FREELANCERS MAKE THEATRE WORK
WEEKLY MEETING MINUTES
09:30-11:30, FRIDAY 04 December
Present: Kelsie Acton, Ben Arkell, Bill Bankes Jones, Sally Beck Wippman, Paule Constable, Alistair Cope, Freddie Crossley, Anna Fleischle, Sunita Hinduja, Hazel Holder, Jack Hudson, Susan Kempster, Peter McKintosh, Prema Mehta, Vicki Mortimer, Arran Pallan, Emma Jayne Park, Beth Steel, Athena Stevens, Ella Taylor, Adele Thomas, Leo Wan
Guest speaker: Eleanor Lloyd, President of Society of London Theatres
Eleanor Lloyd is a commercial producer based in London. She has recently been appointed the new President of SOLT (Society of London Theatres) having previously been on the board for six years.
SOLT is a membership org that represents commercial producers, theatre owners and some of the big London NPOS (all of which are listed on the website). Their partner organisation is UK Theatre, which is the same model but not limited to London. Members pay a levy on shows that goes towards supporting the SOLT team. In return for which, SOLT negotiates collective bargaining agreements with unions, conducts marketing operations, runs Theatre Tokens, The TKTS booth, Olivier Awards, and ticketing schemes such as Get Into London Theatre. It also collects data from its members and does a lot of work on workforce, such as supporting producers and venues with understanding apprenticeship rules, promoting diversity and inclusions, and operating a legal department. Historically it has not had much of a relationship with government until this year, when it has been almost their entire focus. Their lobbying efforts have focussed on enabling theatres to operate again and making the case for financial support (i.e. explaining the theatre economy and working structures), including for freelancers.
SOLT have been very successful in campaigning for theatres to be able to operate (e.g. in relation to the tier system) and ultimately this is the only way to get people back to work in theatre. However it was noted that Covid-19 is the second time recently that the UK theatre industry has had to scramble to catch up with political developments, the first being proposed EU lighting regulations, and that we need ways to address this in the future. To this end we need to shift out focus forward to where the gaps are between freelancers and organisations (e.g. communication, financial disparity, agency in decision making) and start looking for ways to support or improve. Freelancers are currently aware of many of these things getting worse when they already needed to improve prior to the pandemic. For example, fees and working conditions, which many freelancers fear are now being threatened, perhaps permanently, by the agreed changes to the SOLT-Equity agreements. The amended agreements are aimed to get theatres up and running sooner rather than later within limited resources, which the changes would allow, but changes such as Sunday working and pro rata-ing are barriers to diversifying the workforce.
SOLT’s interaction with freelancers has largely been through unions such as BECTU and Equity. In an ideal world, the agreements they negotiate protect both sides and provide a set of rules as a starting point that one can build on. This model excludes campaign groups such as FMTW, which in part have grown out of a feeling among many freelancers that they are not represented by Unions. It is worrying for SOLT to hear that there are so many freelancers who do not feel represented by union relationships.
Whilst it was acknowledged that support for freelancer groups has been harder without financial resources, which are currently required to keep the large SOLT team running, it was pointed out that working groups that impact freelancers are still being set up without any freelance representation. It was suggested that SOLT need to engage in the same relationship building exercises with freelancers as they have with government and include them in conversations. This is not necessarily mean agreeing but normalising open conversations with the individuals who make up 70% of the workforce. The unions’ role in negotiating terms and conditions does not need to be replaced but more connections with freelancers would break down naivety on both sides and lead to better decisions together.
- Online activity has been quieter in the build up to Christmas
- We need zoom links for next week’s dawn chorus and boxing and a host for the dawn chorus
- All outstanding merch orders have been fulfilled (please keep pushing)
- The advent calendar has launched successfully – if you have pencilled an upcoming date please send your content through soon or it will be replaced.
- Actional emails shared in Slack
- This role needs to be handed over at some point
- The latest episode has been recorded
- The artwork needs signing off
- Episode 1 will be released as part of the advent calendar, followed by episodes 2-4 in January
- If anyone has capacity, there are a few things that need contribution on Slack
- The planned series of workshops have been rescheduled for w/c 18th January
- A catch up meeting should be scheduled before the Christmas break
New MPs letter
- A new letter has been drafted
- The Christmas Newsletter has been posted in Slack for polishing
- An optimistic, forward-facing letter was suggested for next week, perhaps an interview someone who’s gone back to work. This is being pursued – to be picked up in Slack
Future Labs/ Future Labs #10
- The final follow up contained many complicating elements all together for the first time (captions, break out rooms, live illustration) but was a success.
- The deadline for an article outline 10 actionable ideas is 8 January
- A broader list of ideas could be contained in a video/social media campaign
- There were meetings with ACE and a handful of executive directors this week, which will be summarised for Our News section.
- These groups could be involved in a 10th event as part of actioning the ideas from the Labs
- A catch up meeting will be scheduled for Wednesday
Big Freelancer Report
- Copy for the project’s aims and outcomes has been shared in Slack for approval
- Gathering reports will begin over Dec/Jan for working through and presenting in the new year
Recap action points
- Send pencilled advent calendar content through
- Respond to wellbeing actions in Slack
- Schedule wellbeing catch up before the Christmas break
- Pick up newsletter proposal
- Write summaries of meetings with ACE and Executive Directors
- AAPTE have been forming good relationships with the unions. It was suggested that we record the developments in Our News on the website.
- A theatre conference is taking place with several high status representatives and no freelancers – a latter drawing attention to this has been shared in Slack for approval and sending next week.
- Wellbeing catch up – TBC (before Christmas break)
- Future Labs catch up – Wednesday, 13:00 (chair: Jack Hudson)
- Regular meeting – Friday 11 December, 09:30 – 11:30 (chair: Ben Arkell)
Last 2020 regular meeting – Friday 18 December, 09:30 – 11:30 (chair: Adele Thomas)
First 2021 regular meeting – Friday 08 January, 09:30 – 11:30 (chair: Peter McKintosh)