ACE National Portfolio
At the end of March, Arts Council England announced their new National Portfolio programme to fund 695 organisations on a three-year basis starting from April 2012. This new portfolio replaced the old programme of Regularly Funded Organisations and represented an overall 15% cut in provision.
Casting an eye over the portfolio, puppetry is under-represented as an artform, and where it has been funded it's often in the context of outdoor performance. Nonetheless, Oily Cart – not a pure puppet company, but one who have incorporated object theatre within their work for under fives and young people with learning difficulties – have retained their former RFO funding with a small adjustment, as have Horse + Bamboo, who continue to divide their time between their professional company and the management of their own space, The Boo, in Rossendale. Also transferring successfully from RFO status, Theatre-Rites, another long-standing company using puppetry in their work for young people, had a 12% increase; Whalley Range All Stars, the street theatre company behind the giant pig (of Pig), the giant compost heap (of Compost Mentis) and the giant, anxious shed-head (of Brain Wave), got a 32% bump; and Faceless Outdoor Performance and Community Arts, who work often with mask, got a 192.4% increase (which sounds more than it is perhaps, only bringing them to £61,440 in 2012). Spark Children's Arts Festival, which last year programmed a good amount of puppetry, saw an 18% increase.
New on the books are Blind Summit, one of the most vigorous and active companies making adult puppetry work, lauded both for their high profile collaborations (A Dog's Heart and Shun-kin with Complicite; Madam Butterfly with the ENO) and their own highly successful work (1984, Low Life), who have been awarded approx. £75,000 p/a. Brighton-based company dreamthinkspeak, somewhere on the edgelands of object theatre, get approx. £157,500 p/a, while Imagineer Productions, working on the huge-scale Godiva Awakes project, get approx. £100,000 p/a.
While it's hard to know the full story – the whys and the buts – the former RFO companies not included in the new portfolio were some of the country's longest-established: Faulty Optic, who've been making some of the best work in adult puppetry since 1987; puppetry and mixed media stalwarts Forkbeard Fantasy; Foursight Theatre Company, who've been making multidisciplinary work for over twenty years; and Trestle Theatre Company, who in recent years have moved away from their original focus, but who through the 80s and 90s were known for their work with mask.