Key observation: We are now 16 weeks into lockdown. It is become clearer that reopening of theatres won’t happen in 2020 although some smaller performance opportunities may exist. This conversation began was very focussed on our profession but frequently turned to the wider political landscape. It took place in a moment where our community felt forgotten by those in power – within our sector and within our society.
Please note: that this meeting took place on Thursday 2nd July. The day before the announcement from Scottish Government about a £10million fund for Performing Arts Venues and 3 days before it was announced that £97milion would come to Scotland to support culture, heritage, film & arts in Scotland from Westminster.
#Savethearts / government intervention
- We know the bleakness is only going to get bleaker unless the government does step up and cough up. #stepup #coughup
- The money it would take to save our sector would be a drop in the ocean in comparison to what is spent on the military or shoring up billionaires. A drop in the ocean that would have such a massive, far reaching effect throughout society, but they’re not doing it because of that lie that the arts are a frippery or a luxury.
- We have to fight our corner not just using economic arguments.
- It’s not just that using a purely economic argument misses the point completely but that theatre allows us to think in a different way about what we do.
How are we?
- I cannot tell you how many Zoom chats I’ve been having that I’m not getting paid for.
- I am worried about money. We all are. Every one of us.
- I am exhausted. When lockdown started and everything was cancelled, at that point there was a peace, where everything stopped and the pressure lifted, and we waited for it to come to an end. As time has gone on, all the faults in our society, that we always knew were there, have been magnified and you see that the people in power (particularly in Westminster) just don’t care about the things that they should care about, and it becomes so hard to stay positive. I’m exhausted from that. The people in power do not live by values. I think that’s what I’m finding hardest.
- I was emailing a freelancer who said to me, “We’re angry and energised. What can we do?”
- The long terms psychological impact of what we’re going through, I don’t think we realise the effect that it will have on people interacting in closed spaces, the effect on anxiety. My children are worrying a lot. It’s a huge burden and the things I don’t know think we have a clue what the repercussions will be down the line.
- The mental health aspect of this is absolutely enormous.
- I’ve had real moments of panic. I think it’s because my partner and I both freelance in theatre. Between searching for work and home-schooling… I found the way to get through it was to take things in small chunks of time – a week at a time or 2 weeks at a time and then you can just function.
- I think it’s important to realise that we are in it right now. We’ve flattened the curve, but this isn’t a storm that has passed. We are in the midst of it. We could still get it. We could go back to work and begin projects and we could get it and be really ill. But if you’re a freelancer what happens there to finances? There needs to be a safety net. Something more stabilising for us. If someone gets it in a company. Everything has to stop and isolate for 2 weeks.
What do we need right now?
- Better opportunities for us and more accessible funding routes for our projects
- We need an accessible funding pot at Creative Scotland that doesn’t take an enormous amount of work to make an application (the equivalent of a short play) to submit an application that will take 8-12 weeks turnaround time and then may not be successful.
- You see artists having to scrabble around for a small amount of seed funding for a little work meanwhile there are salaried roles that we accept because people need sustainability, they need to be able to live their lives but there is a perception that artists don’t need that. I would like to not feel under pressure to be looking constantly for all these opportunities, and then thinking, “should I dedicate 1, 2 weeks or a month trying to put together this application that might get chucked, or I really think we need some sort of stipend, or even if there were better, more long term opportunities would make a world of difference.
- Call Outs – I don’t want someone to design a project and invite me on – although that’s always lovely – it’s a way to get a quick turnaround, so you can bring in your own collaborators to respond to the times we’re in and make something that can be made while things are still topical.
- Paid research opportunities – could be artistic or thinking about problem solving for our sector.
- A monthly stipend – £1000pm – we need a big idea from Government to save the workforce.
- Universal Basic Income would save our freelancers, lift people out of poverty, give wellbeing to so many people. It feels like the only solution to me.
- I make solo work. I’m lucky that way. I’m considering whether to take my show to the Royal Mile and put a bucket down. It feels like the best way of making money right now.
- We need ‘not before’ dates given to us by government and institutions. We need to be able to know how what is happening – even if it is scary – it gives us a chance to look at the horizon and make decisions and plan what we’re going to do and who we’ll need to speak to.
- I think as people what unsettles us is if there’s no end point, and we don’t have dates to work towards. Nothing is insecure. Nothing is solid anymore.
Turnaround times / being responsive in the current climate
- A funding pot that is accessible for freelance artists with a quick turnaround that doesn’t require huge amounts of unpaid labour but not so brief that you give 100-word description and you feel like you’ve not been given enough room to make your case.
- It’s a real difficulty, the turnaround time. You’re not able to respond to the moment at all. Things are so fast moving and by the time you’re able to start the whole world might be have changed and your idea may no longer be relevant.
Unpaid labour of meetings, applications
- I’m so busy with things I’m not getting paid for, it’s frightening. It’s just back to back conversations about possibilities and pencilled things. The amount of work for a £500 application that would cause too many problems with my universal credit claim. Unless you can give me £3,500 it’s actually not worth the hassle.
