With more and more theatres closing and mixed messaging coming from our Government, the flow of information to Freelancers and Arts Workers from Organisations, Buildings, Government etc is paramount. Over the holidays, we will be using this LIVE UPDATES blog as a space to drop all the information we are receiving as well as reporting on any meetings we are attending.
General news stories and articles are still being updated on the ‘In The News‘ section of the website.
26 December 2021
Not another f**king survey.
In all the Freelancers Make Theatre Work planning that has taken place over the past six months, we can assure you that sending a survey link on Boxing Day was not part of the strategy.
We are tired.
We know many of you are tired too.
And we know the importance of rest.
We also know that rest does not come without a feeling of safety and with the industry reeling from the impact of the Omicron variant after twenty months of uncertainty that few freelancers have any sense of safety net.
We believe our role is to lobby for strategic responses to the ever changing situation that not only recognise freelancers’ concerns but that lead to sustainable and meaningful change.
Time and again, the biggest challenge we face is the absence of data reflecting the workforce, and more so data which reflects the different circumstances created with each guideline change.
Over the course of our work we have come to understand that , the further up the decision tree you aim, the less anecdotal evidence is likely to meaningfully impact policy making.
So two questions remain
- How do we collect ongoing data when we know that lots of people are loathed to compete yet another survey (possibly because they don’t trust that doing so leads to improved conditions after they experience over the past two years)?
- And, how do we collect data which is relevant without retraumatizing the workforce?
These questions were the basis for our initial conversations with officials from DCMS, when they arranged an emergency meeting regarding data gathering about the impact of Omicron, on Thursday 23rd December.
Essentially, DCMS need to measure the impact of recent events to inform future planning.
Understanding that the freelance workforce in England need a plan (the Devolved Government’s have already launched cancellation bursaries, applications for which open January), we believe that supporting this data gathering is the most constructive action we can take given the urgency of the situation.
We are undertaking this work in the clear knowledge that there are no promises about what happens next, this isn’t a sneaky deal where we provide stats and miraculous schemes for freelancers will appear. It’s genuine research. We gather the data, then analysis begins.
However, we also know that if we don’t distribute this survey, the information gathered around freelancers will be done via organisations and therefore may have a different narrative to that which a freelancer may give.
This is not to position ourselves in opposition to organisations but it is to recognise that the people who can speak most accurately to the freelance experience are (surprisingly) freelancers.
As the crisis continues, it’s more important than ever that freelance experiences are visible and positioned in a way that strengthens the likelihood of them informing policy.
So, if you work in England and if you have the energy we would really encourage you to complete the survey before the midnight deadline. The broader the perspectives the clearer the narrative of what our industry is, who these cancellations impact and the potential impact of the future.
The survey is short and to the point, this is the data needed now as the situation unfolds before us. As well as collating this data, we will continue to explore ways of gathering information so that times of crisis are not always followed by a rush of surveys.
It’s still an imperfect system, but by continuing to make our voices heard the understanding of the industry is shifting.
Make your experience heard now: Click here to take the survey
As it’s the holiday season many of the usual channels to share this survey will be having a break and it’s so important we get this snap shot to DCMS so please, please – if you could share as widely as possible it would be amazing. THANK YOU
23 December 2021
Theatre Artists Fund reopens tomorrow
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport via Arts Council England, Gatsby Charitable Foundation and the Backstage Trust have led a campaign for donations to the Theatre Artists Fund over the past 48 hours, alongside other major benefactors and trusts. From this extraordinary collective effort, £2 million has already been raised to help the growing number of theatre freelancers suddenly finding themselves without work, due to the UK’s rising number of Covid cases and subsequent show cancellations.
A new round of Theatre Artists Fund grant applications opens at midday on Friday 24 December for individuals whose work has been directly impacted due to Covid. Applications will close at midday on Monday 10 January, with assessments and money being distributed as soon as possible after that date.
Key information for theatre freelancers
- The Theatre Artists Fund will re-open for applications at 12noon on Friday 24 December at and close at 12noon on Monday 10 January 2022.
