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MALTESE THEATRE IN 2020: POSSIBLE SCENARIOS
Theatre Studies Programme
Mediterranean Institute
University of Malta

 
 

 

A conference/workshop was held on Saturday 22nd February 2003 from 9.30 to 4.30 pm at the Sala Isouard at the Manoel Theatre. It was organised by the Theatre Studies Programme (Mediterranean Institute) of the University of Malta

AIMS OF CONFERENCE

Dr. Vicki Ann Cremona, Academic Coordinator of the Programme, explained the aims of the conference. The establishment of the new Malta Council for Culture and the Arts marks a landmark in the history of Maltese culture. The previous landmark was that of publishing the policy for Culture. The  time is now right to explore new strategies to continue to develop policy. Foresight methodologies and tools have been developed through the foresight programmes in Japan, US, UK.  More recently, this methodological approach was first introduced to Malta within an EU context by the Malta Council for Science and Technology (MCST) in the field of ICT. It has provided an opportunity to be on the cutting edge of ‘hands-on’ policy development, especially with regard to the cultural sector and theatre in particular.

She stated that the newly formed Malta Council for Culture and the Arts had no real representative from the theatre in its central committee, and had not yet formulated its plans for the theatre. This was a golden opportunity for people from different areas of theatre to get together and formulate their visions and views.

The stated aims of the conference were as follows:

Ø  To encourage wider participation in the initial processes of policy making for culture. In this context, theatre will be used  as a key tool to promote a new cultural strategy.

Ø  Use scenario methods to explore possible futures for theatre in Malta – alternative pathways for theatre and its impact on and contribution to Maltese society

Ø  Provide guidelines to an action-oriented vision involving all potential contributors (in terms of alternative visions, ideas, resources, support….)

Ø  Develop recommendations to be incorporated into possible policies where culture figures as a main feature

 

OPENING PRESENTATION

The opening presentation was given by guest speaker, Mr. Pier Massa. It was entitled: The Strategy for the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts. The points tackled were the following:

¬  Opportunities and Challenges for Culture and the Arts in Malta

¬  The Process of Managing Strategic Change

¬  The Strategy for the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts

The working premise was that Culture and the Arts in Malta could benefit from a renewed level of investment by all social partners. In order to do this,  Malta needs to better engage its people in areas of culture and the arts,

¬  as a means of enabling self expression and

¬  generating employment in the arts

The present moment offers an opportunity  to leverage the concept of “Cultural Tourism”.

The main key challenges that have to be faced are the following:

¬  Maltese cultural economy is under performing

²  Attendance at cultural events is low

²  Creative artists find it difficult to make a living

²  Cultural organizations are often starved of funds

²  Insufficient management and marketing expertise

¬  Malta’s market size provides challenges in the promotion of the Arts

¬  A significant amount of funding is required to build capacity and develop the Arts

¬  The Scope of Culture is so broad that it is not easy to have a significant impact

Mr. Massa spoke of the vicious circle of mediocrity that characterized the field of the arts in Malta, and defined strategies to emerge from this. This involved creating and maintaining a change process through different means, which include developing a vision, empowering action and creating short-term wins. The council has agreed to provide the following vision:

A BOLD AND DARING expression

of Malta’s UNIQUE Cultural and Artistic IDENTITY

that ENGAGES SOCIETY and

IMPACTS FUTURE HISTORY

The mission it has set itself is to achieve new heights in creativity and accomplishment for Culture and the Arts in Malta in a manner that is enjoyable and accessible to all segments of society.

These aims will be achieved by endorsing quality, fuelling participation, developing markets and enabling commercial success, attracting investment.

The council aims to cater for the needs of artists and art organisations, the government, the public, and the cultural tourism and business sectors. Consequently, it has set itself the following objectives:

  1. Raise standards in cultural programmes across all art forms
  2. Create opportunities and generate exposure for young talented artists both locally and internationally
  3. Develop educational structures that encourage active participation and enhance creativity for all students of all ages
  4. Broaden and increase access to high quality arts and cultural events
  5. Develop sustainable relationships with business channels and organisations in the field of art and culture
  6. Build awareness and promote Maltese culture and arts locally, around the Mediterranean basin and internationally

Various Art Form Sub-committees will Work with the Council to Establish Policy and Direction: Folklore and Crafts, Literature and Poetry, Architecture and Cultural Heritage, Music, Visual Arts and Media, Performing Arts and Theatre. These will create linkages with  education, broadcasting and business.

