“Our jobs aren’t a luxury. They’re our careers.”
Britain’s world-renown theatre workers could be taking a final bow
Could you imagine putting in hours of your skill and time into a project, passing up on other work to complete said work, only for it to be cancelled or delayed indefinitely? That is what hundreds of thousands of freelance workers from all areas of theatre, opera, dance, and live performance have been dealing with, repeatedly, since March 2020.
For some in the Arts, it’s been like riding a rollercoaster blindfolded. For others, a lovesick on-again-off-again romance. In a recent Omicron variant survey conducted by Freelancers Make Theatre Work, in collaboration with the Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport, it was found that a long-standing shadow has been cast over the sector. So much in fact, that if something is not done imminently, either by the private or public sector, Britain’s world-renown theatres and Arts culture could be taking its final bow.
What percentage of theatre workers are freelancers?
Freelancers make up 70% of the UK theatre workforce. Therefore, the survey just shows a small percentage of those impacted by the pandemic.
That said, the survey found that 74% of freelancers surveyed had lost work between 13 Dec 2021 and 3rd Jan 2022 due to COVID. Of those that had lost work, 77% of them were contracted on a self-employed basis. But perhaps more discouraging was the 57% of those who had lost work had then had work terminated. With 43% of those who had lost work, they were told it was delayed.
Social distance measures and pandemic variants aside, we might have to someday in the near future have to picture a London without its iconic theatres; Shaftesbury Avenue’s glowing theatre facades replaced with characterless discount shops. Let’s just hope we never have to come to that.
One respondent encapsulated what so many in the arts are feeling right now:
A critical support package is needed to ensure businesses and individuals sustain livelihoods and career continuation. The ignorance of any support so far has been heart breaking and makes me question so many things in terms of the way the arts are valued but crucially how our jobs are somehow seen as a luxury rather than careers.
Impact of Omicron variant on income loss of freelance theatre workers
- 30% of those impacted state an income loss/ anticipated income loss of £0-£1999.
- 40% of those impacted state an income loss/ anticipated income of £2000-£4999.
- 30% of those impacted state an income loss/ anticipated income of £5000+
Respondents also noted the wider impact on the economic sustainability for freelancers in the industry, recognising that many are still recovering from having fallen through gaps in the support offered to date.
Many feel unable to plan in the immediate or long term. There is great concern around having to leave the industry from individuals at all career stages, concerning the current culture of fear and stress being “unsustainable”.
The survey revealed respondents’ desire for clearer information from Government, including advanced planning for worst-case scenarios so that continuity could be found across the sector.
Many respondents reference the detrimental impact the ongoing effects of Covid are having on their mental health and wellbeing, as well as the impact on their loved ones, said the report.
The UK theatre industry’s contribution to the economy pre-pandemic:
- Delivering a return of £5 to the exchequer for every £1
- Generating £133 million in VAT from London theatres alone (2018).
- Generating £1.28 billion in ticket sales nationwide, playing to an audience of 34 million (2018).
- Attracting 100,000 international tourists every week to watch a West End show.
- Contributing to the wider local economy: for every £1 spent at the theatre, £3 is spent on food, drink, accommodation and travel.
- Supporting local communities, providing social hubs, education centres and meeting places, reaching out to the old, young and disadvantaged.