- Freelancers who have had work affected/cancelled and who are facing hardship are encouraged to apply.
- Grants will be awarded to eligible applications on the basis of hardship. The number of grants awarded is also dependent on available funds.
- Once applications close, the assessment process will take place, along with distribution of the money, as soon as possible.
22 December 2021
£21 million to support culture and events
Additional funds for organisations and freelancers.
A £21 million support package to support cultural and events organisations and freelancers experiencing cancellations due to the rapid spread of the new Omicron variant has been announced.
This is to help manage the significant impact of the new guidelines around social distancing and the limitations on the number of people who can attend events.
The £21 million is from the £100 million package announced by the Scottish Government last week to compensate businesses affected by events cancellations and includes an additional £1 million from existing events sector funds.
22 December 2021
Layoff Clauses – Via Bectu
Shows are now being cancelled at an alarmingly quickening pace and the layoff clauses in the Variation Agreements are starting to be invoked. Bectu have supplied us with a quick guide to things that you need to look out for if you are being laid off.
Please reach out to your union if you need more guidance and/or support.
21 December 2021
Where we are
Update from Paule Constable
I keep thinking I’ll write this newsletter tomorrow because by then we’ll know more – but the truth is that will never be the case and that version of tomorrow never comes. So I’ll start now… Please forgive the fact that none of this is complete, nor will the situation look the same for each of us but one of the things that has been hardest for us all through the past 18 months has been the lack of the knowledge. I hope by sharing it might help us to hold on to something because – let’s be honest – we are all reeling – trying to do shows, frightened to be in the room, wanting to keep going, wanting to hide under the bed.
SOLT and UK Theatre are the mechanism through which our industry can talk to government – and they are talking daily with DCMS and Treasury. They have articulated the asks for the sector as follows:
1. Widening of eligibility criteria to CRF emergency resource grant strand to include previous recipients of CRF repayable finance, and changing the formation date requirements to allow more commercial productions, who may have only formed since theatres reopened earlier this year, to apply to the strand. This fund will also need topping up with more money, but could be a rapid deployment to help quickly. Equally widening CRF allows for greater support of workforce, particularly if commercial sector are able to benefit
2. An immediate return to 5% VAT on ticket sales and business rates relief on cultural buildings
3. The reintroduction of Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme/Self Employed Income Support Scheme for sectors affected by closures
4. A contribution to the Theatre Artist Fund (and Help Musicians) to support cultural freelancers who may continue to fall through the cracks
5. TTR – a simple change to the legislation to allow for expense incurred since 27 Oct
This may feel infuriating – the specific asks for the freelance seeming to be so small a part – but there are a few things to note here. Firstly, that freelancers are folded into these asks – both in the request for an extension of SEIS and for a contribution to the Theatre Artists Fund. That’s new. When our world had to justify its worth all those months ago the freelancers were entirely overlooked. That isn’t the case this time. And secondly – the government – in this moment of emergency – is not going to spend the time or effort in finding a new mechanism to get money to freelancers. This has to happen through a mechanism that has been used and tried and tested before. Money going to the Theatre Artists Fund has, in the past, come from the Arts Council, yes, but it has and will be signed off at Secretary of State level. So the Theatre Artists Fund is a way by which they, the government, can reach those in greatest need quickest. It’s not great but it is better than nothing.
So in terms of a rescue package the news earlier today from Treasury about a £30 million top up to the Cultural Recovery Fund is also good in that it shows that they acknowledge that there is a problem. That is a big win. They see us. The money isn’t enough and the situation is rapidly changing but they haven’t ignored us.
The next question – in fact the pressing one for us all is of course the lockdown question. Today Scotland announced a limit to 200 for indoor events for three weeks from Boxing Day. In Wales sport has already shifted to behind closed doors. Opinion in Whitehall seems divided – but everyone I have spoken to assures me that the leaks in The Times are as close to what is going to happen as any of us can get. That would, in all likelihood, leave us able to rehearse but unable to have audiences in our theatres from around Boxing Day.
The crystal ball gazing is exhausting.