Mr. Massa’s introduction was very useful in highlighting the Council’s general aims, and served as an excellent background to the work developed in the workshop.

 

THE FORESIGHT METHODOLOGY

Dr. Cremona then gave a presentation where she gave a brief outline of foresight methodology and the way it would be applied in the conference.

Foresight provides a set of tools for more rational approaches to long-term, strategic decision making. However, it is certainly not about predicting the future. One of the more effective tools for visualising or anticipating possible futures is the use of scenarios. Scenarios are ‘images of the future’, they represent a collective effort for defining alternative futures, not simply by focusing on the elements that can exist in the future, but by putting them into a context. This means that through scenarios what is presented is not a wish list of proposals, but sketches of alternative contexts. Scenario-building has various advantages. Since in foresight, we are using rational tools to imagine possible futures,  it allows us to mix possibilities with facts. It can then create a systematic framework  to lay all the different visions side by side and make connections between them. This work allows initial ideas to take up a new consistency and become possible directions. The creation of different scenarios allows for a comparative study which brings out the consistent and comprehensive qualities of the different scenarios, which are all based on the same structure of elements.

 This process allows for the sharing of ideas and knowledge.  It places more emphasis on wide participation, and the direct involvement of the end users in the vision-building process. Foresight does not try to project utopic visions, but rather to orient present-day decisions and actions within a long-term collective framework. However, it has to go beyond today’s culture to try and develop feasible and practical tools to advance towards a new vision attained through wide consensus. The purpose of scenario building is not to pinpoint future events but to highlight large-scale forces that push the future in different directions. Foresight is about making these forces visible.

There are many technical methods for creating scenarios, but Dr. Cremona chose to trace two main different approaches:

Vertical dimension: top-down scenarios

a)      start from the present and pose ‘ what if’ questions :

e.g. what if the public subsidies decrease considerably?

b) start from the future and ask ‘how’ questions:

e.g. What would it have taken to have reached a future where theatre participation is very intense and highly specialised?

Horizontal dimension: bottom-up scenarios

This was the approach adopted in the workshop. Scenarios are created by specialist forecasters, where experts in the field are the source of knowledge and their contribution is the basis of the framework used.  The reasons for this choice were the following:

a)      it allows the examination of alternative futures that provide alternative possibilities. This  will lead  to the identification of key points in the decision making process for policy.

b)      these scenarios can lead to identify priorities, to determine objectives and targets, to establish useful indicators of progress, and to define what can be taken as warning signs that will tell us that a scenario is beginning to unfold.

c)      It is important to stress that there is no ‘right’ scenario. No one is better than the other. The mapping of several possible scenarios allows us to examine approaches or situations that are not frequently thought of or envisaged.

One essential factor to keep in mind is that the future will not be any of the scenarios, but it will contain elements of all the scenarios. The implications of creating different  scenarios are that some of the decisions taken in one scenario  make sense across all of the futures envisaged. Therefore  better, more solid plans can be created. It also helps to detect early warning signs that show clearly that a scenario, in a positive or negative sense, is beginning to unfold.

Dr. Cremona outlined the day’s proceedings as follows:

a)   define 4 possible types of scenarios, each of which would be discussed in a specific working group.  The four scenarios ran as follows:

Business as Usual: the group was to create a scenario where current trends are pursued with no change in policy

Hard times: things get worse, but not catastrophic collapse

Onwards and Upwards: current trends are put into a better environment

Visionary/Paradigm shift: successful public participation in policy allows pursuit of visionary/alternative directions

Dr. Cremona also pointed out that when creating scenarios, attention has to be paid to ‘drivers’. These are factors that could be critical to influencing the course of events, promote one or other sort of developments, and lead to distinctive futures.