- I’d rather do something for nothing that might make something happen in 2 years’ time than fill out an application
- The financial realities for everyone in our sector (and many sectors – folks working for airlines).
- The little pots of funding are just too small right now.
- We got so much from the meeting with the Venue Directors. I never thought how expensive it would be to clean a big theatre between performances. The little things are going to cause the problems. Knowing that detail is so useful for understanding where we are all at.
- I have no idea if I’m able to approach a theatre for any inkind support for projects in 6, 8, or 12 months’ time. I don’t know if they are furloughed or if we can email them as normal. Finding out if you can contact anyone is a bit of a mystery.
- The stuff around writing applications feels very confusing – where you’re used to going out and looking for support from venues or organisations to improve your chances. That feels really confusing.
How we’ve made work
- We’ve had to programme so far in advance so that marketing teams can do their thing and sponsorship can do their thing. You talk a lot about your work and you have to do that as if you know what the end product is going to be.
- Part of our expertise as artists is developing the experience to be able to trust ourselves to not know.
Free digital work online
- Everything is pivoting to digital. It’s really weird trying to collaborating in teams when sometimes you’ve not even physically met the person you’re working with. It’s on very low pay so resources are stretched, and time is tight and it’s really difficult. I’m realising how much I miss being with people.
- I’m not convinced about free content being given away by the arts, because I think it devalues it and people will then assume you can produce work for no cost.
- Instead of creating good work and experiences we end up fighting for followers on YouTube. We become YouTubers and numbers become more important. I love a small-scale audience.
- The idea of taking to the street with your work and putting a bucket down – it feels emblematic because we need to hang on to what we know. We know it and love it and we didn’t know it cover be taken away.
Restructuring institutions & organisations
- I think there’s some possibility in looking at how we put organisations back together again – so that as much money as possible goes towards the artists to get as much work on as possible to hit live audiences as much as possible. The balance between salaries for administrators and fees for artists is off. Somehow if we continue to work together without some of us losing our work completely because we’re spending all our time on activism, then we can share that between us. I feel change is possible and that we’d be able to do the live event better when we come back.
- Every organisation is being forced into existentialism right now. They are questioning their purpose, their reach in terms of engagement, working locally, creating richer impact, working with the vulnerable. Organisations are addressing their values.
- The thing that is so important about these meetings – they provide a safe space where we can connect and rant – because I can’t go into a meeting – none of us can go into a meeting and complain about how things are working – we risk not being able to work again. We risk becoming identified as someone who is ‘difficult’.
- I think there’s a certain amount of things that we can ask our industry to change for the better, but then there’s a lid on that because beyond that you have to ask the rest of society to change in order to make the world and the industry better.
Tiny paid opportunities do not touch the sides
- We need understanding and decent opportunities. People on salaries think that a grand here and there at most is somehow going to get us through. This makes me so angry. We need decent income to survive. Everyone does.
- They think this is a great initiative – a grant of £600 to help you develop and work – our industry is falling apart.
- As soon as you try and look for funds you find yourself competing and I feel, now more than ever, we are aware of competing with each other and it feels like there is a collaborative, cooperative thing kicking in. I think it’s understood among artists that we don’t want to be competing for people with salaries to tell us which ones of us are allowed to work. I think we’re all looking at what work is that we think we can do that will make the industry grow and survive and thrive, possibly. It feels like more and more people up for a fight – up for change. When things get bleak, if we can look after each other and harness this collaborative & cooperative moment it feels like change is possible.
- I can’t think about the industry without thinking about the wider society. We all need a safety net. We all need stability. People shouldn’t have to choose between their own health or losing income.
- I want to know who the people are who I can rally around – who the good facilitators are and the action doers. I want there to be change from the top down but I don’t think that is going to happen without grassroots activism. I’ve already given up with the powers that be – for now.
- I feel a sense of duty to contribute to conversations meaningfully that will make our sector better for everyone. I feel that pressure.
- I’m wondering what the legacy of all this is. Right now, we’re just in limbo. I’m not sure what to do with it. There are question marks over everything.
- Cripes, I hope we get more political theatre in future. – It’s hard to imagine how, when we do get back to making work how it couldn’t be political. Perhaps as we begin to make political theatre, we can make theatre politically and look at what groups you need to bring together to make work.
What do we do now?
- Let’s keep talking about how we do things differently. Lets’ share examples of different opportunities. We need to see alternative ways of working for freelancers.
- Keeping connecting and sharing information. We miss meeting in theatres and on opening night and in the bar. All that informal exchange of information is gone so having opportunities to connect and share thoughts and ideas and how we’re doing.
- Keep pushing the whole anti-racism thing. We had a huge outpouring a few weeks ago and everyone was doing black square and emoting and this isn’t just an add on. This is fundamental to power structures. This goes beyond race.
- How do we speak to the powers that be? We need support and we need information. We just need to know the truth. We’re adults.
- Let’s go for a walk and a blether. (Out of our team of two, one of us is based in Edinburgh and one is based in Glasgow. So let’s get that sorted when we can.)
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