Tuesday, 17 November 2009

After the AGM

Two weeks ago we had the AGM. Here's Tony Diggle's write-up:

"The AGM took place at 7.45pm on Monday, 2nd November, 2009 at the Green Man, 383, Euston Road, London NW1 and ended shortly before 9.45pm.

Attending: John Morrison, (Ch), Tony Diggle, Peter Briffa, Giles Armstrong, Lynne O’Sullivan, Eamon McDonnell, Christopher Prior, Peter Vincent, Silas and Rosemary Hawkins, Belinda Blanchard, Richard Evans, Peter McKelvey, David de Keyser, Denise O’Leary, Richard Tubb, Hans-Jorg Pletsch, Mark Crumpler, Kara May, Mary Conway, Clive Greenwood.

Apologies: Peter Thompson, Caroline Langston, Tim Gambrell, Katy Darby, Daniel Dresner, Roger Mayhew, Napoleon Ryan, Nicole Forbes, Anthea Courtenay, Kevin Mandry.

The Chairman, John Morrison, welcomed those attending, and observed that it had been a bumpy year, particularly with regard to our being required to leave the Horse & Groom at short notice at the end of the summer, and the problems with the autumn Showcase. He added that he felt the ageing profile of the membership was also an issue, and that we needed more younger members. He thanked the committee members and others “for all their work in the engine room” that enabled the group to keep going.

The minutes of the AGM, 10th November, 2008 were approved.

The Treasurer’s Report was delivered by the Treasurer, Tony Diggle, who reported that our reserves were higher than ever, but that we still had substantial expenditures to incur this year partly because of the lateness of the second Showcase. However, the main reason for the high outlay of funds was the agreed investment in our website, and we expected to recoup this through a refund of the Showcase hire fee. The Treasurer stressed that the problem with the double-booking of the venue for the second Showcase was entirely the fault of the King’s Head: we had booked and paid for the venue months in advance. With membership stable, and weekly attendance breaking new records – over 41 per week – he expected by the year end that our actual reserve would be back to its previously established level. However, since our move the Green Man we faced an increase in rent payments of £800 per annum, and he would be proposing some adjustment to our subscription / attendance fees to take account of this.

Belinda Blanchard asked how committed we were to staying at the Green Man. The Treasurer replied that at present we were only committed to the end of the year, and that we normally extended the arrangement with our host on a termly basis. He was not expecting this to be a problem at the present time.

The Treasurer’s Proposal on Subscriptions / Attendance Fees was then put by the Treasurer. This stated that:

“With effect from 1st January, 2010:

i) The weekly attendance fee should rise from £2 to £2.50
ii) The joining fee should rise from £10 to £12
iii) The annual membership fee should rise from £6 to £8

It was suggested from the floor that only the subscription should be raised, but the Treasurer pointed out that this would not raise enough money. It was also suggested that writers might pay for the criticism they received, or that a royalty might be charged on scripts that went on to be successful, but in discussion these ideas were deemed to be inappropriate or unworkable. The proposal was passed with nobody opposed and one abstention.

The Programme Secretary’s Report was presented by the Programme Secretary, Peter Briffa. Once again the average mark had come in at 57 plus, which seemed to indicate that our standard was being maintained. The Programme Secretary continued that too many plays “dropped out” of the programme, and that the first three weeks of the autumn term were only filled at the last minute. While it was felt that these issues were more “variations on the usual blips” rather than signs of a more deep-seated malaise, there was still a shortage of new scripts. No radio plays had been presented this year. Looking ahead, at least most of the early part of the Spring Term had been filled, some by scripts from recently joined members.

In discussion, it was suggested that we might undertake a marketing initiative to writers’ classes such as those held by the City Lit or Morley College. These often attracted young people who were rather cast adrift when the course ended. The Writer’s Guild Website was also another channel to market. A more comprehensive relationship with a college was not thought viable, because of the compartmentalised nature of course administration. A competition open to non-members with a cash prize, such as the one that had been undertaken during the Jubilee celebrations in 1997, was also put forward. On the subject of radio plays, it was pointed out that one reason for the current shortage might be increased realisation of the difficulty of getting one on, since the first round of the BBC’s commissioning process now consisted of adjudication on the basis of pitches and not scripts themselves. Peter McKelvey volunteered the information that the chances of getting a radio play on were now 12,000 to 1.

It was agreed that ways of addressing the shortage of scripts / active writer members would be considered further at the committee meeting in January.

The Showcase Producer’s Report was presented by the Chairman as the Showcase Producer, Tim Gambrell, was indisposed and unable to attend. The July Showcase had been a great success and eight people from the industry had attended, although no photographs had been purchased from our photographer, Kim Sheard, apart from the standard set bought for P-P’s “archives”: arrangements here might need to be modified in future. Thanks were recorded to the “nameless sponsor” who covered the cost of the interval drinks. The November Showcase should have been a lot simpler to arrange, as preparation for both shows had been done before the first one “to get …. the widest selection of actor members taking part (to try to avoid where possible using the same actors in both Showcases as had happened the year before).” Due to the error by the King’s Head in double-booking us, it had become a saga of itself with few actor members available because of the change of date, and the possibility that non-member actors might have to be used. In addition, two of the pieces originally selected had been pulled by the writers for personal reasons. Tim said that he would be standing down as Showcase producer for the time being once the second Showcase was finally performed, and recorded his thanks to Casting Secretary, Caroline Langston, for all her help and support. Discussion of Showcase related matters was deferred until later in the meeting.

