In October just as Andy Burnham was defying a lockdown in Manchester and before the national lockdown we were invited to perform to an audience outside the Lowry Theatre in Salford. In any usual year an outdoor show in late October in Salford might have felt ambitious, but at this time it felt particularly optimistic. We were all a little astounded when on October 17th we had managed to navigate covid friendly rehearsals and travel and were setting up a perspex tower and pole on the grey beauty of the Manchester Shipping Canal to perform to a socially distanced, masked audience.
It had been 9 long months since we had last been able to perform live. A few things particularly struck us. With audiences' faces covered we had to read their reactions differently. We found ourselves reading body language - the deep stillness that settles on an audience in certain moments, how people lean incrementally forward and the moment when Alex climbed free of the tower and a man reached out and took his partner's hand in his.
The performance was an adaption of a an old show Not until we are lost - about a man set apart within a tower. About another man who comes to the tower and helps to set him free. It seemed fitting and also hopeful.
A lot of people have been asking us whether we think audiences will return once the pandemic is over. Whether live performance will survive. All I can say is that an outdoor show in October in Salford on the cusp of a lockdown very quickly sold out. That audiences were willing to stand for an hour in masks in the whipping wind of the canal to watch pieces of contemporary circus and dance. That as we performed there were passers by gathering across the shores of the canal to see what was happening.
At the moment all across the country artists are continuing to make shows in empty theatres. Once this moment has passed there will be an outpouring of work and I believe a nation of people hungry for it. I choose to be optimistic.
The performing arts are battling for survival at a time when theatre matters more than ever. It’s not only the West End, the annual panto, world-class musicals, dance, opera and Shakespeare – it’s the creative and outreach work happening around the country in our diverse communities, outdoors, in pop-up spaces, at festivals and online.
Theatre tackles contemporary issues head-on. With Black Lives Matter stirring our national consciousness, theatre can play a critical role, inside and outside the sector, in challenging, educating and informing.
Theatre is a national success story, vital to Britain’s economic prosperity. Theatre attracted 34 million visitors last year, employs 300,000, promotes tourism; and generates huge tax revenues, including VAT of £130m in London alone.
Our industry depends on the £1.3 billion of annual ticket sales which has now disappeared, with disastrous effects on companies, employees and freelancers. Even with a 1 metre social distancing rule we could only fill around 25% of our seats – not a financially viable option.
Without immediate and substantial support, theatres and performing arts companies will inevitably close and tens of thousands of artistic careers will be cut short.
We urge readers to lobby Government and parliamentarians and join our fight for the survival of UK theatre.
Dame Margaret Hodge, Chair, Theatre Royal Stratford East
Glenn Earle, Chair, Young Vic
Robert Delamere, Chair, ETT
Ben Monks, Chair, Deafinitely Theatre
Geraldine Brodie, Chair, Actors Touring Company
Dame Joan Ruddock, Chair, The Albany Deptford
Luke Johnson, Chair, Almeida Theatre
Amanda Parker, Chair, artsdepot
Chris Lawrence, Chair, Blue Elephant Theatre
Charles Glanville, Chair, Boundless Theatre
Simon Millson, Chair, British Youth Music Theatre
