LETTER: Playwrights' capital work

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From Mr Jonathan Meth

Sir: David Lister asks ("Lottery cash may fund new plays", 5 December) why shouldn't playwrights be left to the dictates of the marketplace? The system of state arts investment (I refuse to call it subsidy) in this country operates to provide resources to buildings and companies as the providers of the arts to the nation.

Practitioners, technicians and administrators employed by these buildings and companies are paid a salary, albeit not a very high one. Without a playwright, there can be no new work in theatre. Playwrights, however, are not part of the structural economic fabric of these organisations. They are brought in as hired hands, as and when others decide.

Good plays take time to evolve. They require development. They can and should take between six and 12 months to write. With very few exceptions at the uppermost echelon, playwrights are paid between pounds 3,000 and pounds 6,000 for a play.

It is widely acknowledged that Britain is fortunate enough to lead the world in this field. But on a freelance basis, without more opportunities to earn money, playwrights will inevitably move towards other media to make a living. This is the law of the marketplace, and it is why National Lottery funds to resource playwrights in the creation of capital assets, far from being elitist, is imperative if theatre is to thrive.

As the tabloids have clearly demonstrated, the lottery promulgates the myth that arts are an additional luxury, instead of vital to the health and wealth of our nation. Where does the real elitism lie - with playwrights earning a living wage for their work, or a windfall that allows the Government to continue to marginalise the arts via Budget cutbacks?

Yours faithfully,

Jonathan Meth

New Playwrights Trust

London, NW5