Some examples of drivers could be the following:

Ø  SOCIAL

Ø  TECHNOLOGICAL

Ø  ECONOMIC

Ø  ENVIRONMENTAL

Ø  POLITICAL

Ø  VALUES

However, each workshop could suggest other shaping factors.

Participants were asked to identify and describe the drivers, and see which are pertinent to the scenario being described and how they play a role in this scenario. They were also asked to  define what would be considered as ‘success’ in each particular area, and how the drivers can contribute to this. It was pointed out that some drivers are outside our control. After we have determined what we have no control over, we should be left with a number of uncertain and critical areas, which are key to the development of the performing arts in our scenario e.g. the population growth of a country is beyond our control, therefore it is a predetermined factor. However, attracting new types of population to our theatres is a critical and important factor in our scenarios. Tax deductions for private sponsors is another critical and uncertain factor which we can incorporate into a scenario.

The participants were then split up into four groups. Each group worked together for two workshops. A rapporteur was appointed from each group to report back to the plenary session.

In Workshop No. 1 the participants were asked to name and describe their scenario, and to think about the conditions that might bring this into being (drivers and shapers)

In Workshop Session No. 2 the first task was to provide more detail on the factors that would tend to lead to the group’s scenario, by choosing from a range of driving factors which help shape the scenario:

-          SOCIAL

-          TECHNOLOGICAL

-          ECONOMIC

-          ENVIRONMENTAL

-          POLITICAL

-          VALUES

In the last session every group was asked to present their scenarios, to identify the major drivers, and to prioritise the key elements for policy.

 

THE FOUR WORKING GROUPS

The participants were then divided into 4 working groups. Every working group concentrated on one scenario. These are the main points of the presentations of the different working groups

HARD TIMES

Title provided :

                        Black out

The workshop focused on the following points :

  1. No subsidies
  2. Number of companies lessens
  3. Recession in Economy
  4. Technology
  5. loss of interest
  6. Actors employed elsewhere
  7. education

Let us imagine a scenario where the economy regresses and therefore government subsidies are stopped, or there is a substantial reduction from the present Lm300.000. The Arts Council has been removed. Let us suppose that only one theatre; theatre in Malta is a monopoly. This could mean that there may be a large number of companies but no space to work in or show their productions, and fewer sponsors. The situation is even worse in Gozo.   The general public has lost interest in the theatre. People are more attracted by events using technology. They prefer going to the cinema or watching films at home rather than go to the theatre.  Amateur theatre has no chance when faced by these advances.  Education is too focused on technology, art and music to bother about theatre.

Since the educational system is only interested in facts, no theatre education is given.

However, a bleak scenario can also produce positive effects because when things are really bad, arts develop through rebellion. Theatre goes beyond subsidies.  So since it would be impossible to subsidise a huge number of companies, the small group of professionals that would remain would receive added subsidy. The little theatre that would survive would be more focused and therefore more professional. Actors would be too busy working for television and other media to find time for the theatre. The reduced amount of theatre houses would imply greater professionalism. This professionalism can raise interest in theatre through tourism. The greater use of technology may on the one hand, diminish interest in the theatre, or it may increase it, due to the fact that people might become more interested in the human aspect offered by theatre, as opposed to the technological aspect.

 

BUSINESS AS USUAL

The results of this working group were divided into two:

Title provided:     

a)     Look back in anger

1.                        Educational impact

2.                        National Theatre?

3.                        Administrative Homework

4.                        Transparency: information/disinformation

5.                        Quality/Standards/Criteria
 

b)              Waiting for Godot

 

1.                        EU – in or out?

2.                        Science developments

3.                        Censorship

4.                        Economic factors.

 

LOOK BACK IN ANGER

Let us imagine a scenario where there are no changes in educational policy. Theatre is not included in the school curriculum. There are very few opportunities for drama teachers to find jobs. Any development in theatre is commercially driven and there is nobody to guarantee quality. The number of private drama schools is growing, but nobody local is thinking about quality on this level either. This has to be guaranteed by foreign bodies delivering foreign certification. Funds from the state and other sources decrease, so people have no space to work even if they want to. Any theatre space to work in has been the result of individual initiatives. This has resulted in lack of professionalism.

