By Vicki Mortimer
Since March, the freelance community have poured out ideas and offered initiatives like taps turned on full. It’s felt like someone forgot to put the plug in the sink, and the water has simply kept draining away as fast as the ideas flowed. But the instinct is innate, obstinate and still looking for a space to fill.
Freelancers know our sector workplace uniquely well - we are the travellers, the nomads, learning, sharing and making change as we pass through.... and this time of new connections has multiplied our perspectives, so that now we have collected an even more informed understanding. All over the UK - on screens, in notebooks, in conversation after conversation, innumerable different groups have co-created manifold clear ideas for better systems. The ambition for a more sustainable and equitable future is huge, and infinite imagination and analysis has been invested in its description.
That’s alongside ideas and suggestions for reinventing our way of meeting audiences right now - the actual work!
The funding structures are not going to make natural containers for these ideas any time soon, so our freelance resourcefulness will continue to be called on - how to land these proposals and ideas so that Real Things Happen.
All this continues as our collective chances of making a living take a nose-dive, and as we look at delivering work to nationwide communities in deep recession and trauma…
So… in a week when the Alice-Through-The-Looking-Glass of it all took another leap through the mirror, it seems like a good moment to bring attention to some of the open doors and imaginative practice from the funded organisations - good initiatives are out there.
Asking across our volunteer group here are a few…. there are genuinely many more:
Unicorn Theatre are currently supporting freelancers who have worked with us recently with: regular zoom sessions with freelancers, both general catch ups and specific practical sessions; a Slack group where we’re sharing resources and info etc.; staff are volunteering support with ACE applications; and future plans to support project grants with in-kind support where we can.
Camden People’s Theatre has announced their largest ever lot of commissions and seed funds, and are an example of best practice in their inclusiveness. A small theatre perhaps, but one that provides an enormous number of opportunities each year, and one that has been leading the way ethically for some time. At a time when cash is not exactly flowing, seeing them find the way to create as many opportunities as possible gives a ray of hope.
The team at Theatre Royal Stratford East want to continue to make work, even in a socially distanced way, in some way during this period, to reach audiences and to provide work to freelancers – and recognise that this is crucial to sector survival.
They are looking at what this might mean through the autumn and possibly into the spring, and how they could work with freelancers to support them, even when not making normal work.
TRSE are actively asking how they can support freelancers, whilst knowing that the constraints mean that what they can offer doesn’t replace contracts for normal scale projects.
Studio Wayne McGregor have fund-raised to offer a completely free 10-week intensive training (Reset 2020) for freelance dancers including class, training and mentoring, with access to talks on wellbeing, finance, fundraising, etc. The idea is to help dancers sustain their physical and mental fitness during this time. There are also day workshops for recent graduates.
HighTide new writing company immediately launched their Lighthouse Project in March - with a range of distinct projects to keep writers working and freelancers engaged - not to mention keeping the momentum on encouraging a wide range of participation from all backgrounds.
Strike A Light are reallocating some of their 2021 programming budget to employ artists full time for a year. This follows a summer project for three artists - non-prescriptive, with the simple brief to make work with the community in Gloucestershire. They are looking for other organisations willing to join the experiment of putting artist + community at the centre of funded activity.
Bill Bankes Jones is AD of Tete à Tete and wrote this account of his experience:
Tête à Tête, the company I run has an entirely freelance workforce, nurturing many more freelancers by hosting them in our opera festival. Out of a determination to empower and operate openly and democratically we powered through Covid-19, keeping everyone's ideas as alive as we could. This led to us presenting the only DCMS opera Pilot Performance and, barring disaster, has set us up for 2 weeks of live performances at the Cockpit in September. Though it has really not been business as usual, with goalposts moving all the time, I don't regret one second, and feel immensely proud of everyone for hanging on to our dreams.
New Adventures have extended their Jump Start programme to a new scheme called Spring Forward which offers grants to dancers wanting to retrain and extend their skills elsewhere - already they have funded training in Floristry, Art Therapy, Environmental Management and motion capture - to name a few - as well as funding choreographic development and dance courses. The funds can also be applied for to cover living expenses. They are also running monthly sessions with all their freelancers.
Meanwhile, a recent piece of positive action at FMTW:
We sent a letter to the organisers of the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival, which is going ahead at the end of August, requesting inclusion of full credits in their online programme for the events and performances in the festival. These credits are often to be found missing from the outdoor circuit programmes. Our letter was responded to immediately, with a full support and agreement, and changes began to appear on their website within a question of days. We are very appreciative of the positive and dynamic response received. This is welcome recognition of the largely freelance teams that make the shows, and is a step towards building public awareness about the work that goes into making live entertainment. Change needs to happen from the ground up and from the top down, and while it’s the long haul we’re in for, it’s also good to celebrate small victories along the way.
We recently caught up with BAPAM - a brilliant charity providing free healthcare advice and resources to the performance sector. See their website here: www.bapam.org.uk