By Alistair Cope
Hello, this is the first newsletter I have written, though strangely the 49th I have sent for Freelancers Make Theatre Work. My role within FMTW is to look after our digital communications (yes, any typos you spot on the website, social media, newsletter are quite possibly mine). As well as writing tweets and over filling web pages and newsletters with alliteration, I love tracking data.
Some data is striking. For instance, over the last five years, the Creative Industries grew at twice the rate of the rest of the economy. The hashtag #FreelancersMakeTheatreWork has been seen 16.5 million times! The use of the phrase 'theatre freelancer' increased 900% online in 2020.
For me, one of the most arresting piece of data in the last couple of months is how the conversations around freelancers has once again shifted. Last year, the upswell in the use of ‘freelancer’ or ‘theatre freelancer’ was palpable. It was on the lips of theatres and Artistic Directors, news outlets and members of parliament. How can we ‘help the freelancers?’ There was a lot of noise and some positive steps by forward thinking organisations who understand the fragility and bad hand their creative workforce had been dealt. But in the last two months, our plight is once again going un-heard by many and the noise around reopenings and new seasons takes precedence and column inches.
Last month a trickle of tentative show announcements turned into a river, bringing with it a sense of hope that our industry is flowing back into life. In the weeks that have followed we’ve seen return dates confirmed, casts and creatives announced in glitzy social media posts, and re-elected mayors proclaim major tourism campaigns to reignite the sector. Rehearsal rooms have been (deep) cleaned and they’ve started to welcome back more and more companies preparing for the grand reopening of our stages, our theatres, our art.
Yay for theatre, yay for us. That small river could soon turn into a torrent of flashy ads, floodlit posters and thunderous applause as reviews pour in and… before you know it, we’re back to where we were. Or are we?
Should we be?
Is the freelance voice to go quiet again?
The last 14 months has decimated our industry. Data released just last week from the PEC already shows that 38,000 freelancers have left the creative industries. The reasons are vast, various and individual. But for a sector that brings in £7.7 billion to an already devastated economy (thanks Brexit/austerity et al), this is a huge blow.
We’ve campaigned hard for better work practices, better access, inclusivity, A VOICE! But that work doesn’t stop now the lights are coming on. Fellow groups have been campaigning for years. Many, many years. And hard fought wins and compromises can’t now be side-lined or reneged in order to get the doors open.
We must not be quiet.
We’ve worked too hard and lost too many talented individuals to go back to something worse.
Let us celebrate theatre’s return and those who created work throughout the last 14 months. But at the same time, let us continue to encourage a better, fairer and dare I say it, kinder industry we can ALL come back to.