In 2020 still no decision has been taken with regard to the National Theatre. Discussion continues. All agree that National theatre should provide a benchmark for quality. All think that it should lead the way as to what to aim for, and what to promote abroad. However, financial aid is lacking. Theatre companies do not take cultural management seriously, and do not possess enough skills to obtain and manage funds and to use or adapt modern technologies. There is nobody on the administrative side who is interested in doing their homework in order to see how ‘business’ can truly be generated from theatre and what this requires in professional terms. Also, nobody is thinking of what resources, besides financial ones, are required.

Very partial information is provided in the national statistics with regard to theatre, and the sources of this information are not revealed. The way the facts and figures are procured is not stated. Therefore there is no way to verify the bleak image that they project. The statistics seem to indicate that the general public is rather indifferent to theatre, which would justify government’s hesitation to invest in this sector. However, since these figures cannot be verified in any way, and nobody knows exactly what they apply to, they generate self doubt, which in turn produces neglect. Could this be a self-fulfilling prophecy on the part of the authorities to avoid tackling the issues and needs in theatre?

Standards and guidelines remain as they are. Training, finance and space for rehearsals and work are all lacking. Consequently,  there is no improvement in quality.

WAITING FOR GODOT

If we are part of the EU, there would be more diversified communication with other countries such as Cyprus, and not simply with the UK. Also this would allow for more exposure. Funds may be obtained from the EU through initiatives such as Culture 2000. If we are out of the EU, possibilities will diminish. The current trend, of watching rather than doing theatre may persist.

The lack of know-how has to be addressed. Therefore secretariats which could help to tap funds, organise activities and training, theatre exchanges etc. need to be set up with professional people, well versed in the arts, manning them.  A cultural management course at university level should be set up.

Presently, there is a huge divide between science and the arts, and scientific innovation and technology is not reflected in the theatre. More interaction between, science, the arts and the business fields must be encouraged.

Hidden censorship must be abolished. Standards that apply to cinema or advertisements are much stricter with regard to the theatre. In fact, posters that are allowed for intimate lingerie, are not allowed for a theatrical production.  The censorship of language and ideas with regard to the theatre must also stop, especially with regard to religion and politics.  (e.g. The problem of nudity, or  the episode of the cross thrown across the stage in the Duchess of Malfi which was censored, when so many more blatant acts on TV or cinema are not). It must be taken into account that values take time to change, and Maltese generally expect somebody to guide them in this.

With regard to the economic factors, there are many competing services. Although higher wages mean more spending power, this does not automatically mean increased audiences at the theatre. If theatre remains as it is, while other entertainments improve through better technology,  marketing etc. theatre audiences will continue to dwindle. In order to bring in more audiences, there has to be more education and awareness of the arts. The tourist industry has not been exploited enough. In fact, the versatility of theatre needs to be examined more closely in this respect and entrepreneurial initiatives such as theatre on the beach or promenades should be envisaged. We should make the most of ready-made resources by taking theatre to the people.

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS

Title provided:

                 UVA – Unification, Validation and Awareness

In this scenario, both government and the private sector are providing more funds for theatre.  Theatre is part of the school curriculum from kindergarten to senior school. Education is received also through university full time and part time courses, drama schools, and MCAST.. More specialised theatre courses for particular professions such as : lighting, scenography, writing, directing are also offered. Although each institution  retains its own profile, inter-institution courses with a common curriculum and standards exist whereby for example, students obtain theory from university, lighting courses from MCAST, training from drama school etc.

