FREELANCERS MAKE THEATRE WORK
WEEKLY MEETING MINUTES
09:30-11:30, FRIDAY 4th September
Present: Esi Acquaah-Harrison, Keslie Acton, Bill Bankes-Jones, Siobhán Barbour, Sally Beck Wippman, Nafeesah Butt, Alistair Cope, Freddie Crossley, Sunita Hinduja, Hazel Holder, Jack Hudson, Matt Humphrey, Ola Ince, Peter McKintosh, Prema Mehta, Vicki Mortimer, Chinoyerem Odimba, Emma Jayne Park*, Tom Piper, Athena Stevens, Leo Wan (* first attendance)
Guest speaker: Kenny Wax, Producer and President of SOLT
Kenny Wax Ltd produce a number of commercial shows including SIX, which was closed on Broadway four hours before first performance. Lots of commercial producers and regional touring theatres are making staff redundant, largely support staff e.g. front of house, but also office staff. The only way we can move forward is to open the door enough to make work so that we can employ as many people as possible and encourage the rest of the industry to do the same. e.g. The SIX Drive-In, which had to be pulled because of the risk of cancellation. Currently coordinating plans to reopen resident shows and trying to restart tours, but these are harder because of the need for consecutive dates and venues.
Financially, shows like SIX and The Play That Goes Wrong, are at the smaller end of commercial weekly costs, with reliable sales, which is enough to keep people employed and avoid redundancies but unlikely to make much money.
The company has reached out to support employees experiencing extreme hardship where possible.
Freelancers, including the whole network of workers across scales and roles, are at the centre of conversations SOLT are having. They are also prioritising conversations around sustainability and diversity. The whole board are undertaking unconscious bias training, which will be rolled out across the organisation and events like the Olivier Awards are being made greener. Their conversations with DCMS have had to explain how the theatre industry works and its reliance on freelancers and smaller organisations, not just theatres. We will explore ways to strengthen communication of this work between SOLT and freelancers, perhaps in the model of SOLT’s previous webinars.
A concern was raised about the ongoing negotiating between SOLT and unions, and proposed changes to agreements lasting beyond the pandemic to the detriment of freelancers, such as Sunday working.
Kenny would be happy to arrange for someone to come and talk to us from SOLT if we would like. There was subsequently a suggestion that we invite Julian Bird to ask more about what SOLT is actually doing in terms of freelancers, representation and access.
Update on implicit bias training
A few people have done the first training session and recommend signing up to one of the future sessions. After which, it might be good to organise a group follow up discussion.
Freelancers on Boards
We were updated on a ‘Board Bank’ project, to pay, train and support more freelancers to sit on boards, alongside training for organisations’ boards towards better reflecting society. Currently in a conversation with Arts and Business Scotland to pilot the project in 2021.
We have drafted a letter introducing the project to freelancers, which we can be sent out next week as a free-standing email, separate from the newsletter.
Before that, we need to:
- Shorten and simplify it, making the two-part structure of each conversation clearer.
- Ask applicants for access requirements and create a plain language version.
- Broaden the language to be less England-specific
- Make the invite and details clearer (transparency, payment etc)
- Describe the sessions in more logistical details (e.g. length, zoom etc)
- Possibly rephrase “non-creative freelancers”
It is essential that those who frequently do not apply for opportunities and who are often absent from initial project conversations are in the room and can be heard.
Once the letter is complete, the next action points for the Labs are:
- Draft web copy, including simplified FAQs for the series
- confirm the short-term topics for the panels
- confirm application process for freelance panellists
- identify ADs for first panel(s) and draft formal invite
We will use next week’s Wednesday meeting to pick these up.
Guest Speaker: Martin Bright from Creative Society
Came to the creative sector as a journalist and formed Creative Society to campaign for and support more imaginative responses to socioeconomic problems for young people. Currently looking for ways to make the government’s support packages work for freelancers and those who are falling through the cracks, and helping ACE with their submission to the Comprehensive Spending Review, with a particular focus on skills.
These conversations are ongoing but it is hard to see significant solutions being reached and in the meantime people are leaving the industry. The feeling in Whitehall is that the arts sector has now been generously dealt with and therefore the creative sector needs to think about how it can tap into other funds, such as Kickstart, as well as the Comprehensive Spending Review.
A question was raised about enabling freelancers in the theatre sector to transfer their skills between the public and private sectors? In response to this, the Arts Council’s focus on hubs and areas of low cultural engagement was mentioned, which will likely require input from large companies. DCMS and ACE are very keen for input of ideas, and would welcome our collective expertise – it was suggested that we invite someone to this group.
The approaching loss of EU funding for culture was raised – alongside a suggestion that we build proposals for new structures around replacing what we are going to lose through BREXIT, appropriating the language of politics and international funding bodies, e.g. European Social Fund. We need to be tactical about how we approach this; two things were highlighted – the government’s focus on ‘levelling up’ and the red wall constituencies (especially Teesside and the North East). We know that the creative sector can be a big part of regeneration and that areas of low cultural engagement are not averse to it when the opportunities are there.
Emails, website and social media
- There have been 177 downloads of the new MP letters.
- It will take a few days to build future labs webpage so we need to give advanced notice of language, forms etc and social media elements (including any hashtags)
- A newsletter has been drafted for next week, which will trail the Future Labs but also expand collaboration to other organisations and the wider community.
- We will also add the next Picnic date (16 September, 12pm) – locations TBD
A conversation is happening with Sue Tibballs from the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, who support grassroots campaigning with training – it was suggested that we invite her as a guest speaker to advise on campaigning.
There was a suggestion that we raise BREXIT in our next MPs letter.
We will invite someone from Creative and Cultural Skills to talk to us.
Recap action points and deadlines
- Continue drafting Future Labs emails and web copy
- Send Future Labs mail out, after newsletter
- Follow up with Martin Bright
- Continue lobbying conversations
- Follow up with proposed guest speakers
- Sign up for implicit bias training
Dates/times for next meetings
- Follow up meeting with Martin – Monday (chair: Paule Constable)
- Future Labs meeting – Wednesday
- Next catch up – Friday 11 September, 9.30-11.30am (chair: Peter McKintosh)