Formed in response to the theatre closures caused by the current pandemic, the first round of the Theatre Artists Fund, established by theatre organisations UK Theatre and Society of London Theatre (SOLT) has supported 2,600 theatre workers and freelancers with emergency grants during this challenging time. Supported by various donors, including Netflix and Arts Council England, the second round of the fund is currently open until Friday 20th November. The Theatre Artists Fund team tell us more about the impact of this year’s pandemic on the industry, how to apply for the fund and how it has supported its recipients.
The Theatre Artists Fund was created collaboratively with Sam Mendes. How have you approached working together to create the fund during this challenging time?
Sam was aware how the pandemic was affecting the UK theatre industry and initially approached Netflix for a donation to launch the fund. It all came together quite quickly as everyone wanted the same outcome; to provide some financial relief as soon as possible to theatre professionals in need. From its launch in July, the fund has had to evolve as the Covid landscape keeps changing – so we continue to collaborate to help the industry as best we can.
What has the process of finding fundraising and donors been like?
In the early days of the Theatre Artists Fund, substantial contributions from Netflix and Arts Council England were instrumental in getting the initiative off the ground. We have since been overwhelmed by the generosity of the public and so many in the theatre and performing arts industries. There are still more theatre professionals to help so we are currently looking at other avenues of support from around the country.
What does it mean to have supported 2600 theatre freelancers so far during this time?
It is fantastic to have reached so many people, completely thanks to our incredible donors. This round of funding has seen a very high number of grant applications, however, reflecting the ever-increasing length of unemployment for many freelancers, and the impact of a second lockdown. We are still desperately in need of donors to help us reach as many struggling theatre professionals as possible.
What did you learn from the responses to the survey of beneficiaries?
Hearing how the grants have provided vital short-term aid, helping people pay rent, bills and put food on the table, has been very moving; the recent survey revealed that up to 85% of beneficiaries used the grant to pay bills, rent or mortgage, with 62% spending it on food.
The fact that over a third of survey respondents have been using their creative skills to help their community or the NHS is testament to the resilience and adaptability of our industry. Hearing these incredible stories has inspired everyone involved in the fund to keep pushing for support from the public, the industry and government.
What has the impact of this year been on SOLT and UK Theatre members?
Like everyone in the theatre industry, our members have been hugely impacted by these past months of uncertainty. A clear timeline for full reopening, alongside rapid testing and insurance, is vital for the survival of our industry, and SOLT and UK Theatre continue to push for this on behalf of our members and the entire sector.
What we do know is that audiences remain hungry for live cultural experiences – many theatres who were able to put on socially distanced performances before the second lockdown reported hugely enthusiastic responses from the public. Our members cannot wait to get back to making world-class theatre, as soon as it is safe to do so!
What can potential applicants expect from the website and application process?
If you would like to apply for a grant, the website provides clear information on eligibility – we have tried to make the process as clear and straightforward as possible. Those with access requirements can get in touch via email to request extra support or a different application format. Applications are assessed according to hardship and need. If your application is successful, you will be contacted by the TAF team to discuss the next steps. Unsuccessful applicants can apply again during any future rounds of funding.
Are there any future plans to continue the initiative as a support system within the industry?
As long as there is a strong need for emergency support for theatre workers, we will endeavour to keep the Theatre Artists Fund going – but this depends on people continuing to donate. So far we have been lucky to receive support from a variety of organisations and individuals, including many who are part of our industry themselves. We urge anyone who is able to consider donating to the fund, to help ensure the future of our world-leading theatre sector, and protect the next generation of talented theatre makers, so they can stay in the industry they love.
Questions by Lucy Basaba.
The second round of the Theatre Artists Fund is open until Friday 20th November 2020. To find out more about the fund, visit here…