It has now been exactly seven months since theatres up and down the country were forced to close their doors due to the coronavirus pandemic, and not a day has passed since without a theatre worker wondering when they or their industry are going to get any support. Throughout this entire deal, we have seen the government promising that no one would be left behind and that they are doing everything that they can, but for the theatre industry, it would appear that the government is providing nothing but empty promise after empty promise.
Some theatre productions are starting to come back to life, but that is certainly not thanks to anything given to them in any form of support. It’s from the drive and determination of the creatives, those who are passionate about what they do and desperate to get performers, back stage workers and theatre staff back to work. For shows to operate to socially distanced audiences, producers and production teams are having to take huge financial risks. They have to install equipment in order to ensure that their venues are covid-secure, reconfigure auditorium lay outs to allow for social distancing and jump through countless hoops to get shows running again.
The government’s Cultural Rescue fund was announced way back in July, and venues which were successful in the application process have only just began to receive funding this week. Whilst this is, of course, good news, this funding will only protect the buildings and keep them stay afloat until they can safely reopen. What it does not do is anything to protect the workers. The majority of performers and those who work backstage in the arts are freelancers, and the vast majority of them did not qualify for any government support. Many are struggling to find work elsewhere whilst they are unable to work in the career they trained hard for, and the government is continuing to ignore the pleas for help.
Instead of listening to the politicians who claim that those who work in the arts should retrain and find jobs in different fields, over the last few weeks stage stars have taken it upon themselves to stage protests in attempt to get the government to listen.
The cast of Only Fools and Horses the musical staged a silent protest outside the home of their show, The Theatre Royal Haymarket, and similar protests were held on Shaftesbury Avenue with stars such as Beverley Knight, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders in attendance. It is hoped that these powerful stands will highlight the plight of the theatre industry as it fights to recover from the lockdown with little to no help from the government.
Other protests have seen Pantomime dames descend on Parliament in attempt to secure help that could allow pantomimes to be staged this year as many regional theatres depend on the annual Christmas events to see them through to the following year. Musicians also came to Parliament square in a protest that was aiming to prove the viability of the arts industry and everyone’s determination to continue to do the work that they trained for.
400 freelancers gathered today in parliament square, to state their case. (Safely). Their discipline & the sound created brought tears. They are viable & visible and desperate to safely get back to work! work with them #freelancers #letmusiclive @letmusicliveuk #mars https://t.co/YgeTj7KpZY
— Nicola Benedetti (@NickyBenedetti) October 6, 2020