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PRESS RELEASE NOVEMBER 2014
The future of Dogstar was said to be “hanging by a thread” on Tuesday night (November 11th) following a board meeting of the company at which the refusal of arts agency Creative Scotland to support Dogstar with 3-year regular funding was discussed.
Dogstar is well known in the Highlands and Islands as one of the few organisations which produces and tours professional theatre in the area. The company is also known internationally and one of the few Scottish Theatre companies which works with a range of European and International co-producers, promoters and Arts Organisations. Their award winning play “The Tailor of Inverness” has been seen by over ten thousand people in Scotland and has toured to Scandinavia, America, Eastern Europe, Ireland, Wales and Australia, playing to 14,000 people. More recently Dogstar’s “Factor 9”, a hard hitting contemporary piece of theatre addressing the scandal of infected blood products during and following the AIDS epidemic, opened at this year’s European Capital of Culture in Umea, Sweden, then toured in Denmark, Wales and throughout Scotland to rave reviews, playing to large audiences during the Edinburgh festival and will shortly be performed in the Scottish Parliament.
Dogstar director Hamish MacDonald said “Dogstar has been successfully creating, producing and touring theatre in this country and abroad for fifteen years. As of today, we have offers to stage “The Tailor of Inverness” for three weeks in April 2015 in New York as part of the “Brits Off Broadway” theatre festival; are in discussion with Mungo Park Arts Centre in Denmark for a joint production of a new play on the life of Scottish explorer Mungo Park, which would tour Scotland, Scandinavia, Germany & Ireland during 2015; are developing a stage adaptation of James Robertson’s modern Scottish classic ‘The Testament of Gideon Mack’ with Eden Court Theatre, Inverness; have a provisional agreement to commission a new play by the outstanding Scottish writer Jackie Kay; have a provisional agreement to create a new co-production on the global environmental crisis with Profilteatern of Sweden; and are exploring the potential of staging our new play Factor 9 in the United States”.
“Dogstar has been developing and touring work of this quality for many years and this is the third time an application for more assured regular funding from Creative Scotland, has been refused”. Said Mr MacDonald, “without a more sustainable financial basis for the company, it is difficult to see how we can continue”. This year alone, Dogstar has been refused funding for individual projects twice in addition to the major blow of the company’s Regular Funding application being rejected. A fourth application for support for the company’s Edinburgh Fringe run of ‘Factor 9” was also refused and this was only realised through the financial donations of 180 individuals and four Haemophilia Charities.
Expressions of support and concern for the company’s plight have been received from a wide range of Scottish, UK and international promoters, Arts Centres and associated Artists. Terry Hands, Artistic Director of Wales’s biggest producing theatre, Clwyd Theatr Cymru, and a former Artistic Director of the Royal Shakepeare Company said of Dogstar in his message of support to the company ‘Companies like Dogstar are few and far between and should be treasured. I wish they were Welsh”’.
A representative of the company’s board of directors said “After years of demonstrating our ability to create, produce and tour high quality contemporary theatre to international audiences, as well as those across Scotland, it is difficult to understand what exactly Creative Scotland are looking for; if Dogstar do not exemplify a successful company with exciting future plans and the ability to showcase Scottish theatre around the world, who does?”
On receiving our assessment from Creative Scotland outlining reasons for the rejection of our Regular Funding application, we were astonished in the first instance, in view of the importance of this decision, that it was largely assessed by only one individual with ‘Assessor Knowledge’, supported by only a brief section giving ‘Second officer comment.’ We were greatly surprised that the examples given of qualitative assessment were selected from 3 productions in a period between 2007-2010, when in fact since the period 2010-14, Dogstar Theatre Company has undertaken 4 national tours and 2 Eastern European tours supported by Creative Scotland, in addition to 4 unsubsidised international tours in Scandinavia and Ireland, a residency in America, attendance at several other international theatre festivals supported by the British Council and a collaboration with Leev Theatre Company in Iran. To give some example of the company’s prodigious development and output - as clearly outlined in our application’s supporting business plan - in an 18 month period from February 2013-August 2014, the company carried out 130 performances with a generated revenue of £304,000. And yet this clearly demonstrated example of commitment and management capability – an outstanding achievement for a company with no core support – appears to instil very little trust in Creative Scotland with a view to Dogstar Theatre Company’s ability to develop and sustain its operation on a more regularly funded basis. We are greatly struck as to how at variance Creative Scotland’s assessment of our track record and future plans stands against what promoters, artists, industry professionals and many ordinary audience members both in Scotland and internationally, are communicating to us. On reading through the assessment, while it does acknowledge our established international partners and history of touring theatre in Scotland and abroad, one would be forgiven for assuming that the report is written in relation to at best an average or even failing company. Worryingly, it does not inspire belief that Dogstar Theatre Company, despite its recent history of achievement, commitment, belief and financial sacrifice, has much of a future, even as a project funded company in Scotland.