Simon Johnson, Chair, Bush Theatre
Kate McGrath and Isobel Colchester, Co-Chairs, Camden People's Theatre
Prue Skene, Chair, Cardboard Citizens
Richard Philipps, Chair, Cheek By Jowl
David Micklem, Chair, Chris Goode and Company
Kim Evans, Chair, Clean Break
Lucy Davies, Chair, Clod Ensemble
Vicki Busfield, Chair, CoDa Dance Company
Benjamin Yeoh, Chair, Coney
Catherine Rowan, Chair, Culture & Libraries Committee, Vision Redbridge Culture & Leisure
Lord Browne of Madingley, Chair, Donmar
Áine Duffy, Chair, Duckie
Dana Kohava Segal, Chair, Emergency Exit Arts
Dr Harry Brunjes, Chair, English National Opera & London Coliseum
Mark Beddy, Chair, English Touring Opera
Mark Hawes, Chair, Frantic Assembly
Sean Egan, Chair, Fuel
Sarah Howard, Chair, Graeae Theatre Company
Kevin Walton, Chair, Green Shoes Arts
Delphine Brand, Chair, Hackney Empire
Dawn Harrison-Wallace, Chair, Half Moon Theatre
David Tyler, Chair, Hampstead Theatre
Donna Munday, Chair, Headlong
Melissa Butcher, Chair, Immediate Theatre
Natasha Freedman, Chair, Improbable Theatre
Dawn Austwick, Chair, Kiln
Bernard Donoghue, Chair, LIFT
Joseph Seelig OBE, Chair, London International Mime Festival
Lisa Burger, Chair, Lyric Hammersmith
Jodi Myers, Chair, Musical Theatre Network
Sir Damon Buffini, Chair, National Theatre
Charlotte Mooney, Ockham’s Razor
Lisa Mead, Chair, Oily Cart
Nick Clarry, Chair, The Old Vic
Charlie Thompson, Chair, Out of Joint
Kim Grant, Chair, Paines Plough
Sarah King, Chair, Polka Theatre for Children
James Freedman, Chair, Punchdrunk
Simon Turner, Chair, The Roundhouse
Anthony Burton CBE, Chair, The Royal Court Theatre
Lady Heywood, acting Chair, Royal Opera House
Nigel Higgins, Chair, Sadler's Wells
Dr Margaret Casely-Hayford CBE, Chair, Shakespeare’s Globe
Heather Rabbatts, Chair, Soho Theatre
Michelle Smith, Chair, Spare Tyre
Robin Saphra, Chair, Stagetext
Georgina Philippou, Chair, Stratford Arts Trust
Karen West-Whylie, Chair, Studio 3 Arts
Deepa Patel, Chair, Tamasha Theatre Company
Sunita Pandya, Chair, Tara Arts
Gareth Hughes, Chair, Theatre Centre
Sioban Whitney Low, Chair, Theatre Peckham
Elizabeth Lynch MBE, Chair, Theatre-Rites
Sophie Scott, Chair, Told by an Idiot
John Langley, Chair, Unicorn Theatre
Jonathan Meth, Chair, Vital Xposure
Nick Starr CBE, Chair, Yard Theatre, Hackney Wick
Wai Mun Yoon, Chair, Yellow Earth Theatre Company
Ockham's Razor are proud to add their name to the Open Letter to Theatre & Performance Makers – pledging to work with self-employed freelance artists as we navigate this difficult time to work towards a sustainable future for theatre and performance. (BSL and audio versions).
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.
Access All Areas,
Action For Children's Arts,
Activate Performing Arts,
Actors Touring Company,
Barbican Theatre Plymouth,
Battersea Arts Centre,
Belarus Free Theatre,
Birmingham Repertory Theatre,
Bristol Old Vic,
Chichester Festival Theatre,
Chinese Arts Now,
Company of Others,
Curatin Call Online,
Eden Court Highlands,
English Touring Theatre,
Frozen Light Theatre,
Hall For Cornwall ,
In Good Company,
Jermyn Street Theatre,
Little Angel Theatre,
National Dance Company Wales,
National Theatre of Scotland,
National Theatre Wales,
National Youth Theatre of Great Britain,
One Dance UK,
Ramps on the Moon,
Regent's Park Open Air Theatre,
Rose Theatre Kingston,
Royal & Derngate,
Stephen Joseph Theatre,
Strike A Light,
Studio Wayne McGregor,
Taking Flight Theatre,
Talawa Theatre Company,
The Almeida Theatre,
The Bush Theatre,
The National Theatre,
The New Wolsey Theatre,
The Royal Court Theatre,
The Royal Shakespeare Company,
Theatre Bristol + Kiota,
Theatre Royal Plymouth,
Theatre Royal Stratford East,
Turtle Key Arts,
Wales Millennium Centre,