This scenario supposes two parallel structures feeding off each other, one funded by private investment and the other by government. In no way is private funding to substitute government obligations.  The two structures can be seen as two concentric circles. The outer concentric circle generates awareness of the theatre through education, which apart from the existing situation described above, is also received through other initiatives where individuals and groups can experiment and win recognition. Among these are :

-          a better use of available space which would be put at the service of groups to train, rehearse and stage small productions. Existing spaces, such as parish halls, the former school of Arts etc. are refurbished and used for these purposes

-          cooperation with parishes and local councils who  provide spaces and opportunities for up and coming groups to expose themselves to a public

-          festivals, where different types of theatre companies and productions can show their performances at different levels (amateur, semi-professional, professional…of the type found in festivals such as Edinburgh.)

-          outreach programmes, where theatre is taken to different types of audiences in varying settings.

The awareness of  theatre and education in theatre received through these means will help validate theatre. This process of validation is further enhanced by the formation of theatre guilds dealing with various aspects of theatre, and creating a better representation of theatre needs and possibilities. Guilds would also provide social and professional guarantees, such as the establishment of professional rates etc.  Although it is difficult to imagine full-time professional actors, standards will be aimed for and officially recognised. This validation should lead to unification, where actors and companies work more closely together through shared goals and attract private enterprise funding, which can therefore raise more awareness.

The inner concentric circle consists of a national theatre structure that is government funded. This is not a company, it is a flexible structure, that selects among the initiatives that are proposed in the outer circle and places them in a professional environment. This organisation is the means for a Maltese plural theatrical identity to express itself and be promoted.  It will embody democratic principles in the theatre, and create the base for all national theatre programmes .This structure, through a transparent policy,  finances projects it has selected which have been proposed by people who have already  acquired theatre experience and exposure in the initiatives generated in the outer circle. The national theatre structure then provides technical aid, development and promotion.

 

VISIONARY

Title provided:

                      All Malta is a Stage

1.                        participation: everyone on the island is a stakeholder from birth –

2.                        TV access

3.                        interaction abroad via the media

4.                        investment

Year 2020: all Malta is a global theatre village. All the inhabitants are part of a theatre set-up 24 hours a day.  The ongoing performance that is being constantly generated is also open to participants from all over the world. Multiple performances are happening at the same time in Malta and in other parts of the world, and interaction between these performances is guaranteed through technology. This medium allows people from all over the world to participate in the local performance via internet etc..  It is accessible to all religions, cultures and races, including extra-terrestrials. This intercultural awareness has eliminated all limits and censorship, because theatre is used to expose all facets of life, and all the participants are working towards a common goal. . Malta becomes a springboard for people involved in theatre. 

Stage Malta has generated 100% employment. The concept is so successful that it autofinances itself and is sold to other countries. It receives global sponsorship, and the contribution of Arts Councils worldwide. It is also subsidised by the tourist industry.  Everyone involved owns shares, Stage Malta is therefore run on the principle of equity. Different schemes are set up for audience payment.  VAT has become theatre tax.

Since Malta has become a global centre its foreign policy is global centric. The government spreads populist ideas. Stage Malta has become a political and cultural statement in itself, and is a confidence building measure.

 

POINTS DEFINED AS NECESSARY

FOR POLICY CONSIDERATION

STAGE 3: COMPARATIVE STUDY OF SCENARIOS AND THE IDENTIFICATION OF POINTS FOR POLICY CONSIDERATION

Various points were brought out from the different scenarios and then placed in an order of importance through the participants’ vote. The list given is in descending order of importance, according to the number of votes obtained per entry:

1.               Theatre in schools: focus on creativity

2.               Concept of national theatre

3.               Political and policy change

4.               Human aspect – interculturalism and inclusivity

5.               Sharing space, finance and training

6.               New ways of support e.g. guilds

7.               Cultural management course

8.               Transparency in statistical data

9.               Subsidies for expertise

10.           Censorship

11.           Bringing science technology and the arts closer through experimentation

12.           Collaboration, networking, working together

13.           Private funding should not substitute government funding

14.           Well-defined roles and flexible administration

15.           New approaches to theatre skills when technology-integrated

16.           Rebellion vs. status quo

17.           Benchmarking of standards

18.           Transparency of aids and grants

19.           Clear policy-making identity

http://www.eforesee.info/malta/theatre2020.shtml

(website link no longer available:  2014 - see pdf copy)

 

 

 

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