By Sunita Hinduja
In haste on Friday, I offered to write the Newsletter, then realised since January this year I have technically given up my freelance status and have had a regular income in Theatre Education. How I am feeling and what I am thinking in this moment isn’t completely relevant or a true representation of current freelancers working or trying to get work in theatre. So I asked this question on Twitter and to my Freelance friends:
“Am writing the newsletter for @FreelancersMake this week. I want 2 write a ‘Dear Industry this is how we are feeling right now’ type thing. But would love for it to be a collective voice. Theatre Freelancers out there, let me know what you would like to say. Reply or DM me.”
The response was honest, clear and highlights how much ongoing support is needed for the freelancers who hold up this sector: Below is edited comments and sharings from a selection of Freelancers who make theatre work everyday:
Dear Industry this is how we are feeling.
F is for Fear, the constant threat of having to stop and your pay being reduced or going unpaid if projects are cancelled or runs shortened.
R is for Resilience, this is a word often used when describing freelance theatre people, but after 15months, returning to an industry that is so precarious and being able to get through it and adapt isn’t about resilience it is about need, to pay rent, to stay in your chosen home, to create. Don’t mistake resilience in freelancers as an over tolerance of adversity. This is not sustainable.
E is for Equality, the desire and drive to get more Freelancers of all disciplines to have access to decision making spaces, board rooms, Senior Management meetings, planning meetings.
E is for Environment and as we return with a renewed realisation that the Industry will need to actively engage with Climate emergency on every production not just some. A welcome change, will freelancers have to carry the cost of personal and professional development around this?
L is for Leadership and the sense that this was lacking in March 2020 for Freelancers in the sector, it got a little better post CRF2 however now in 2021 as buildings and shows begin to reopen the priority is again bricks, mortar and bottom line - over people.
A is for Anti Racism and Solidarity training, work that buildings and their full time staff are able to access, concerms from the Freelance community not attached to buildings that there is very little free, funded or even subsidised professional and personal development that Freelancers can access particularly around this work.
N is for Nervous about the return to work filled with questions and uncertainty - can I still do the job, will I remember how to do it, do I have the stamina to launch back into 60hrs a week again. Will there be work for me? Very happy for my peers but - why haven’t I been asked yet?
C is for Confidence, after 15months of not working 13years of experience the confidence has gone and Freelancers feel like in some cases they are at the start of their journey again.
E is for Excluded from any support, despite working as a PAYE freelancer and paying taxes for over 15 years, just missing out on furlough as they weren’t on a show at the time. And now after continual show postponement just missing out on Maternity pay and leave.
R is for Responsibility, the pressure of opening a show in this moment knowing that you could be the reason your show has to stop or pause. Either because of contracting Covid or being pinged by Track and Trace. 100 people being out of work and unpaid because of one individual is a massive sense of responsibility.
S is for Scotland, who’s leadership is cautious and clear, rules are consistent and restrictions modestly removed Freelancers reported feeling “safe and well looked after” Performing Arts have clear and non negotiable guidelines for organisations and institutions to follow.
M is for Mental Health; the general feeling amongst many Freelancers is that “we are not OK”
A is for Anger at the governments obvious contempt for the Arts and the constant mis management and advice to the sector.
K is for Knackered - See tired.
E is for Exhaustion, working hard before Covid to be Economical and canny in design, but now this seems to be is an industry must. A feeling that creative energies go mostly into this and not storytelling. Especially when these shows and stories were designed and told to be delivered in 2020 but were continually postponed.
T is for Track and Trace. Enough said.
H is for Help. I have massive concerns about social distancing being removed as my health isn’t great.
E is for Excited to be getting back to the work we all love after 15months of something that isn’t your passion.
A is for Anger.
T is for Tired and scared to let the tired in.
R is for Rules, frustration that theatres have to and are sticking to the rules, but people in power can carelessly break them.
E is for Energy, not having enough to get through another difficult uncertain period of work and creativity.
W is for Waiting, to hear if jobs that have been postponed will ever be made.
O is for Ombudsman, a smart call from Amanda Parker at Inc Arts, an independent service or individual for the Sector to ensure transparency, accountability and resolution. Someone on the outside identifying and addressing the systemic issues, this would particularly benefit Freelancers who apart from the unions have no consistent HR support.
R is for Renegotiate, the current COVID variations on the union contracts are really not serving the workforce well. Who does it serve?
K is for Kindness, Freelancers holding each other through this uncertain time.
Shared by a collection of generous Theatre Freelancers. Thank you for your honesty. Collated by Sunita H.