It was only 19 days ago that we first met. We didn’t all know each other, and we weren’t entirely certain what we could achieve by meeting.
Previously in mid-May, as theatres and theatre companies were shifting from crisis meetings to survival meetings, the freelance community started to realise conversations were happening… but very much without them.
One of us went to the National Theatre and suggested that a conversation needed to be had with freelancers. The executive team at the NT were supportive, and went on to contact all the theatres in the London Theatre Consortium, (amongst whom there was already a cooperative ongoing dialogue), suggesting that they – NT included – meet with their freelancers. Each of the theatres in the Consortium gave space for freelancers to ask questions, raise concerns and talk about their hopes now and in the future.
From those discussions, it was agreed that one freelancer from each of the theatres would feed those separate conversations back into a central group made up of representatives from each theatre. That first meeting – of what would become the Freelancers Make Theatre Work team – happened on May 29th.
As we shared what was being talked about it rapidly become clear that communication was one of the most vital and missing pieces of the jigsaw. Everyone was talking about being in the dark. It was clear that it was necessary for the wider freelance community to be brought into the conversation. Key words that kept coming up were transparency, advocacy, fairness, connectivity….
We also had enough information to realise that time was, and is, of the essence. The shared spirit of this group has absolutely been to move quickly; but also with care. Generosity and listening are core values. We do need to be quick; but also careful. We were lucky that the group who first came together were pretty diverse and wide reaching and also made up of people who had volunteered to do the work. That made for an active and participatory group. We looked at each other and decided to move forward in this spirit.
The website was an immediate suggestion. A week later at our second meeting we had a template (Polly Bennett and Neil Austin are machines). The creation of the template encouraged us to discuss what we were really trying to do, how we might reach out and empower our community, how that community could find a voice and how the richness of the freelance world could become more visible. It was vital that we empowered our community to stand up and be seen (through our Instagram picture project); to campaign (we drew up an open letter to the Government and a template letter to send to MPs to add to the pressure on the Government); and to have access to a centralised information hub (on our website, which includes links to a range of news sources, professional resources and financial and mental health sources amongst other things).
There were so many fantastic conversations. An early idea was to call the site “We Make Theatre Work” but then who are “we” to claim ownership of us? “Freelancers” is much more collective. It speaks – hopefully – to us all. That’s the tightrope the site, and the team, walks: to share, to be collective, to avoid becoming another silo.
Most of those at that first meeting have become a loose steering group who are voluntarily and independently trying to find a way through this situation in a way that might bring hope to all of us. The group has a revolving door policy, that both allows each of us to give up only the time that we have, and enables the group to keep growing.
We have discussed areas where we don’t have enough representation and we will work on this. We have a brilliant political voice in Wales – we need to find that in Scotland. Amongst us are Black and Asian artists/creatives, but we are constantly thinking about who is not in the conversation, including freelance workers marginalised for their race or disability.
So, here we are, 19 days later, launching the collective, the website and our campaigns. Let us know, how we can best represent you.