FMTW Newsletter 4 – 13 July 2020

13th July 2020

I think it’s fair to say that everyone at Freelancers Make Theatre Work feels like we’ve survived a hurricane this week. Our theatrical landscape has been changing at such a great pace.

The bombshell arrival of the £1.57bn Government investment caught everyone completely by surprise a week ago.  Industry diplomacy had been vital in convincing DCMS and Treasury to provide this level of support. Amongst their armour of statistics was the study COVID-19: Routes To Recovery produced from your 8000+ responses to The Big Freelancer Survey.  Your involvement in the survey was essential to provide hard data and testimony, to the centre of Government just as they were deciding how far into their pockets they would reach.  Your contribution made a difference – Thank you!

Unfortunately, the announcement allowed only brief moment of respite. It raised as many questions as it initially seemed to answer.  Was this money purely for organisations, or for individuals as well?  The messaging from the Government was that this was not for freelancers, and yet the Arts Council and individual theatres immediately suggested that it needed to be.

We clearly know that freelancers need financial help now – The Routes to Recovery study highlighted that:

  • 1 in 3 of the freelance workforce has received no support from SEISS/ CJRS

  • 1 in 4 of the freelance workforce have been unable to access emergency income of any kind

Even those that have received support so far will be left high and dry after August.  Without a concrete Government plan for theatres re-opening, the industry will work to the worst-case scenario, which currently appears to be no shows until Spring 2021.  We will all be without income for at least another 8 months.

 This is why it’s important to use your voice to write again to your local MP. We have drafted a new template letter which asks that all Freelancers are given financial support until the industry is allowed to restart and that Freelancers have a place in all decision making about the Arts, including how the £1.57bn is distributed.

The perils of allowing the current financial instability to continue are there in black and white in the Routes to Recovery study.

  •  1 in 3 of you say you are likely to leave the theatre industry

And diversity is most at risk of being affected by this exodus. Those reporting as most likely to leave include:

  • 47% of all Stage and Company Management who identify as people of colour

  • Black, Asian, Minority ethnic sound, video and lighting designers

There is an obvious and urgent need for the industry to be more ethnically diverse, more representative of our d/Deaf and disabled colleagues, more inclusive of gender diversity in all of its myriad forms. So, to see that these are the freelancers most likely to be forced out of the industry is very distressing.

This period of emergency has exposed the systemic infantilisation of freelancers.  The structure of the industry has kept us out of conversations about how power is distributed.  We are left powerless to stand up for our rights and beliefs, because we are told there are a many others willing to take our place for the same bad pay and conditions.  But we, the freelancers, are equally guilty.  By not joining together we have allowed our collective voice to be fractured and diminished.  We need to disrupt the structures of power to make way for real and systemic change.

As a group, we have found ourselves coming back to the same phrase again and again:

• Freelancers need to be involved in all conversations moving forward

This must be the moment our industry acknowledges that our world has changed.  We must implement new working practices, address the inequalities and accept that the old models of working are completely unacceptable.  It is time to break down the service relationship.

To gather ideas about this we will be launching a new social media campaign later this week.  It will encourage you to voice your thoughts about the future direction of the industry.  Keep an eye on your inbox for details of how to take part.  Your contributions will lead into our next Open Letter to Artistic Directors, Producers and Theatre Managements, so make sure that you take part!

Perhaps the most palpable and overwhelming feeling amongst the team this week has been exhaustion. Many of you, like us, will have spent lockdown pounding on doors and shouting from rooftops, without being paid and without support or resources.  Others of you have been in a state of total paralysis for the last 3 months.  We are going through every emotion from grief to hope as we watch our industry slowly collapse.  The sense of isolation is only increasing now as we watch the rest of the world go back to work.  This is hard, exhausting and emotionally draining.  So, we will be ramping up the Mental Health resources available on our website to help with this.  We will be posting videos about how to manage your emotional wellbeing during this time.  Please check out the website for details.

We should all take heart that our message is starting to get through.  In parliament, throughout the media and across social media, the word “freelancer” is ringing out again and again.  Jo Stevens, Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has spoken passionately on our behalf.  MPs from all sides have asked questions in parliament about provision for freelancers.  SOLT, Netflix and Sam Mendes launched a fund to support freelancers that had fallen through the cracks of previously available funding.  The Arts Council has announced that it will prioritise individuals when it reopens its grant programme.

Collectively, we have moved the needs of freelancers to the heart of the agenda. We cannot stop now.

Adele Thomas – Freelance Director

Prema Mehta – Freelance Lighting Designer

Neil Austin – Freelance Lighting Designer