Election of Officers and Committee Members

A number of changes to both the officers and ordinary committee members were necessitated by various resignations. Caroline Langston (Secretary – Casting) and Tim Gambrell (Assistant Treasurer) were not standing for re-election as officers. Elizabeth Yuill had already been replaced by Lynne O’Sullivan as Competitions Secretary, but was re-standing as an ordinary committee member. Katy Darby and Nicole Forbes were standing down as ordinary members, as were Lindsay McGill and Sherill Turner, who were both pursuing careers abroad, and Napoleon Ryan, who was also planning some work abroad. The following Officers and Committee Members were elected by a series of unanimous resolutions.

Chair John Morrison (proposed Chris Prior, seconded Peter Vincent)

Other Officers (proposed Denise O’Leary, seconded Peter Vincent)

Secretary Peter Thompson
Treasurer Tony Diggle
Programme Sec Peter Briffa
Competitions Sec Lynne O’Sullivan
Awards Sec Giles Armstrong
Publicity Officer Peter Thompson
Ordinary Committee Members (proposed Giles Armstrong, seconded Tony Diggle)

Daniel Dresner, Silas Hawkins, Roger Mayhew, Eamon McDonnell, Christopher Prior, Peter Vincent, Elizabeth Yuill, Victoria Johnston, Niall Spooner-Harvey and Belinda Blanchard

Any Other Business

Showcase Discussion

Denise O’Leary felt that the ethos of the Showcase had changed for the worse. Originally, the idea had been to put on an event which would attract industry to our work, but this was no longer really happening. Given the time people were putting in to rehearsing a production as opposed to a reading, it was not worth the effort. She suggested an alternative such as taking a slot at the Camden Fringe Festival and putting on four or five performances to an alternative paying audience. This would reach a wider public and be more rewarding. Eamon McDonnell commented that the cost for a one hour slot for several performances at the Camden Fringe was £350, but you would need to pay for a techie as well. It was also suggested from the floor that another alternative would be to run each Showcase for two nights so that members could bring more guests. Denise also had a second point: that the current casting arrangements meant that the writer and director had no say in the matter, and in her view this had led to people being seriously miscast to the detriment of the production.

Responding from the chair, John pointed out that the last attempt to interest the group in a more substantive run had found little support among the members. Tony added that while he also felt that the prime object of a Showcase type production should be to draw industry attention to our work, the financial parameters of a more ambitious event would need to be thought through carefully. He agreed that while the casting objective was to give as many acting members as possible the chance to appear in a Showcase, this shouldn’t be taken too far. No decisions were taken by the meeting.

John Morrison closed the discussion by formally recording a vote of thanks to Tim Gambrell for all his hard work this year, in which the meeting heartily concurred.

Venue Discussion

A number of concerns had been raised about the new venue: the acoustics, background noise from the refrigerators and the ventilation system, and the general ambience. The discussion considered concerns about the general layout of the room, the seating, and the ambience further – Eamon referred to its “Feng Shui” – and the possibility of better venues in the Marylebone High Street area, Victoria or Pimlico. Peter Vincent felt that it was worth paying even more than we were paying now for a more suitable venue. David de Keyser pointed out that for the AGM meant everyone was able to sit round in the area in front of the bar, and this felt better. It was agreed that we should try performing in front of the wall opposite the bar, and Belinda said that her play due on in a couple of weeks was suitable for this. Tony pointed out that the refrigerators had also been switched off at our request for the first time, and this made a notable difference.

In conclusion, John said that if members came up with promising alternatives, officers would be prepared to follow them up. Tony pointed out that he and a number of other members had explored / visited a considerable number of prospective venues over the summer, and the Green Man was the best option by some margin. It was up to members to come up with well-researched proposals if they felt another move would be helpful at this stage.

Christmas Party

Lynne explained what needed to be done by the organiser. No-one had as yet volunteered for the role.

Script Discussion

Belinda expressed her concern that the criticism of the opening play of the autumn season had been voiced in terms that had so upset that the writer he had resigned from the group. She felt that criticism should always be given in a constructive way. She also felt that people should put their names on the marking sheets so that comments received were not anonymous, and that receiving sheets with just a very low score of 0, 1 or 2 with no comments was unfair on the writer.

In response, John said that he had felt that the comments on the evening in question were within acceptable limits. Tony did feel that the comments had gone too far on this occasion, (and added that the writer had not been the only person upset by them) but said that this only happened very rarely, and usually the ructions were smoothed over quietly afterwards. This had also happened on this occasion: there had been further communication with the author since. He agreed that criticism should be couched in a constructive manner.

It was suggested that the anonymity of the forms was not significant as the writer should be able to tell genuine criticism from someone getting on his high horse about something. Enough people made comments for the forms to be worthwhile, and the score was a general guide. It was pointed out that some members did not find it easy to collect their thoughts on a script immediately after the reading, and that people could always submit a form later.

Tony Diggle
6th October, 2009"

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