This is a newsletter about information-sharing, a small thing, and zombies.
By Titas Halder
A couple of months into the pandemic, I mainly found myself pretending to eat well, trying to exercise, and watching a lot of TV (all 10 seasons of The Walking Dead). Like most of my friends, all my projects had ground to a halt with no idea whether they might be postponed or cancelled. As a freelancer, unattached to any organisation, I had absolutely no idea what was going on in the industry. In terms of information, I was in a black hole.
What is happening? When can we come back? How can I survive this?
were the main questions in my head. By chance, a friend shared a zoom link with me – apparently there was a meeting going on Mondays with ‘people-in-the-know’. I was not in the know. I knew nothing. I hadn’t been officially invited, but I clicked the link. There were dozens of people on the zoom, artistic directors, producers, representatives from organisations.
What have I missed out on? How long has this been going on for? Have I been left behind?
I felt desperately out of the loop. Disconnected from an industry which is meant to be about connection. As a freelance person I felt like I had slipped through the back door. Each week there were updates from different speakers; someone from the NT, or from commercial theatre, or SOLT, wherever. Pragmatic questions were being asked:
When can theatre resume? Can theatre be made under social distancing? What is happening with vaccines? Am I eligible for any funding? Is there any help or support?
Sometimes organisations like SOLT would provide factual answers and information on things like funding and timescales. Even getting small pieces of practical information like this felt like a lifeline. But the information didn’t feel like it was travelling as far as it could. It felt like there were various groups in existence. Little islands with different bits of knowledge. Slightly knowing about each others’ existence but not quite managing to say hello. Like Rick Grimes meeting the different groups in The Walking Dead (Yes this is a call-back). But—
At a moment where our lives, livelihoods and well-being depends on it, surely information should not be a currency?
How can this information be shared more widely?
By the end of the summer, it felt like there was a shift. As theatres started to plan activity, it felt like there were elements of thinking which were slightly disjointed – venues were starting to design brilliant protocols to rehearse under covid, but not managing to author these things together. Surely information like this could be created through collaboration?
Likewise there were various funds and schemes which arts workers could apply to for support and development, and amazing things that various organisations were doing for their audiences and communities, but was knowledge of these things reaching widely enough to a disembodied workforce? A cascade of questions:
Did enough people know about funding schemes? Did enough people know about the timescales that were being talked about in terms of returning to stage? Did enough people know about how vaccine rollouts or social distancing might affect their work happening or not happening? Did we even feel part of the industry anymore? Do we feel valued by our industry? Do we feel visible?
By September, it felt like there was a creeping back towards secrecy, holding on to information again; like in the old days. And then by October, catastrophe: the second wave began and everything was shut down once more. And it was back to
What is happening? When can we come back? How do I survive this?
This lockdown was different. Darker, quieter, lonelier, harder to deal with. A new black hole. I wondered if other people felt the same way. And those 3 questions appeared again. Because here we are, in need of that information once more.
So, this time—
How can this be done in a better way? Can there be better ways for information to flow beyond organisations, buildings, beyond people-in-the-know, and out more widely to freelancers and arts workers as well?
Can the various brilliant zoom groups reach out to each other more? Send a representative into each other’s groups to share and learn? (like the Kingdom helping the Hilltop in TWD Season 7 [yes we are still doing this])
Can there be more transparency and conversation between arts organisations and the wider freelance community?
Can arts organisations do everything in their power to listen to the community and be truly inclusive of wider society when repopulating workforces and stages with voices, people, and stories?
FMTW is currently thinking about this. We’re wondering how we can help freelancers access industry information more widely. We’d love to hear your thoughts on what might be helpful.
In the meantime, here is a small thing: SOLT in partnership with FMTW are now publishing weekly updates which are hosted on the FMTW website. These updates contain summarised practical information and links to news on subjects like Covid, lobbying, funding, reopening, support and wellbeing. It’s only a start, but hopefully it can help in some way to answer that very first question: What is happening?
* the zoom group mentioned in this newsletter is an informal, open-membership, volunteer-run group which meets on Mondays at 4pm; its purpose is primarily to try to share information on theatre + covid. You can email Isabel@activ.org.uk if you would like to be added to the mailing list.
** new season 10 episodes of The Walking Dead airing now on FOX UK, 9pm Mondays.