We’re back, we didn’t go far, but we’re back. Where have we come from, where are we going, and what exactly are we back to right now?
There’s an oddly hollow ring to Happy New Year this year, as we’re thrown into another national lockdown and the guarantee that many things won’t be getting up and running again in the next few weeks. For so many freelancers, there’s still the bleak continuum of no work, and for those who are parents, the added complication of home schooling for kids. People are glad to see the end of 2020, but the changing of a date on the calendar has just brought with it more of the same, only there’s a weariness now, exhaustion more like, that is heavy.
For me the holiday season break felt too short, not enough time to decompress, and to be honest, a solitary Christmas in mid-winter London, with the remains of 2020 and the uncertainty of 2021 weighing in, didn’t feel much like a holiday at all. So, for all that it was too short a break, I’m glad to be back to activity, to be doing something, as that is at least a distraction. I have to say I’m fortunate too, I’ve got a bit of part-time work at the moment in HE – another sector that is flailing, scrambling, drowning, trying to justify online classes for music, dance and drama students that really need to be taught in person and in contact with others, live.
I’ve never been particularly driven to work as a volunteer, not least because I could never afford to do that. I need (and want) to be paid for my time and my work. Collaborating with FMTW though has felt like an extraordinary project and has given me much to be grateful for. If we take cash out of the equation, well, there is a different kind of exchange. I’ve given my time (and I can’t tell you the incredible dedication of the FMTW steering team – hats off to everyone, along with my utmost admiration) to try to be of service to the freelance cause, and in exchange I’ve learnt much, had a sense of purpose at a time when otherwise I really might have lost it, and I’ve felt connected to the rich community of freelance theatre workers.
How do we make the volunteering sustainable though? How do we ensure the longevity of FMTW as it solidifies its place in the scheme of things as an entity to be reckoned with? As the freelance movement grows in strength through us and affiliated organisations how can we guarantee that FMTW will continue to exist? We know we can’t stop now; things are far from being sorted. So, in this first week back after the break we’ve been reflecting on what has been achieved, what still needs to be done, and how we manage that going forward. Look out for information about upcoming projects and how you might get involved moving forward if you have the time, energy and desire to commit, short or long term.
Not to diminish the loss and suffering of a year that sent us spinning and is ongoing, 2020 has had a few silver linings. Change often doesn’t happen without some kind of rupture, and change needed to, needs to happen, badly. 2020 gave us space, forced us to stop and look at our world with new eyes, and turn our attention to the multiple types of inequity, and inequality, particular to freelance performing arts workers, and do something about it. While it still feels like an enormous mountain to climb, there are changes happening, examples of better practice, and importantly there’s awareness – freelancers are on the lips and minds of people who ordinarily might not have given us a second thought.
Like the roller coaster that we’ve been riding for some time, the positives and negatives slip and slide, hard to get a grip on. Another negative – to add insult to injury, we woke up on the 1st of January no longer a part of Europe. (Apologies to any Leavers – on this occasion I can’t help expressing a political bias, and utter sadness at this loss for the UK.) Brexit has finally happened, and it’s almost as though we’re so numbed by Covid-19 and the devastation of our sector, that it feels a bit like it’s slipped in under the radar. What will this mean for freelancers who would normally work in Europe? I know that particularly many dancers and musicians will be radically affected. The complexities of this tragedy are still unclear, and yet have already been exacerbated by the hostile refusal of the Tory government to agree to a proposed 90-day visa-free scheme for performers, mainly because they are not prepared to extend the same rights to those coming from the EU. And so, with Brexit, a new fight has been added to the list of causes, one for rights of both UK and EU freelance performing arts people, to work across borders and to still be able to be enriched and cross-pollinated through EU productions and vice versa.
To end on a brighter note, vaccines are being rolled out, already those few extra minutes of light each day do bring with them a tiny bit of hope, and there is, I believe, an end in sight to the general situation. It’s a long way off still before all theatres are open, and before things are really up and running again, but it will come. We’ve got to hang in there, somehow or other, and continue to try and support each other along the way. Please do reach out to us, let us know how you’re doing, and if we can help, we will. And if we can’t we might be able to point you in a direction that can.
We’ve already got our regular wellbeing sessions up and running again; start your week breathing with the Dawn Chorus on Monday mornings; get a dose of endorphins on Tuesdays with Kate Waters’ Boxing and Stage Combat sessions; and drop in on Thursdays for a cup of tea and a chat with colleagues at our Teabreaks. PLUS we have a NEW boxing class for kids with Kate every Thursday at 9am, parents also welcome. Come and join us for any, for all, and watch this space for other offerings as and when we're able to get them going.
Sending you all lots of love, stay well and safe.
Susan Kempster - FMTW