Dogstar Artistic Directors Matthew Zajac and Hamish MacDonald have a meeting with Creative Scotland on 19 November to discuss the agency’s repeated refusal to support the company through more regular funding. “While we understand that Creative Scotland have a limited budget and cannot meet every need for financial support”, said Hamish MacDonald, “We don’t see what more we can do, and offer for the future, to receive the regular support we need. Unfortunately it looks likely that this will be the end of the road for Dogstar, unless some kind of lifeline can be agreed”.
Statements in support of Dogstar
“It is hugely disappointing and frustrating that Creative Scotland should, yet again, fail to provide one of Scotland’s most dynamic independent theatre companies with a regular funding package to give it the sustainable future it needs and deserves. The reason given – that Dogstar ‘did not provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate’ that it ‘met the ambition for Accessing and Enjoying Creative Experiences overall’ – is hard to accept, given the company’s proven track record of commissioning, creating and producing new plays and performing them to both critical and popular acclaim throughout Scotland and indeed internationally. The decision is all the more incomprehensible given the range of themes that Dogstar has addressed and the quality of the company’s productions on the basis of what has been, effectively, a shoestring budget and a massive amount of unpaid work.
A further question arises in the light of Creative Scotland’s continued and substantial support for performance venues in Scotland from Aberdeen to Ayr and from Greenock to Edinburgh. If touring companies like Dogstar cease to exist, who will be left to bring challenging, high-quality new work to these venues?”
James Robertson, Writer
“I was introduced to the work of Dogstar Theatre Company in 2013, when The Tailor of Inverness was presented at Clwyd Theatr Cymru’s first Celtic Festival. The company was also included in this year’s Celtic Festival with its new production Factor 9. Both of these productions were of an exceptional standard, in performance, design and direction. I was impressed by the commitment, passion and energy of the company and its dedication in telling stories which deal with vital issues in a highly theatrical style, unafraid to expose the rawest of emotions, to focus on the experience of the individual set against the sweep of historical and economic forces. Companies like Dogstar are few and far between and should be treasured. I wish they were Welsh. We will certainly continue to offer Dogstar our support at Clwyd Theatr Cymru.”
Terry Hands, Artistic Director Clwyd Theatr Cymru
“I am absolutely shocked by this news. When I toured last year in The Baroness, to some of the most remote places of Scotland N S E & W of the country I was thrilled by the response of all the audiences. We did it in church halls, tiny arts centres, and people would travel miles to see our show, as I'm sure they do for all your shows. Their comments afterwards and their enthusiasm was fantastic. I came back to England after the tour and told everyone down here how the arts in Scotland is so much more about the work, the real work and not about bloody west end musicals. Those people far away from the bright lights of cities, who pay their taxes just like the city folk, will now be deprived of your brilliant company. A company I was so proud to be part of.”
Roberta Taylor, Actress & Author
“I have witnessed at first hand the passion, dedication and above all connectedness with its audience that Dogstar has achieved over the years, with my experience directing two major shows for the company, The Tailor of Inverness (which has played over 200 times and across three continents) and Factor 9. Matthew and Hamish work incredibly hard and subsidise the work of the company with energy and goodwill. However clearly this is unsustainable. For a company with this global reach and rootedness in the Scottish community it seems extraordinary that no investment was made in its core, especially with its successful leveraging of very large sums of co-investment from Scandinavia. At the very least I hope some stabilisation funding will be made available otherwise we are in great danger of losing a very real and very valuable Scottish treasure.” Ben Harrison, Co-Artistic Director, Grid Iron
“Dogstar have proven to be clear leaders in highlighting an issue for those of us in a highly disadvantaged position. We have often found that otherwise, we have little or no voice. Dogstar’s professionalism, sensitive interpretation and exhaustive research in their production Factor 9 has proven to be an inspiring catalyst for all of us infected with hepatitis C and/or HIV through NHS blood products. Vulnerable groups like ours need Dogstar to draw wider attention and understanding toward our plight.” Bill Wright, Chairman Haemophilia Scotland
Profilteatern first came in contact with Dogstar Theatre in 2004. Since then we have had regular meetings, worked together in different ways and we have had the opportunity to see their shows played here in Sweden as well as in Edinburgh. At close range we have experienced the discipline and diligence, the professionalism and the creativity of Dogstar Theatre. We at Profilteatern have always found our collaborations rewarding and we have always been impressed by the quality produced and the level of commitment in the making of the art.
