Mike Wolfe: Time to stage battle against cash cuts at 'beacon of hope'
Back in the late 1970s I watched a brilliant production of Brecht's play Mother Courage at the Victoria Theatre in Hartshill.
In those days the Vic wasn't in the new premises it enjoys today, but was in a tatty corner warehouse with no creature comforts at all.
Cars were parked all over the streets and interval drinks came from a trestle table in a corner.
Despite the lack of front of house facilities, the drama was brilliant.
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The Vic was proud to be the UK's first theatre in the round and its charismatic founder, the late Peter Cheeseman was begging and borrowing whatever he could to give the area internationally recognised artistic innovation and excellence.
Mother Courage is a slow moving play that charts the path of its heroine through Germany as its parochially minded city states fought each other in The 30 Years War.
Mother's progress is wearying and frustrating. Small victories are followed by inevitable tragedies.
The play is a kind of parable of life but can be compared to the history of the New Vic.
Peter Cheeseman and the directors who have followed him are like Mother Courage, leading their characterful band of performers through the war zone that is the North Staffs artistic scene.
They have achieved much admiration outside the area but are almost unrecognised locally.
They have made notable achievements such as the building of the current auditorium with its unique combination of theatre and ecology and their recent extension into new space to accommodate work with schools and young people.
Sadly, just like in the play, there have also been problems along the way.
Inverted snobs on the Stoke side of the local government border have never understood the Vic, describing it as a middle class plaything of the borough of Newcastle. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It is carefully sited at the meeting of the two local warring city states and it attracts audiences and supports young people from both.
This week our courageous band of talented thespians have entered a new battle as the city council proposes to cut the subsidy that it gives to the theatre.
Shockingly, following a 10 per cent cut last year, it is now proposed that the city council's funding of £70,000 will be cut by about £23,000 in each of the next three financial years – meaning funding will be scrapped altogether by 2016/17.
I describe this cut as shocking because it is likely to cost more than it saves and also because it contradicts some of the council's other important strategic aims.
When I first read the news I was surprised that the Vic got as little as £70,000 each year.
This seems a derisively small contribution for an institution that has done so much to get us on the national arts map (read the Guardian weekly arts listings and only the Vic represents North Staffordshire).
The Vic is a beacon of hope in a sea of despair.
Funding from the region's councils helps the theatre host about 28,000 youngsters every year at educational and community workshops.
These are times when our young people can be encouraged to think creatively about themselves and the type of future they want.
This cut is also short sighted because it puts at risk Arts Council funding of almost a million pounds.
Such Government funding has been cut nationally in the past year but continues for the New Vic because of its work with youngsters and the fact that it receives local authority backing.
I watched Mother Courage more than 30 years ago and it was one of a number of performances that persuaded me to move to North Staffordshire.
I came to the city because I wanted the kind of cultural offer that the New Vic provides.
The city council claims that it wants to attract people to move here to live, work and invest.
By cutting the tiny subsidy they give to this artistic beacon they are doing the opposite.