Regarding The Bath Chronicle's Change Of Policy On Reviewing The Performing Arts In The City
**A meeting has now been arranged for Monday 8th October, 5.30-7.30pm at The Mission Theatre.
ANYONE with an interest in Theatre and Music in the Bath area is encouraged to come along and discuss the new policy and hear the reasons behind the changes that are being made.
It's free but we do need to know if you are attending, so visit theatrebath.co.uk for full details and to book your place.**
The situation so far is as follows:
We have heard from the Arts Editor at The Bath Chronicle that following a meeting with the new editor Lynne Fernquest last month, a decision has been made that the only Bath theatre productions that will now be reviewed in the Chronicle will be those appearing at the Theatre Royal Bath (TRB).
As you can imagine, all of us in Bath who are involved in producing or hosting the vast array of outstanding amateur and touring professional performances that we are blessed with in the city, are horrified that there will no longer be the opportunity for actors, directors, the production teams, playwrights and venues to receive the publicity, plaudits and promotion that the weekly paper used to provide with its range of reviews.
On top of this, the new Editor's decision carries an implicit suggestion that the only dramas worthy of note in Bath are the touring shows that visit the TRB. The vast majority of these productions have already been showcased in London or other major UK cities and anyone wanting to decide whether or not to buy tickets can simply go online and find a wide range of reviews. However for local Bath-based companies, many of whom stage productions that are favourably compared to those on offer at the TRB, there will now be no opportunity to receive the recognition that the community-based practitioners deserve.
If sufficient people are concerned and make their feelings known, we may be able to overturn this decision. I hope that many of you share our concerns that companies such as Next Stage and venues such as The Mission do not deserve to be marginalised in this way.
In the last two weeks, many supporters and patrons have written to the Bath Chronicle expressing their dismay at the paper's decision. However in yesterday's Chronicle (Thursday 13 September) not a single letter was printed. Many of the supporters were kind enough to copy me into their correspondence and, having received the writers' permission, I have published a representative selection below. Obviously we cannot force the paper to cover this serious issue of local public interest but it seems invidious that they should ignore so many people and not be prepared to put genuine and well-reasoned arguments out in the public domain.
If you would like to make your feelings known to The Chronicle, we are still urging everyone to write to the Letters page at email@example.com in the hopes that a continued stream of protest from the public will make the Chronicle rethink. Alternatively, if you wish to discuss any of these issues, do drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As I am sure you are aware, Bath is a small city blessed with a disproportionately high number of extremely talented theatre companies, musical theatre groups, choirs, orchestras, cinemas, galleries, museums, festivals et al. As Artistic Director of The Mission Theatre, Next Stage Theatre Company and Next Stage Youth I believe passionately in the worth and relevance of the Arts to the community.
Next Stage Theatre Company has always been grateful for the positive support and publicity we have enjoyed in the Bath Chronicle. As for The Mission, a small private theatre in the heart of Bath, it would not be overstating things to say that, from its inception 8 years ago, the theatre has achieved local and regional recognition largely due to the regular articles about us in your paper. We are very desirous that such positive relationships are maintained.
I quite understand that as an incoming Editor you will be looking to put your own stamp on the paper. However I was dismayed to learn from the Arts Editor, Christopher Hansford, that some apparently retrograde decisions have already been taken that will affect all of us who are involved in local performing arts companies and/or run independent arts venues.
One such decision, I believe, is to no longer review amateur productions in Bath and to concentrate solely on the weekly professional touring companies that come to the Theatre Royal. The vast majority of these productions have already been showcased in London or other major UK cities and anyone wanting to decide whether or not to buy tickets can simply go online and find a wide range of reviews. However for local Bath-based companies, many of whom stage productions that are favourably compared to those on offer at the TRB, there will now be no opportunity to receive the recognition that the community-based practitioners deserve. Lack of reviews will reduce the opportunities many of us have for promoting our work and reaching out to the Bath clientele. In these recessionary times everyone is anxious for good local press, and dependent for our very survival on the audiences that such press attracts. Whilst aware that if we provide reviews they may be posted on the Bath Chronicle website, the veracity and impartiality of such reviews is debatable, plus I wonder whether they will have the same kudos as those provided by the Chronicle’s erstwhile team of reviewers?
I fear that there may also have been decisions made as to how much space should be given in The Guide to advertising and promoting local city theatres other than The Theatre Royal Bath. We were horrified here at The Mission to see that our Autumn brochure launch (usually half a page in The Guide with accompanying colour photos) had appeared two weeks ago on the “What’s On” page as merely a column with one picture, and that from a show originally performed last January. Whilst the Jerusalem image might help promote the Next Stage Theatre Company, none of the images we had provided to show the range and variety of visiting companies to The Mission in the Autumn were used, and I have to say I would not be surprised if few people found this tucked-away piece published in the middle of August when many local people were away on holiday.
