Saturday 8th June 2019
The headline did it for me. “ARTISTIC DIRECTOR DAVID LEDDY ENDS HIS THEATRE CAREER.”
Surely, say it is not so, I thought…And yet, who can blame him?
I, theatrically, grew up in an age of Wildcat, 7:84 Theatre Company, Borderline and the continuation of cash that was the annual Scottish Arts Council panic. It was not the best of times until the rest of times got in the way. It was the early 1990’s and things were patterned. Along with TAG and the Lyceum, and the Citz and the Traverse and a few other things besides, life was a simplistic round of if you were “in” you were in.
It was a time of rumours and upset, of resentment and jealousy, of admiration and hard work, as people believed in a Scottish acting mafia who got all the good BBC Comedy gigs and dominated in panto and theatre. If you were “out” you felt out.
Then came the changes.
First it was a change to how companies were to be funding deprived. There was a need for new companies. It felt threatening; it was.
This was after trying to get all the companies to take on a building, a bespoke theatre where they could “live” and breathe; they died and were throttled.
Then came the lottery.
Then came Creative Scotland.
Creative Scotland tore up the landscape and tried to make it portrait. From one funding catastrophe to another they bounced around the tongues of those in the know, who knew what a disaster looked like. We spoke, we shouted and eventually we acted. So, did they.
Like technocrats trying to avoid the “mistakes” of the past they took their memories of the past they never inhabited and tried to wear the optimism of a future they never bought. The foundations of success were created out of little more than an idea that needed nurture. Creative Scotland, like the Scottish Arts Council, at its worst, before it, applied their laws of nature. Those who could continually court their good favour would get the cash. Those unable to be more convincing than the rest would wither and be cut loose; they would be cut.
I knew that when the last outcry in the Scottish art scene about the funding round from Creative Scotland, died down there was going to be… a bonfire. Unfortunately, their vanity was not to be lit but a culling of the arts organisations they deemed surplus to requirements was on its way. Twenty organisations were given swinging cuts in that original round; the outcry saves some of them for future indignity. One of the fortunate few was Fire Exit.
They managed to get a “stay of execution” through the old adage of project funding – five of the original twenty were saved in this manner – and blistered the eyes with yet another artistic triumph. They then fell out the funding pot and have closed. I can but quote from the company’s own press release announcing its closure, “The company’s final production was a double-award winning, sold-out remount of Coriolanus Vanishes at the Traverse theatre during Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August 2018. The final night of the run received the last of many standing ovations.”
The announcement of closure of Fire Exit came the day before Artistic Director, David Leddy appeared before MSPs. Leddy was already on the radar of the elite as he had described Creative Scotland as “unethical, unrigorous and unfit for purpose.”
I would have loved to have read that in a funding application…
But the whole travesty could have been avoided – after all Fire Exit were, allegedly, one of the fortunate many when the original decisions were to be made and were recommended to be funded…
It’s easy to fuel rumour and speculation when you discover that you were recommended for approval only to find that this recommendation, somewhere along a corridor, has been ignored, overturned or binned. To date Leddy and Fire Exit await a reason as to why they have been cut. It’s not like they never asked. According to Leddy, in his evidence to MSPS and quoted in the Shropshire Star, ““We had a three-and-a-half hour long meeting where we asked 20 times for an explanation and they refused to tell us.”
His evidence got even more damning for Creative Scotland when he revealed to the MSPs, “I had a meeting with Creative Scotland, where Janet Archer said to me ‘I don’t think as an organisation Creative Scotland is very good at funding art’. I said ‘Don’t you think that’s the most damning thing that the head of an arts body could say?’ and she shrugged and said ‘I suppose so’. I think that’s very revealing.”
I came across Leddy and Fire Exit past the point of my artistic puberty, beyond where my creative impulses were outside the mainstream and I was out of the way and creatively elsewhere, now making comment more than waves; I was an arts educator.
I had also been an Arts Council Assessor on two of his shows; I loved them.
I met him once at an outdoor performance of an Aeschylus that was only memorable by him being there. I said hello. I think he was partly bemused by my recognising him and must have felt like he had recruited some weird stalker.
I continued to be a fan but kept my distance.
I reviewed Long Live the Little Knife for Fringe Review and when I gave away the ending, they asked me to alter my review so I wouldn’t give it away; I did.
I was not so fussy over International Waters and but then along came The Last Bordello which I also reviewed for another organisation; I was back in love again and it was indeed sumptuously mad.
The thing is Leddy’s depth – I loved his work because I loved the challenge of it. Even the stuff I wasn’t overly keen on was a step, hop and jump above what else was out there. I could see his work and measure where we had come, from that olden time, that safe time when if you wanted X you went and saw Y. His work wasn’t cutting edge, it sawed the edge off it, sewed it back on and asked you to move seats to get a different view.
In fairness Creative Scotland did make comment…
A spokeswoman for Creative Scotland said: “We are disappointed to learn of developments at Fire Exit.
And now he has disappointedly went…
Is it the end?
Is it a Fire Exit thing?
Oh David, before you go, come back, nothing is forgiven…