FMTW Newsletter 1 – 22nd June 2020

What a week it has been for us here at Freelancers Make Theatre Work! And now being given the pleasure/torment of writing this first newsletter…no pressure!

Like many of the 10-12 volunteer artists and creatives that launched the website and social media campaign last week, I’ve been both dazed at the sheer work it has taken for us to get this off the ground and completely overwhelmed by the positive response both on and offline. A group of people who met for the first time less than 3 weeks ago, we were brought together by conversations with individual theatres mutually acknowledging a need to support thousands of freelancers like us. Freelancers who now don’t not know what is happening in the industry that they had known, and loved, for years.

From our very first Zoom, one of the things that came up again and again was a need to build a collective space that would give voice to the concerns of theatre freelancers across the country. We didn’t know it then, but we were starting to talk about the thing that would become Freelancers Make Theatre Work. Knowing that 70% of the theatre workforce was made up of freelancers was something I personally couldn’t get out of my head: all these lives, livelihoods and futures hanging in the balance.

The website, Twitter and Instagram campaign (in which a freelancer can post an image of themselves with a placard announcing their job/skill title) has been a phenomenon. The range and number of freelancers is breath-taking and generally unseen. Scrolling down through the diverse myriad of faces from across the sector in theatre, dance, opera and other forms of live performance, it starts to hit home what we might lose….who we might lose….and it feels all too urgent.

As well as the pictures, the website offers resources like a template letter to send to your your local MP, an information hub and news from across the press on the sector. There is also an opportunity to share your feelings, stories and resources with each other.

And in most part, the thing that I have felt most humbled and proud of is the response. We’ve had 21,000 visits to the website from 16,000 individual users. And in reaching out to this new community of freelancers, a new survey created in partnership with Curtain Call has already garnered the thoughts and feelings of over 5,000 of us. This data is so crucial to conversations already being had with government and the Arts Council. Outside of data, freelancers are coming together and, hopefully, feeling less alone. I know since joining this incredible group of people I have certainly felt less alone too.

FMTW doesn’t have all the answers. But we are doing everything possible to make sure support organisations and agencies are represented on the website and that the community of freelancers writing in and tweeting is being heard.

A small but ever-growing volunteer team is working hard to keep the website live with the daily changes and news bulletins that are coming in about our sector. Things are tough and things are still unsure, but already FMTW is feeling like a place for all of us to have some of those galvanising conversations. Some of the personal testimonies are a hard read. People falling through the gaps of financial and emotional support are a big concern. It’s hard to ignore the news of theatres going dark for good or, the news from the Creative Industries Federation this week on the impact that COVID could well have on our industry. It all feels hard to hear some days.

But for now, the aim remains the same; to work as part of the whole theatre eco-system, all of which is under threat, and to work with the buildings (whose advocacy first made this group possible), production companies, charities, industry campaigns, PR and press professionals, to promote and strengthen our voices in the bigger conversation about our sector.

In the last week, I go to bed with messages from the group as almost always the last messages I get, and I wake up every morning to new messages first thing. The work feels endless and overwhelming, but, somehow, we keep finding the energy because we too are freelancers, and we need these resources and community. FMTW has brought people who wouldn’t never have met together, and shown even in this moment of uncertainty that the graciousness and generosity of freelancers in the industry is still something worth fighting for.

We, and the website, are nothing without you, so please join us in making yourself visible and making your voice heard.

Chinonyerem Odimba – Freelance Playwright.