The Mission Theatre attracts performers from around the world, in sell-out weeks hundreds of people come to the venue. The resident Next Stage Theatre Company has over 50 affiliated adult members and 60 Youth members. The Bistro is acclaimed for the quality and value of its day time food and pre-show suppers. Many local Bath citizens and businesses have invested time and money in the theatre to help to make it successful and ensure its long term future. Much of the work here is undertaken by volunteers and we receive no public funding. In our efforts to continue running The Mission Theatre as a venue available and affordable to all performers we keep our costs to a minimum wherever possible. Our marketing budget is almost non-existent and we rely on public acclaim for our productions and coverage in the local media to maintain our public profile.
I seek your reassurance that despite the necessary cutbacks and streamlining of procedures at The Bath Chronicle, not to mention all the other establishments and individuals who will be making legitimate claims on your time, you and your editorial team will continue to foster and celebrate all the many and varied amateur companies that makes Bath such a rich and varied city in terms of the Arts and that local venues such as ours will not become marginalised.
Artistic Director, The Mission Theatre and Next Stage Theatre Company
Dear Ms Fernquest
I understand that a decision has been made that the only theatre productions that will now be reviewed in the Chronicle will be those appearing at the Theatre Royal Bath. I am very disappointed by this decision. I wasn’t going to the theatre until The Mission Theatre was introduced to me by my accountant and I have had many great nights there. I look for reviews in local papers and online. I can see that you have a great review of their current production Jerusalem which I am going to see tonight. For the Mission Theatre and other companies that stage productions there will now be no opportunity to receive the recognition that they deserve.
Is there a particular reason why you seem to want to discriminate against such theatres?
I was dismayed to learn that the Bath Chronicle will, in future only review shows at the Theatre Royal Bath. Bath has a rich tradition of small scale professional and non professional shows and events at many other venues throughout the city. Large numbers of local people and their friends and families are involved in, go to and want to know about these. I should have thought that a local newspaper would have been interested in supporting and reporting on local endeavours by local people. Much of this is of top quality and provides a far more affordable night out than the TRB. This is a major consideration in these hard, recession hit times. TRB shows, prestigious and impressive as they may be have little local connection other than that they are here.
I hope that you will reconsider this decision and support local talent and creativity which can only enrich the artistic life of the city. I fear that you may also risk alienating your loyal, local readership if you do not.
K P Francksen
It not only seems undemocratic to only publish reviews of professional productions at the Theatre Royal and ignore the wealth of community performances, but also unwise commercially for the Chronicle. Local performers, their friends and relatives are far more likely to actually want to buy the newspaper to read and preserve the reviews, unlike professional actors and their audiences. After all the Chronicle gives admirable and extensive coverage to a broad range of amateur sports, including junior sports, as well as devoting space to the professional clubs. We should expect and demand a similar stance for the arts. (Anon)
I am writing as one of the Directors of Playing Up Theatre Company to express our deep misgivings about your proposal to stop publishing theatre reviews for all but professional shows in the main house of the Theatre Royal.
This proposal threatens not only to damage the success of the large and vibrant theatre community in Bath, but also the reputation of the paper itself. There are numerous non-professional theatre companies such as ourselves in the local area (I can name ten) and for decades the Chronicle has, particularly thanks to Christopher Hansford, been a huge supporter of us. Since the paper changed to a weekly publication reviews tend to appear a week late but the online version allows companies to use quotes for publicity and everyone looks forward to buying the paper and clipping the hard copy. Indeed sales of The Chronicle to cast, crew, friends and relatives after a show are always high; I personally buy three copies and have a file of clippings going back nearly 20 years.
The issue is not about when the review appears, but what it represents. It has been suggested that if we organise a review of our own it might appear online but where is the impartiality? Reviewers like Christopher Hansford, Jackie Chappell and Philip Horton offer an independent but knowledgeable critique of a wide variety of performances, including new writing. For non-professionals the review in the Chronicle is often hugely rewarding. A name mention or positive comment after months of hard work and no salary is as important as the applause.
There are also youth groups like Bath and District Gang Show and Zenith which offer young people the opportunity to be involved in high quality performing arts and a review is often the cherry on the cake for their hard work and sacrifice. What about the projects that The Egg organises with local schools and disadvantaged youngsters? Are their efforts to go unrecognised?
