NTC vows the show will go on

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THE future of a theatre company could be hanging in the balance after a second funding application was rejected.

Earlier this year, Northumberland Theatre Company (NTC) and Alnwick Playhouse’s joint three-year funding bid from the Arts Council failed, meaning they were forced to look elsewhere.

But now the NTC has been dealt another blow after the council turned down a separate application to the Grants for the Arts fund which would secure projects next year, despite it meeting all the criteria.

However artistic director, Gillian Hambleton, said the group will continue to fight for funding.

“We have to stay positive because what we do is so important,” she said.

“In the Grants for the Arts application every single bit of criteria was met strongly and it was very successful but they didn’t fund us. They have so many applications and only a limited amount of funds.

“But there is still hope, we won’t be giving up without a fight.”

The touring theatre company takes its productions to rural communities which don’t have access to the arts, as well as putting on performances at the Playhouse. Because of its important touring role the NTC is hoping to get funding from another Arts Council pot of money – the strategic touring fund. But it is still waiting to hear about application details which are not due to be announced until December 5.

And if deadlines for applications are too late, they could be left in jeopardy.

They would need to find out by the end of January at the latest if funds are to be available, but without the information the company is in limbo.

“The strategic touring pot of money is absolutely appropriate for us as we access places that can only see theatre through touring groups, but the timescale is a problem for us,” Gillian added.

“Hopefully it will be third time lucky, but we could really do with some funding in place by the end of January.

“If we don’t get it by then we will need to find money for a transition period to keep us going until funds come through, that is the difficulty. We’re just short of about £50,000.

“We have the backing of promoters and audiences are clamouring for us to come back. That is what is so frustrating, there is a huge demand for the work and there is recognition of the quality of what we do, yet we cannot get the funding support to do it.”

Other applications to trusts and organisations have also been put in, but no responses have yet been received.

Gillian added: “At the NTC we have an incredibly experienced team with lots of skills and expertise, that doesn’t exist in other places and to lose it would be absolutely ridiculous. And also the facilities we have here are brilliant, it would seem an awful waste if they don’t get used.”

The funding was to be used for a summer and autumn 2012 project which included outdoor performances of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Roy Todd, a director on the NTC’s board and chairman of the Alnwick Playhouse Trust, said: “I am extremely disappointed to hear that the Arts Council has not agreed to fund NTC.”

“I think they offer a very good service to rural communities not only here in Alnwick but across the county.

“Their productions are extremely well received and if the Arts Council isn’t able to fund rural touring theatre it means that a large proportion of the county’s rural areas are going to be deprived of access to the arts, and in terms of NTC, very good arts.

“I think there are 11 rural touring communities in the country and nine had their funding cut, it looks as though that is an Arts Council decision and I think it is a regrettable one.

“I understand about the financial situation in which we find ourselves and I understand about cuts. But it seems that the Arts Council has taken the view that rather than salami slicing all organisations, it has decided to support some to the hilt, perhaps in excess, and cut some completely.

“I just hope some of the NTC board’s other initiatives for funding are successful.”

The concerns about NTC’s future are to be raised at both county and Government level.

Alnwick town and county councillor, Gordon Castle said the disparity in funding between the NTC and Playhouse and theatres in Berwick and Hexham needs to be highlighted.

He said: “When I raised this question before about the disparity between the funding of theatres in Northumberland we were told there was another fund that they could apply.

“But now it is beginning to look like that is not going to solve the problem.

“I need to raise this with the county council Executive. I am going to take this to the Executive member and say that this is a serious problem and that we really need to look at the funding.”

Sir Alan Beith, Liberal Democrat MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, added: “I’ve already discussed this with the chairman of the Arts Council, Liz Forgan, and I am now seeking another meeting with her because I think the arts bureaucracy is completely mishandling its dealings with an extremely good touring theatre company, and putting under very serious threat the excellent productions it takes to villages all over the country.”

NTC’s winter production, Hansel and Gretel, opens at the Playhouse on December 2.