On Thursday 28th April, Ann Ellison BEM - Artistic Director of Next Stage and The Mission Theatre - attended a meeting arranged by Rachael Sugden - Editor of the Bath Chronicle - to discuss concerns Ann has recently raised regarding the scant coverage of the local theatre and performing arts scene in Bath. The below is an open letter from Ann to anybody and everybody who is involved in, or simply enjoys, locally-produced theatrical events - particularly drama - in Bath:
I know from a variety of conversations and emails in the past few weeks, that many of you are as concerned and puzzled as I am about the marginalisation of local theatre coverage in the Bath Chronicle since the arts’ editor Dan Biggane left in March.
Today, I had a meeting with Rachael Sugden, the editor of the Bath Chronicle, to discuss my concerns. Most of the features in the new-look Weekend Magazine in the paper are used by other media consortiums. Rachael only has a few bespoke pages to cover specific Bath-based news. The fact there is no longer a Theatre page is a direct result of market research which has returned conclusive figures that whilst film and television are popular, there is not sufficient interest in the local performing arts’ scene to justify a Theatre page! Rachael was very honest about the pressures she and her team are under to deliver market-driven news.
I made the point that the Chronicle’s decision to no longer include local theatre articles and images as they had appeared in the previous Guide format, would inevitably result in a self-fulfilling prophecy: the less our local theatres, companies and events are covered, the less Bath audiences will be aware of the variety and scope of the drama on offer in the city and hence the more invisible our work will become. I made an impassioned plea for the current What’s On and Listings’ pages to be compressed to provide enough space for theatre to have its own page, but Rachael has taken an editorial decision that people basically want to just know what is on in the city and that to reduce this content would be a retrograde step. She may very well be right to think this way and so we moved on to discuss alternative solutions to the lack of theatre coverage.
Having heard the constraints under which Rachael has to operate, I made the following suggestions:
1. Would she consider a monthly feature - ideally a page in either the main paper or the magazine - headed Theatre and showcasing theatrical events, specifically drama, being staged in the city’s various venues in the ensuing four weeks. Rachael has agreed to trial such a page (sadly it might be less than a page) starting in the last week of May and featuring upcoming theatre events in Bath in June. The vision for this bespoke page would be that it would carry eye-catching images and possibly one or two in-depth stories drawing on the copy provided by local theatres and drama companies.
2. Would Rachael consider extra newspaper coverage when any of the city’s local theatrical venues produce their new season’s programmes. I explained in the case of The Mission Theatre that would be a twice-yearly feature, The Rondo I believe has a thrice-yearly brochure and of course other venues may also wish to send in season launch details as and when they are announced. Under the old regime, a feature in the paper celebrating the best of forthcoming shows at a venue and the news that its brochure was out in hard copy and available online, was a very useful and popular preview for Bath’s theatre-goers of what was on offer in the coming months.
Whilst considering how to facilitate both of the above suggestions and remaining sympathetic to our cause, Rachael will also try and include news-worthy coverage of unusual/specific/one-off theatre stories in the main paper on a weekly basis. The presentation of local Art Listings, Theatre & Comedy and Film Highlights at the back of the magazine is unlikely to change.
Finally, having sent Rachael a draft of this piece, I am delighted to say she emailed the following:
“I would like to reiterate that while yes, we are going to focus our resources writing content we know the majority of our audience will read, I have no intention of marginalising our coverage of what (as I said to you today) is an incredibly vibrant, grass-roots cultural community in Bath.
Thank you for passing on our contact details - as you rightly point out it is imperative that the theatre community keep us informed - and we will always endeavour to provide a voice and a platform for the community in our print products.”
So, in order that our vibrant city theatre scene and the excellent range of dramatic offerings available to the public here in Bath does not get overlooked or neglected in the local media, it is of paramount importance that people passionate about the arts let Rachael know their feelings and provide the necessary copy and images to make the monthly Theatre preview feature a success.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to email@example.com to express your concern about the current lack of coverage and to endorse any increase that Rachael and her team can achieve.
With many thanks in anticipation of your support,
Ann Ellison BEM