Positive reviews also help us all recruit new members and attract future audiences. We ourselves in Playing Up received professional funding a few years ago to tour a play around the West Country. The National Comedy Theatre offered us the money because our company has an established and successful pedigree, which is evidenced by excerpts from Bath Chronicle and Venue reviews that appear on our website. I have recently directed an open air version of The Tempest to raise money for Dorothy House. The pre-show publicity promoted it and the post show publicity celebrated the fact that we raised over £3000 which is great, but the review called it: “One of the best open air productions I have seen in Bath.” A comment like that is not only hugely rewarding for everyone involved, but could help to publicise next year’s production. Audiences will be encouraged by the comments in the review, not by how much money we raised.
Recently we lost Venue magazine, another source of reviews, and now you propose to shut the door of the Chronicle on us. As an ex-advertising sales manager who even briefly ran the features department of the Chronicle, I understand the financial pressures of publishing a local paper that is popular and profitable. Advertising and advertorial are essential, as are property and motor sections, but most people buy the paper for national and local news and to celebrate achievement. It costs money to send a photographer and journalist to cover a local primary school fete or a community group fund raiser; are these to be excluded? And if cost is the issue then it cannot surely be insurmountable. Theatre tickets for reviewers are free and paid for by the relevant theatre companies, so what are the cost implications? Even assuming you pay reviewers for their copy we still cannot believe it costs the Chronicle a lot to print a review.
I hope this has given you pause for thought. Bath has an extraordinarily active, ambitious and successful theatre scene with six professional venues, two universities and at least five purpose built theatres located in schools and hired by the community. Between them they stage everything from dance and musicals to new experimental theatre as well as classics. We even have site specific performances and probably the world’s most famous street theatre practitioners in The Natural Theatre Company. There are a minimum of ten non-professional theatre companies in the city and school and university student groups to boot, never mind YPT. That represents a lot of Chronicle readers!
Finally, I have focussed on non-professional theatre because that is our main area of concern, but there are of course a wealth of professional companies and performers who visit venues in Bath other than the main Theatre Royal. The Rondo is a case in point. Many of these companies are touring and a review will quickly appear on their publicity and websites as they move around the world. Have you ever seen a film or book advertised without quotes from reviews? Those of us involved in the performing and expressive arts in Bath, at all levels, need the Bath Chronicle to keep reviewing us so please reconsider.
As an amateur actress and member of Next Stage Theatre Company in Bath, and a keen supporter of other amateur companies, I am writing to add my voice to the 'Chorus of Disapproval' from the Bath amateur theatre world at The Chronicle's decision to no longer review amateur productions. The major companies in Bath produce high quality work and contribute a great deal to the theatre scene, and all have loyal followers. However, reviews help boost audiences and introduce them to a huge range of drama in the two main amateur venues at The Mission Theatre and The Rondo. I believe that amateur theatre and audiences alike are being treated unfairly. Marion Wood
I understand the new policy of the Bath Chronicle is to limit theatre reviews to productions staged at the Theatre Royal. This theatre hosts a range of important and interesting productions and I would not wish to denigrate them in any way, nor to suggest they should not be reviewed in the paper. However, the Theatre Royal is not the only location at which enjoyable and stimulating productions can be seen. In particular I have in mind the Mission Theatre and the excellent Next Stage companies which add so much to Bath's artistic scene. Not only do they produce quality productions, they are also important in bringing on the next generation of talent. We cannot afford to let such organisations fail. Unfortunately the Mission, like other similar organisations, operates on a shoestring. Without publicity, and the sale of tickets which can follow, there is a real danger that good local groups such as this will not be able to survive. I urge you to reconsider your policy and continue to offer the good media coverage which these organisations so desperately require. - Trevor Rothwell
As well as the official letters of protest sent to the Chronicle, here are just a few of the comments we have received at The Mission from audience members, actors and patrons so far:
We strongly support the campaign to make The Chronicle exercise its local cultural responsibilities. To review only commercial productions at the TRB (does that include The Egg and the Ustinov?) ignores the many amateur and semi-professional productions which are community events as well as artistic ones. If The Chronicle can't afford to pay their staff to review other productions in the city there are many of us who would be happy to do so for free (me for example!). It is an extraordinary decision and thank you for bringing it to people's attention. - BR
The decision is outrageous and not at all community minded. - anon
I'm amazed that the Editor doesn't think that a local paper like the Chronicle should be promoting community-based stuff. - PW
This is madness. What on earth is the point of a local rag if it doesn't have local matters in it? And what is more valuable that local theatre, exhibitions, etc? With fervent hopes of a shout of outrage that will ring to the rafters and cause a reversal of decision. - AR
Personally I think it is outrageous and ridiculous in equal measures! Can you organise a petition so that we can ‘stand up and be counted’? - JC
This is an outrageous decision and I’m sure will be of detriment to a number of people and organisations who contribute to the cultural life of the city. - Pounds Arts Centre
Chronicle’s decision simply doesn’t make editorial sense and is mockery of local news. - NW