If you’re one of the thousands of freelancers who has emailed us, Tweeted us or filled out our Big Freelancer Survey, we're hearing you. Each and every decision about what Freelancers Make Theatre Work does day-to-day and week-to-week is informed by what you take the time to share with us.
Since our (ever-growing) volunteer group first came together a few months back, we’ve learnt so much about what it is to work collectively with a spirit of generosity towards our common cause. Those volunteering are investing the same level of care into FMTW as the props we make, the dances we choreograph, the lights we hang, the actors we direct and the scripts we write.
But our resources are finite, and in any given week we can only offer so much around work, childcare and personal commitments.
So with so much that needs to be done, how do we decide what to focus on?
Last week the government released further details of the £1.57 billion package for the arts. The figure of £500 million to support theatres, music and comedy venues and museums makes for stark reading and left us spinning. It’s a pitiful sum and the reality of the situation for our world class freelance theatre workforce is now all too clear. You can read our response here.
Is the only option, now facing many theatres, a process of mothballing and redundancies of permanent staff? Where then does that leave the freelance workforce?
Freelancers’ needs fall into two camps; the acute and the chronic. So many are desperate right now - desperate to know if our local venue is going to exist in a weeks’ time, desperate for a job, desperate to put food on the table - and so many are concerned that the enduring issues in our industry will return - low fees, a lack of diversity, London-centricity, lack of access.
We are trying to be equitable in our approach to both these fronts; the acute and the chronic. And it’s a real balancing act. Focus too much on the acute and what will be the state of the industry we return to? Focus too much on the chronic and who will be left to enjoy the change?
So, acknowledging the tightrope walk, here’s what we’re planning for the coming weeks...
To serve the acute, we’re adding a tonne of PRACTICAL RESOURCES to our website. Guides to help theatre freelancers understand the ins and outs of funding applications, Arts Council project grant advice and road maps for using the benefits system; Universal Credit, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Council Tax Reduction etc.
Second, as highlighted in our previous newsletter, we’re very aware that we’re all experiencing an impact on our wellbeing right now. The new WELLBEING section of our website contains resources to support you through this time, links to emergency support, signposts to low-cost counselling, and more. We also have a PRACTICAL SELF HELP page, and watch out for WELLBEING WEDNESDAYS when we will be sharing things to try out at home to support yourself during this time.
Third, we are writing to ADs this week and inviting them to collaborate with the freelance community to develop solutions that ensure the survival of the sector and its transformation to a fairer, more transparent, diverse and inclusive industry.
We are planning a series of Town Hall meetings entitled MOVING FORWARD TOGETHER where we will debate the problems, discuss ideas, explore solutions and share examples of the excellent activities being undertaken by some already. More than ever we need to create an agreed and integrated direction of travel through this chaos.
To serve the chronic, we plan to launch FREELANCE THINKING; a campaign that will collate ideas for the future of our industry. The launch of this project was originally set for last week; we have since postponed in order to focus on the acute, but it’s waiting in the wings.
As you read this, freelancers’ ideas for the debuild/rebuild of our industry are being scribbled in notebooks, posted on social media and discussed on Zoom calls. Some of you will have been fighting for change for years, whilst others are just beginning to articulate the changes you’d like to see. No matter how formed or unformed your thoughts might be, we’re committed to collating and sharing them.
In collaboration with the Freelance Taskforce we will then put these ideas to theatres and industry bodies in a manifesto; FREELANCE THINKING: A NEW DEAL FOR FREELANCERS.
Look out for the campaign in the coming months.
Rachel Bagshaw, Susan Kempster and Andrew Whyment.