Last night, various members from Freelancers Make Theatre Work attended the #WeMakeEvents demo in London and around the UK. Thousands of events professionals including countless freelancers came together across the country to ask the government to act now to support the events industry.
Over 3,600 people turned up wearing red in London alone and across the capital and the country, 719 venues, monuments and buildings lit up red for #LightItinRed.
I attended this very much as an individual wanting to be part of the campaign and add my presence. I had signed up for Arena 3 at the National Theatre, there being four zones you could book into, stretching from London Eye to Tate Modern. It was great to be down on the riverside, seeing the space animated by so many events workers all wearing red. An industry coming together, those not normally visible saying ‘here I am and we need support’. There was a real relish in the stage managers’ eyes, visible over their masks, to be back creating an event.
Behind us the National Theatre remains shut. I was last there for the SceneChange Missing live theatre tape installation in July. The cafe benches are still covered in warning tape, costumes on stands press up against the foyer glass, a sad presence hinting at past activities and unused craft skills. The event was a timely reminder that none of the rescue packages have yet to reach any of the industry, and why we must keep pressure on the government to recognise the huge infrastructure and interdependent ecology of the performing arts and live events.
On the river bank the event was companionable. I saw many ‘bubbles’ of workers just happy to be together. Of course, what you can’t tell under the good humour and friendship, is how many of these people are on a knife’s edge, no work and no prospects of work in sight. How many have fallen through the cracks and not qualified for any support, are having difficulty paying bills, looking to sell up their houses or small businesses? People who were previously working incredibly hard in a highly successful industry, which is genuinely world class, and have seen their lives fall off a cliff in March.
We stood, socially distant, all along the bank in a well-coordinated, well-run ‘show’, and waved our phones and bike torches, lit up red. The video barge, and behind it the press boat, were greeted with huge cheers through our masks, in an emotive mix of jubilation and desperation. Across the river and on the bridges we could see the lights of fellow workers, a delicate and vulnerable reminder that each light was a livelihood all to easily switched off.
Then we dispersed along a subdued Southbank, on this hot, and what would normally be a bustling, summer evening. The effects of social distancing and venue closures were all too apparent; few eateries were still open, while the empty venues glowed red.