We are, to say the least, surprised by the way cultural politics and funding works in a region that in many ways resembles ours - the northern periphery. One imagines that the necessity of presenting high quality art in the region is obvious. Considering previous successes and the impact of their shows we are eager to see what Dogstar Theatre could offer working under more positive circumstances. We would expect Creative Scotland to be the same.
Profilteatern - touring company in the north of Sweden
I am so very sorry to hear this depressing news. The Tailor of Inverness and Factor 9 are some of the best things I've seen in theatre.
Gerda Stevenson, Actor, Writer, Musician & Producer
I am very sorry to hear this news. Clearly these will be worrying times for the company and those who have followed its progress.
Patricia Ferguson MSP, Labour Culture Spokeswoman
We protest! Dogstar are brilliant. We have enjoyed every performance they have ever done. Everything about their performances is of a high stand, the writing, the sets, the acting, the costumes etc etc. we should treasure them! Lily Byron, Former Promoter, Rosehall Sutherland
Dogstar has frequently demonstrated that Scottish theatre can be informative and politicized while still being engaging and highly emotional. As a society we need Dogstar to continue putting on plays which give voice to the voiceless and challenge us all to think differently. I believe that with a more secure financial foundation Dogstar would take even more risks and produce even more important work. It is rare national asset to have a theatre company prepared to make the emotional, physical and financial investment needed to put on a play like Factor 9. The importance of the work to those affected by the contaminated blood disaster all around the world is hard to overstate. Dan Farthing-Sykes, Haemophilia Scotland
I am desperately sad to hear that, once again, Dogstar have not received core funding from Creative Scotland. I cannot understand how a theatre company that have been such a positive creative force in the Highlands and across Scotland and who have promoted Scottish creativity across the world so very effectively can be forced into this situation.
For many years I have been so hugely impressed with the power and emotional impact of the work that Dogstar have created. There has always been tremendous benefit and added value gained by inviting Dogstar into my schools to work with my students and to perform your outstanding shows. Whether watching Hamish work with my students at Culloden Academy in the process of writing new and interesting theatre for them to perform, or seeing the effect of The Baroness on my students here at Gordonstoun as they realised just how much could be achieved by a touring company and a small cast.
Your work is always a treat to watch. I remember a colleague of mine saying that I had to see The Tailor of Inverness, her words were, “It’s literally the best piece of theatre I’ve ever seen!” As well as being enthralling and entertaining, as well as being intense and powerful, as well as always being exceptionally directed and acted, every Dogstar production I have been fortunate enough to see has effected me on a powerful emotional level.
Carl Sagan said: “If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth.” Your productions remind us not to allow ourselves to become bamboozled, they urge us to search for truths. Thought provoking and always beautifully written, the work always stays in the mind for a long time after the productions are over. Through the process of discussion, review and writing that my students all undertake, I’m very aware of the positive effect of your work on young people in terms of them questioning and exploring issues and themes. This is a profoundly useful and important role that Dogstar play in our culture and in our society (from the Highlands, into the rest of Scotland and internationally), it is one that you should both be supported in, praised for and asked to continue with for as long as you possibly ever can.
Jack Hoskins, Director of Drama, Gordonstoun.
I am gobsmacked at the prospect of Dogstar Theatre Company 'winding up'. The news is a total shock and has left me lost for words. I do not understand how anyone who has seen your work could fail to rate it highly and encourage you to continue. I sincerely hope your meeting with Creative Scotland next week goes well and ends positively and that we see you back at Lyth in the not too distant future. Jane Bing Bremner, Programmer Lyth Arts Centre
I am sorry to hear about your difficulties with funding. Please keep me posted and I will give you whatever support I can. Mike Mackenzie MSP
I find this to be an absolute disgrace on Creative Scotland's part. When we toured the Highlands & Islands last year, people at every venue talked with massive fondness and excitement about Dogstar - such is the reputation you have built up with audiences.
