Comar Crisis

From Doug Scott, the Three Peaks, coming soon to An TobarAlasdair McCrone doesn’t need additional testimony from me as to his achievements as Mull Theatre’s director over the past twenty years. We’ve worked together on a good many projects over the years, and it is obvious to me that his centrality to the community his theatre company serves is a human model for the role that theatre of artistic integrity, proven popularity and personal warmth can play in its community. Working at Mull Theatre always felt like home from home for me, and the company has expanded its role as a touring and producing contributor to the Scottish Theatre scene out of proportion to its size. So when I first heard about the extraordinarily short sighted and intellectually and morally truncated priorities the current board were seeking to exercise in their “consolidation” of the theatre company with the visual arts work of An Tobar and the traditional music scene (not a bad or silly thing in itself), I was horrified.

Now things have come to the point where a management structure “let go” the individuals who created the very success on which their own jobs and prestige as board members is founded. It’s like Franz Kafka meeting Compton MacKenzie, a black farce of culture-less managerial instrumental-ism meeting parochial narrow-mindedness and incompetence.

I understand that “Comar” has fewer resources than they would like to have at their disposal. But to end up with a situation where “support staff” on salary support no artists and no shows is farcical.

To think this is a situation unique to Mull Theatre would be wrong. A combination of old style “great and the good” board structures and modern “instrumental” management structures is creating a parallel situation right across theatre in Scotland, where swelling staffs seem to be employed largely to fill in the reports needed to justify their own salaries combine with process obsessed, partly because lottery funded funders perform identical self justificatory bureaucratic acrobatics in a hall of mirrors that progressively excludes audiences and artists from their self sustaining, self reflecting loop.

And don’t think all this managerial process really involves creating a good deal for the payer of taxes or the buyer of lottery tickets. The Scottish Government can be rightly proud of maintaining a level of arts funding in Scotland both nationally and through local government that I can personally testify is looked upon with envy in provincial England. As Equity have pointed out in the case of Mull Theatre’s current crisis, the amount of funding is secondary as a question to the priorities chosen in spending what you have.

I endorse their call on the board to step down for what that’s worth. But I would also call on the Scottish Government to look again at the delivery of art to audiences, going right back to the basics of getting good people employed to good work for as geographically and socially widespread an audience as we can. Because on the basis of those kind of human priorities, what has just happened to Alasdair McCrone and to Gordon MacLean is unthinkable.

Comments (9)

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  1. Jean Urquhart says:

    Good article and I agree with its sentiments. Mull Theatre without Alasdair McCrone is like Scotland without Independence.

  2. Shehanne Moore says:

    Two words. SPOT ON.

  3. George Gunn says:

    What has happened to Alasdair McCrone and his colleague Gordon MacLean is as stupid as it is short sighted. Mull Theatre is a vital part of the theatre matrix in Scotland and absolutely crucial to the life-blood of Highland theatre making. The un-necessary death of Grey Coast was one thing, (even if the ghost sometimes haunts the strath of the stage) but this is in a different flabbergastery league.

    1. Peter Arnott says:

      Generous of you to say so, George. The loss of Grey Coast was a crime. As were the losses of the touring circuits for which Mull Theatre were almost the only survivors. Root and branch we need to tear up theatre provision in this country and start again. It’s about supporting the audience by supporting the artist. All the rest is bullshit.

  4. Digger Mancoozy says:

    When you talk about “enviable” arts funding here, this doesn’t describe the pathetic film fund the SNP presides over.

    1. Anton says:

      Digger: Though not strictly relevant to the original post, do you by any chance know what happened to the £35 million MacKendrick Film Fund, launched in 2012 with great fanfare in order to support Scottish film production?

  5. Mark McConville says:

    Another perspective on this is that the Comar board (who according to the accounts appear to be unpaid volunteers with a legal obligation to not overspend) need to significantly cut spending in order to avoid going bankrupt. So they have decided to cut the wage bill by slashing salaried middle management (which is what creative directors essentially are). Do they really have any other realistic option? The accounts look pretty grim.

    1. Peter Arnott says:

      If by “middle management” you mean the people who created the theatre company and its audience…you might be on to something…but I doubt it.

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