By Emma Jayne Park
Every day I find new reasons to be grateful for the people who invest so much in Freelancers Make Theatre Work. Today’s gratitude is focussed on those who popped onto Zoom with me for an hour at the last minute as I faced the inevitable adrenaline surge and drop after speaking at the All Party Parliamentary Group for Theatre, led by Giles Watling (Conservative MP for Clacton).
The intentions of the APPG are commendable, the reception was nothing but warm and, to my surprise, there were a few familiar faces in attendance which was reassuring to know.
Yet, I still haven’t felt that nervous in a very long time.
I think people listened, there were questions and messages of support in the chat, email addresses were exchanged. I won’t know if the event was successful for months, because change does not happen overnight. I will spend the next week following up connections and drafting policy solutions which I will then likely have to chase up to make the most of this opportunity.
You can read a version of what I said here. I won’t dwell on that as part of the newsletter as I would like to use this space to think about why I was in that room and why I felt so nervous.
Demystifying the invitation…
The invitation to speak was not random.
Federation of Scottish Theatre (Scotland’s membership and development body for professional dance, opera and theatre) were invited to arrange speakers from Scotland. I’m proud to say that they opted to send representatives who are Executive Directors of leading Scottish Organisations as well as me – a freelancer.
But this wasn’t a case of picking a freelancer at random. They know me as a Freelance advocate because I have been an active member of FST for around a decade.
I’ve worked with them to facilitate forums, initiated their Working Towards Wellbeing Forum, have gate-crashed their organisational training sessions so I can report back to freelancers, have spoken up in many of their events, have called them to talk about concerning practices in the workplace and have contacted them often to discuss their role in advocating for the freelance workforce.
I’ve sat on working groups – both theirs and those of other national bodies such as Creative Scotland, I was a member of the Freelance Task Force, I keep them updated about the work FMTW are doing and they have seen me speak in Holyrood (the Scottish Parliament) at a range of events such as the Edinburgh International Culture Summit and The Cross Party Group for Culture.
The latter of which I was only speaking at because when a panel was announced focussed on the Policies which impact cultural freelancers and there wasn’t a single freelancer representing live performance listed, I emailed to let the organisers know how concerning that was.
Anyone could be in that room speaking today, it’s just taken me ten years of graft to be considered.
I live for a time when those who speak in these rooms (and on the BBC News, on national Radio or in National Newspaper spreads) rotates amongst the workforce and it doesn’t take ten years of, generally voluntary, advocacy to do so.
I believe that is what Freelancers Make Theatre Work stand for, throwing aside the image of solo heroes who make their names speaking for people but building a culture where every freelancer who wants to can take their shift and feel confident doing so.
Some thoughts about nerves:
This brings me to the nerves.
I’m somewhat frustrated that being in these spaces should make me nervous.
I’m not generally a nervous public speaker – that would be a different, acceptable kind of nerves.
Today’s nerves were based in the fear of missing this rare opportunity to have an impact.
Today’s nerves were based in the fear of speaking to the cause of such a hugely diverse workforce when I am simply one person, with one opinion.
Today’s nerves were based in the fear of getting it wrong when really, all I can do is be honest.
All of these fears are negatable with one simple solution – ensure that freelance theatre workers speaking in decision influencing and decision making rooms is not such a rarity. As 71% of the workforce, there are enough of us to sit in every room, at every level and in multiple numbers.
We have vital skills and knowledge that is a relatively untapped resource, and – unlike many other resources – it is not finite. We are thinkers, innovators, observers, recyclers and doers. Many of us could have ideas for years without repeating ourselves, it is the job of many of us to take someone else’s idea and recycle it for the context we are working in and many of us can manage a budget, people or strategy with constraints that would not be accepted in any other industry.
Often, many of us know how to do all of the above and make it really enjoyable (dare I say, fun!) all at the same time – who doesn’t want to squeeze some extra joy into their lives?
So with that, I am now back to scheming up plans (and borrowing and recycling those that already exist - credit will be given!) to get everyone who is reading this into one of these rooms – if they want to be there, of course!