What we do know is that the damage is already being done. Audiences are nervous; shows that can perform are seeing audience figures plummet and there is a terrible daily lottery as to who is even able to pull together enough cast and crew and front of house staff to keep the shows going. Andrew Lloyd Webber announced today that Cinderella will not reopen until February. The National is closed until the New Year at least. Some companies are still paying staff – there are variation agreements being used everywhere and we are all standing on quicksand. We are in lock down by default. The mental health toll on everyone is excruciating.
There is one other glimpse of positivity – a hope – to share. Today DCMS started to ask what the situation really is for the workforce. What have we already lost? It’s crazily short notice but we are going to try to pull together a brief survey of two or three questions that we’ll share as widely as possible – to try to get some data and anecdotal evidence to them. Please keep an eye on our social media and, if you can find the energy, please let us know what has happened to you. Them asking the question means they are hearing our voices.
What is vital right now is that we continue to make a noise – write to your MP – talk about what you have lost. Tell them the stories of what is actually happening to our industry. It feels more vital than ever to keep the pressure on them.
And please, share this update everywhere you can – we need to find each other, hold onto each other and move through this madness together. None of us is alone. The more we share knowledge the stronger we are.
And keep checking in with Freelancers Make Theatre Work. We’ll share everything we can in a running blog over Christmas.
Let’s all share and listen and not lose heart. It’s hard but it is so vital.
Stay strong. And come out from under the bed…….
21 December 2021
Updated MPs letter
We have updated our MPs letter to reflect the recent announcement from the Chancellor and additional £30million Culture Recovery Fund funding. Please continue to lobby your MP. You can download our MPs template here.
20 December 2021
Latest SOLT Update
With the rapidly evolving situation with the new Omicron variant, we wanted to give you an update as to activity over the past few days.
Here is an overview of some of the activity the Media & Marketing Team have been undertaking to support the shows that remain open.
Here we are compiling a list of London show cancellations by performance date for industry reference only, so please do not share more widely. We will be communicating what we know with press separately. Please ensure firstname.lastname@example.org is receiving your show cancellation notices and if anything is incorrect please let us know asap.
Below is the latest update with regard to government lobbying:
Firstly, multiple engagements across government are taking place, including a meeting with representatives from across DCMS sectors on Friday with both DCMS and HMT ministers and officials present, where Julian presented the current situation within, and the needs of, the theatre industry. This has been accompanied by a lot of data being shared with officials on an ongoing basis – thank you to all who have been feeding in as this has helped enormously.
Today, we have been part of a briefing with the Labour shadow cabinets teams for DCMS and Treasury, and we have also met with the Freelancers Make Theatre Work team to try and ensure we can best cover freelancers’ needs.
We are back engaged in discussions of what financial support the sector will need. In numerous other discussions, we have focused on some key asks – these also align to most other sectors:
1. Widening of eligibility criteria to CRF emergency resource grant strand to include previous recipients of CRF repayable finance, and changing the formation date requirements to allow more commercial productions, which may have only formed since theatres reopened earlier this year, to apply to the strand. This fund will also need topping up with more money but could be a rapid deployment to help quickly. Widening this CRF fund would also allow for greater support of workforce.
2. An immediate return to 5% VAT on ticket sales and business rates relief on cultural buildings.
3. The reintroduction of Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme / Self Employed Income Support Scheme for sectors affected by closures.
4. A contribution to the Theatre Artist Fund (and Help Musicians) to support cultural freelancers who may continue to fall through the cracks.
5. TTR – a simple change to the legislation to allow for expenses incurred since 27 October to benefit from the higher rate will give producers in both the commercial and not for profit sectors greater confidence and resilience, whilst also continuing to incentivise future work.
We expect conversations around these areas to continue through the coming days.
As you know, nothing has been announced re any future restrictions but there is enough in the media for us to believe that measures are being actively considered – understanding when and what the measures are (as well as their duration), is obviously crucial and we’ll keep you updated as and when we know more.
20 December 2021
After a meeting with SOLT this morning, it has bveen decided Freelancers Make Theatre Work will create a ‘Live Updates’ page which will include key communications from SOLT and other Arts Organisations