Friday, June 2, 2017

60 Years At The SJT: 1983

2017 marks the 60th anniversary of Alan Ayckbourn joining the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1957. Alan has been indelibly associated with the company since that time as actor, writer, director and Artistic Director.
To mark this anniversary, the blog will be running a weekly feature highlighting each year's significant achievements and events relating to Alan Ayckbourn alongside notable photos.

60 Years At The SJT: 1983
In 1983, Alan Ayckbourn made the headlines nationally as he was announced to be more popular than Shakespeare.
Arts Council, 2 November 1983
Click to enlarge
Since then, that fact has been regurgitated endlessly in the media despite patently being untrue - it wasn't even substantively accurate in 1983!
In a culture today where 'fake news' is seemingly on every one's lips, Alan Ayckbourn has been the subject of it for more than three decades. For if you've ever read any article which proclaims that Alan Ayckbourn is the most performed playwright in the UK or the second most performed after Shakespeare, it has no basis in fact and is actually completely unprovable.
And, more importantly, doesn't reflect the original facts from which these statements were originally drawn.
All that can be said with absolute confidence is that Alan Ayckbourn in 1983 - within a very specific and narrow context - was demonstrably proved to have been produced more than Shakespeare.
On 2 November 1983, the Arts Council issued a press release leading with 'Ayckbourn more popular than Shakespeare.' The rest, over time, has largely been forgotten.
Evening Standard, 2 November 1983
Click to enlarge
 The report was drawn up to highlight attendance at the UK's regional, subsidised theatres at the time and covered just 36 theatres. Within this most narrow of contexts, audiences to see plays by Alan Ayckbourn were higher than those to Shakespeare's with Willy Russell in third place between 1981 and 1983.
During those two years, 327,000 people went to see an Ayckbourn  play as opposed to 318,000 to a Shakespeare play - however the Bard nudged Ayckbourn on performances with 1,060 compared to 1,034.
It was notable at the time and subsequent reports over the next few years had Alan swapping between first and second places fairly regularly. Again, always within a very specific, defined context of regional subsidise theatre.
The reports which are no longer produced offer an interesting insight into regional theatre at the time and do prove that Alan Ayckbourn was very popular in the regions, but little more.
The Stage. 10 November 1983
The reports did not include the West End (although he was exceptionally popular throughout the '80s in the West End) nor commercial theatres nor amateur theatres. Now had all these been included it's highly likely Alan would still have been in a similar position, but there are - nor have there ever been - statistics which include all theatrical venues / productions in the UK.
Daily Telegraph 11 December 1990. Click to enlarge
But that did not stop, over the years, the story transmuting until it became regular practise - still to this day - to name Alan as the second most performed playwright in the UK after Shakespeare.
With no evidence. No facts. No references.
Sunday Mirror 6 November 1983
Now he may well be the second or third most performed playwright after Shakespeare, but there are no statistics available to back this up. All we know is he is very popular and consistently performed by professionals and amateurs throughout the UK.
When in 1990, Alan was named the second most performed playwright after Shakespeare in the same Arts Council survey, this was also widely reported and seems to have become the source of so many 'facts' reported in Ayckbourn stories ever since.
So if anyone ever says to you, Alan Ayckbourn is more popular than Shaksepeare, you can reply: "Yes. Yes, he was. Over a specific period of two years in 36 regional, subsidised theatres in England, he was more popular than Shakespeare. But in 2017, all we can say is he's very popular and been very successful."
And being popular and produced is more than enough to satisfy the playwright, be it in 1983 or 2017.

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