As a company getting started, we look to you at Dogstar for inspiration of how to make this work, and to see you not properly supported this far down the road, when you're so successful (!) is heartily depressing. Indeed there is not one company out there who can boast your body of high-quality work, and who makes the effort consistently to take said work to remote places.
Why should talented, brilliant artists like you guys have to re-apply for your jobs with every project application? I hope enough people keep reminding you of the huge value in the work you've been creating and touring all these years.
I very much hope the company is somehow given what it needs to keep going, not least proper salaries for you, the people running it day to day. It would be a tragic loss not just for Scottish theatre, but for world theatre, if Dogstar no longer existed. Elspeth Turner, Actor & Writer, stoirm-og.com
Makes no sense to lose another proven successful company Keith Fleming, Actor
I am so gutted to hear about the funding decision for Dogstar. It doesn't make any sense to me. You and Hamish have worked so long and so hard for the company, but it seems that none of that has any bearing when there's a 'Jobsworth' ready with his red pen to draw a line through years of touring, building a reputation and staging some exceptional shows. Annie Grace, Musician and Actor
We must not lose Dogstar. Gary Morgan
If ever a company deserved the support of 'Creative Scotland' then surely Dogstar is that company! Andrew Wilson, Lighting Designer
Too many important theatre groups lose their funding and yet provide such education, inspiration and entertainment. Leah McGilp
I'd like to add my support for Dogstar. A very necessary Scottish company that is present, tuned in and relevant both home and internationally. A necessary company that would be tragic to lose from a scene that needs more risk-taker, out-of-the-box thinker, committed artists. Not less.
Itxaso Moreno, Actor
As Project Administrator contracted for Dogstar's inaugural tour of The Tailor of Inverness, I witnessed the immense dedication of Matthew Zajac and his company to producing and touring a play that has delighted and moved thousands of people across the world. That Dogstar's plays, most recently Hamish MacDonald 's incredibly powerful Factor 9, can attract directors of the innovative calibre of Ben Harrison says so much. It was a privilege to work on Tailor, and I learned a great deal about touring theatre in this role, which helped me develop personally as well as professionally. Opportunities like this come up rarely in the Highlands. If Dogstar's bright light is extinguished at a point where the company seems to be gathering momentum both at home and internationally, it will be a huge loss for touring theatre and audiences in Scotland, as well as those eager to work in this field. More feedback from Creative Scotland on its decision-making process is essential. Angela Cran
It would be a disaster to lose Dogstar. Peter Stott
Don’t know what more you guys have to do to get support you deserve from Creative Scotland. Where is the commitment to Highland Theatre – in terms of geographical spread and the theatre output in the area I think support to Highland theatre is disproportionally low…Scottish (not just Highland) theatre will be the poorer if there is no Dogstar Nick Fearne, Former Arts Officer & Writer
I can’t express how horrified that such a hard working touring company has found itself scrapping for funds… Please be assured that your work this year on Factor 9, over the 40 plus shows, has provided focus for Haemophilia’s beleaguered viral survivors, and the families of the living, and the dead. To see so many victims come out of the woodwork and talk openly, some for the first time, about their experiences as a result of NHS treatment acquired Hepatitis C and HIV, AID’s, was an experience I will value to my last breath. To have the focus as a result of such a fine piece of art, as Factor 9, should not have surprised me as you produced the quality synonymous with, Dogstar. I hope we can find another way. Bruce Norval, Campaigner
We’ve had great responses to Dogstar productions that have been staged at the Eastgate over the last few years; and would certainly love to see some of the work proposed in your application. Caroline Adam, Eastgate Theatre Peebles
Dogstar Theatre has been a valuable source of income and experience not just for myself but for many traditional musicians over the years. It would be tragic if such an internationally renowned Scottish company, originators of work such as The Tailor of Inverness and Factor 9, should be allowed to collapse, particularly when they still have so much to offer and are still in such demand at home and abroad to audiences both old and new.Gavin Marwick, musician