Each week, as I participate in the discussions we have at FMTW, I find myself thinking about the freelancers who are not represented in our Zoom meetings. The carpenters, production electricians, LX programmers, prop makers and supervisors, costume makers, wig and make-up artists, dressers, crew and stage management and all the other technical/specialised backstage areas, who are all often freelance workers. Who is accurately representing them? Especially while they cannot do the jobs that they so wish to do; the jobs that they were called to or trained for. Many of these freelancers have been resilient. They have gone and found other employment to pay their bills in lieu of meaningful financial support from government, but has this taken them away from the daily conversations that could change the way we return to industry?
Why am I raising this? Why now?
We must all be feeling the pinch (I certainly am) in both financial terms as savings slowly dwindle, and also the mental toll as the virus enters the second wave. Looking back through the selfies of ‘Freelancers Make Theatre Work’ there are no ASMs, no carpenters and very few prop and other backstage workers. So, it’s time to ask: where are your friends and previous colleagues? Have you checked on them? Just as importantly; are you doing ok
While we understand that all workers may not want to be part of every discussion, or even feel that anything is achieved by them, here at FMTW we need to know that we are communicating information to as many freelancers as possible, to enable us all to come back fairer, better and stronger in the future.
Is some of this reticence a result of the hierarchies that exist? We all need to feel we can voice our concerns and propose solutions, and, if we do not feel able to put our names to those thoughts, find ways we can do that safely and without fear of being ostracised or judged.
FMTW continue to discuss how we can help every voice be heard beyond the pandemic. We need to make sure that freelancers from all areas of the industry are being reached. It is very important to fight for freelance voices on boards and to hold the Government and industry organisations to account. We need to make sure that the people we hope to represent in discussions, and to work with again, are with us and are aware of these moves on their behalf. Even if you do not feel that we will be successful in changing the systems; acknowledgement of ideas is just as viable a sentiment as success.
We have made a difference. We are a vociferous, motivated, opinionated (or maybe just a bloody-minded) collective, by the situation we are all in. We wonder how we can make sure that we are reaching out to all those who may not find it so easy to embrace the pressure groups, discussion boards and social media but can contribute their ideas, thoughts or even just their numbers to the continuing cause?
So, this is a ‘shout out’ to those freelancers and also to make sure that if you read this invitation that you know all of us here at FMTW can and will raise our voices on your behalf. We are here to help and fight for your rights and requirements as well as be a sounding board for thoughts and opinions. Your wisdom and experiences may help further the cause at FMTW and others fighting the same battles.
While the FMTW volunteers take two weeks of quiet time over Christmas, we are setting up a specific ‘support’ email address which will be regularly checked over the ‘holiday’. There will be an initial auto response assuring a personal reply within 72 hours, and with links to financial and mental-health support resources on the FMTW website. We then have a small team who have volunteered to respond to individual mails.
The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and is a private space for thoughts, ideas, grievances and positive ideas that we can then hopefully share (anonymously and with your consent) and act on, if possible. We would love to hear from as many people as possible; no two experiences are the same, so the more perspective we are able to get, the more effective the change will be.
We also Invite all who read this to take a moment to reach out beyond their usual contemporaries and think about people that you have worked with recently who may not be part of these discussions or campaigns and possibly are from the newer pool of theatre workers, or less senior roles in their respective areas. Send an email or a message to check if they are ok and feel part of the process and industry as a whole. Only then can we go forward as a whole.
Ben Arkell and Sunita Hinduja and FMTW Dec 2020