality is making inclusive theatre, stimulating the mind, emotions and senses, for audiences of every age and ability. This original style of theatre is expensive and fits best in unconventional spaces with intimate audiences. Core funding means not only doubling the company's touring, but also its audience capacity: Up the Stairs and in the Attic, which I saw in an audience of 20, is being redesigned to play to 40.

Nevertheless, I am assured, money will not spoil them.

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