An open letter to theatre and performance makers

This is a letter to self-employed and freelance theatre and performance makers in the UK. To the actors, playwrights, directors, choreographers, stage managers, designers, stage crews and set-builders to name just a few.

We really miss being with you during this period of lockdown. Making theatre and performance is a collaborative endeavour, so we are particularly affected by having to be apart from one another right now. We’re not able to come together, in the same space, to share the experience of a live performance. We’re not able to practise and enjoy our artform in its most basic form.

It’s now looking increasingly likely that won’t be possible for months to come, and we recognise that many freelancers face real uncertainty about if and how they will be able to continue to work in theatre. 70% of people who work in theatre and performance in the UK are freelance or self-employed, and it’s for this workforce, in all its diversity and complexity, that the impact of the current situation is most acute.

During these past weeks we have had conversations with many of you to understand your needs and the ways you have been affected. We are writing to express our support for you, and to lay out some practical steps we are taking to improve the situation based on these conversations.

As well as exploring ways of producing work with freelancers during lockdown, and using this time to develop new projects with freelancers for the future, we are also are working together to coordinate our response to the government, to articulate clearly what we can offer and what we need.

Most urgently, we are calling for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme to be extended in line with furloughing, for all self-employed workers, and in the specific case of theatre and performance workers, until theatres are able to safely reopen. We also want to see criteria removed from the scheme which are stopping legitimate and much-needed claims.

Some of you are already involved in these conversations. We welcome your voices and need to hear from more of you in the conversations to come. Your unique networks, skillsets, perspectives, and ideas are vital to the entire sector, and we need to work with you in our response to this crisis.

Each of the organisations who’ve signed this letter are committed to reaching out to their family of self-employed and freelance theatre makers; listening to how this is affecting your work and lives, and to your needs and ideas for the future.

More than that, we want to facilitate the establishment of a national task force of self-employed theatre and performance makers. The purpose of the task force is to strengthen the influence of the self-employed theatre and performance community. It would create ongoing points of connection between freelancers and organisations, and amplify the voice of the self-employed in the conversations to come. To help establish the task force, each of the organisations signing this letter will support a freelancer to join the group, ensuring they are paid for their time.

We want to offer a message of hope and solidarity. Our well-practised ability to work together, to form connections, and build relationships will help us through this. One day, hopefully soon, we will all be able to meet together, as people have done for centuries, in a shared space, for a shared experience. In the meantime, we remain committed to working for you and with you towards a sustainable future for theatre and performance.

Signed,

Access All Areas

Action for Children’s Arts

The Almeida Theatre

ArtsAdmin

The Actors Touring Company

Battersea Arts Centre

Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Boundless Theatre

Brighton Festival

Bristol Old Vic

Brixton House

The Bush Theatre

Chichester Festival Theatre

China Plate

Contact

Dance Umbrella

Derby Theatre

Eden Court Highlands

English Touring Theatre

Fio

Fuel

Gate Theatre

Graeae

HOME

Improbable

Kiln Theatre

Leeds Playhouse

Leicester Curve

The National Theatre

National Theatre of Scotland

National Theatre Wales

National Youth Theatre of Great Britain

The New Wolsey Theatre

Northern Stage

Nottingham Playhouse

One Dance UK

Paines Plough

Rose Theatre Kingston

Royal & Derngate

The Royal Court Theatre

The Royal Shakespeare Company

Sadler’s Wells

Sheffield Theatres

Spare Tyre

Talawa

Tangled Feet

The Yard

Theatre Peckham

Theatre Royal Plymouth

Tiata Fahodzi

Yellow Earth

1927

FAQs

Why is this needed?

70% of our performing arts companies will be out of business before the end of this year. More than 1,000 theatres around the country will be insolvent and have to shut down this year, unless government intervenes with a rescue package.

More than 70% of the theatre and performance workforce is self-employed (SOLT, March 2020). 70% of freelance workers were already worried in March 2020 that they wouldn’t be able to pay bills (BECTU survey). A survey revealed that 60% of creative freelances predict their income will more than halve in 2020, and more than 50% of freelancers who responded to a snap poll have already had 100% of their work cancelled (Creative Industries Federation).

Who is the letter to?

It is to everyone who works in the theatre and performance industry in the UK who is self-employed or freelance. The self-employed are in an urgent and acute situation right now, and the situation will only get worse unless they are provided with much needed financial security and representation in conversations about the survival and future of our theatre and performance industry. We also recognise that structural inequalities in our sector and in our society, and the specific implications of COVID-19 itself for individuals within our industry, both contribute to a situation where this crisis is and will continue to be more acute for some than others. For example, but not limited to, D/deaf and disabled freelancers in our industry who face even greater challenges, of long-term shielding, managing their social care and navigating complex benefits issues such as Access to Work. Whether you have been a freelancer for a number of years or are just starting out (and therefore unable to access government support) we are addressing this letter to all those who are self-employed and freelance in our sector.

Who is it from?

So far, it is from all the organisations signed up at the bottom: these range from the large-scale to the small-scale, from producing companies to venues, from Cornwall to Inverness. Other theatre and performance organisations who would like to sign up to the letter, and commit to helping the freelancers’ task force, are still welcome to join. They can email director@fueltheatre.com to sign up or with any questions.

If you have any further questions, you can send an email to theatrefullstop@gmail.com.

Written by Theatrefullstop