Freelancers Make Theatre Work is run by a small voluntary group of freelancers. The group is not fixed but fluid and welcomes participants who are willing to give time. Each week, a different member of the team writes the newsletter...

Speaking Truth To Power

By Paule Constable


It’s been a week for political conversations.  After months of pushing to be heard it seems that doors are opening, people are realising they need to listen.  That in itself is tough but I thought it was important to share how widely the freelance message is being spread – where we are talking and to whom.  

After several months of knocking on doors we have linked up to some of the policy group at DCMS who are both empathetic and interested to hear what is going on for us.  It is a kind room.  We talk about what government are saying, places where we feel heard and where we aren’t.  It is clear that issues such as the truth around how many of us are excluded and have received no support are taken seriously.  We were pleased to hear that this fact has been passed on to Treasury on our behalf even if the response from treasury has remained pretty negative.  We talk about the mechanism around the funding models at the moment which almost entirely ignore the freelancers.  Our concerns are taken on and delivered into rooms where policy can be affected and we were assured that they will give us some feedback.  They admit that we are hard to see – that the data gathered by the freelancers themselves through the pandemic has helped them to understand.  It is good to know that we are being heard right at the heart of government.  They genuinely feel as though they are trying to support and to listen and the door is open for us to pass on any relevant information or questions.  

On the other side of all this I look forward to inviting some civil servants to a tech to see what our lives are really like!  

And then there are the rooms where things are trying to be worked out.  The Creative Industries Federation has started to pull together interested parties from around the wider creative sectors to do some work around how freelancers are and are not folded into policy and their precarious employment status.  It is fascinating to hear the freelance story from the film industry, from fine art, from writers.  At the very least it can make us feel less alone.    The first meeting was a chance to share good and bad practice with an immediate sense that it would be worth creating a charter for meaningful and valid employment across the wider Creative Industries.  Hearing the film industry want to get behind this creates hope.  Being part of this initiative feels pretty vital.

Meanwhile, on the European Work question Mark Pemberton from the Association of British Orchestras is working all hours to try to clarify the European travel situation.  This week he was in the heart of the EU asking the question directly.   Bill caught up with him to follow up on his newsletter of a couple of weeks ago on visas and permission to work in Europe.  It turns out that the facts have shifted a little, and it may be that you will need both permission to work and a special visa to work in European countries.  This depends on the terms set by each individual state, so is now different in each case.  If you want to do something about this, the asks in our MPs letter are still 100% valid.  Writing to your MP is the most powerful way to put the UK Government on the spot about this.  You can see it directly triggering important debates in Parliament.  We have also been asked to present evidence from our sector on this subject to the APPG  – so please do keep sharing your experiences so we can tell them what is really happening to us now.  First hand anecdotal evidence is vital to present in these rooms.  

And then there are the formal rooms – as you can see from Athena Steven’s brilliant presentation at the Westminster Media Forum.   As ever, we had to argue the case for a place – pointing out that a whole conference about the future of the sector post the pandemic had yet again ignored 70% of the industry.  

The gargantuan effort by Athena and a small group of people was incredible.  5 writers took on the task of collating information and data to work with.  Once content was in then Athena worked solidly for a week to pin point the arguments that would be most clearly heard in that particular room of policy makers and shakers.  She made last minute tweaks through the early hours.  Added slides.  Ensured that – for every issue – there might be a solution offered.   10 minutes to speak truth to power – on all of our behalves.   I watched with awe – but also with fear for this brilliant woman and how much this opportunity was costing her.  She had never worked harder, felt the need to articulate arguments more succinctly.

So then to one of the final meetings of the week.  An invitation from SOLT and UK Theatre to start doing the work to solve some of our endemic problems together.  This first session was focussed around listening and learning and in a zoom room I watch with my heart in my mouth as my friends and colleagues find the courage to put into words what we all feel.  I hear words like invisible, commodity, vulnerability.  I hear passionate words about diversity and the lack of understanding, the lack of care, the fact we were and are all too easy to forget.   This is the first session of two that we hope will create some smaller working groups to focus around areas that feel central to our cause.  Finance, Structure and Governance, Pathways – there are so many.  But we will only ever solve any of these things if we work together with buildings, companies and buildings to do the work.  And this feels the first step.

And then it was Friday evening and I was exhausted.  

It makes me wonder – 

Why is it so hard – you fight to be in a room 

Once you have the seat – once the offer is made.  What then?

You think about what you want to say, what you need to say – try to listen, try to consider, try to think–– and then you are there.  

Sometimes it feels as though there is so much it is impossible to even know where to start.

We are so rarely offered the opportunity – so marginalised – that those moments cannot feel normal.  They are snatched yet vital.  The weight of expectation and the bravery required to speak anything close to our truths is agony.

As a rule we try to join conversations in groups.  If we are a small group then in some way that decision alone I hope makes it clear to people that as freelancers we can none of us claim to be or represent everyone.  Freelancers come in every shape and size, cover so many disciplines.  We’re not an amorphous blob who think and feel as one.  We are rich in our diversity and voice – joined by our vulnerability – and linked by our differences.  To work together we have to have been willing to challenge each other – to welcome complexity.  This is how the FMTW conversations are fuelled and how we try to exist in the other meetings we attend.

It sounds so simple.

And yet this feels a model for the future….


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