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Theatre workforce faces immediate loss of income, arts head warns

The CEO of the Society Of London Theatre has said freelancers are not being supported.


Theatres and concert venues have closed following Government advice against visiting leisure venues (John Walton/PA)

Theatres and concert venues have closed following Government advice against visiting leisure venues (John Walton/PA)

Theatres and concert venues have closed following Government advice against visiting leisure venues (John Walton/PA)

People working in the arts face “an absolute immediate loss of income” due to the coronavirus outbreak, the head of the Society Of London Theatre has warned.

Theatres and concert venues around the country have closed following Government advice against visiting leisure venues.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has vowed that the Government will give people “all the tools” they need to get through the coronavirus crisis, and announced a package of measures including business rates holidays for shops, pubs, theatres, music venues and restaurants, but has not mentioned support for freelancers such as those in the arts.

Julian Bird, CEO of the Society Of London Theatre and UK Theatre, told the PA news agency: “What was obviously drastically missing from any announcement yesterday was any help or support for the many hundreds of thousands of freelancers and self-employed people who work in the theatre world, who are faced with an absolute immediate loss of income and still have rent and everything else to pay, so we continue to push for direct support for those people.”

He added: “We know north of 70% of the theatre workforce are in that freelance self-employed grouping and that includes more actors, most musicians, but also more crews as well, the technical staff.

“And over this entire country we have thousands of companies who are very small who are the ones who do all the craft work, whether that is making costumes or props or wigs or sets or whatever, and all of those are tiny small companies who now face complete peril so the whole ecology of the theatre world is threatened.

“What we are lobbying for and will continue to lobby for is support for each aspect of that ecology.”

He continued: “We know there are going to need to be some direct grants, some direct help to that freelance community.

“There was a three-month mortgage holiday if you need it, we need to look at the detail of that, which would help people with mortgages.

“There is nothing yet to help people with utility bills which has been announced in other countries around the world, and nothing to help people who rent and a lot of that self-employed community are in those categories, they rent rather than own and many live hand to mouth.

“The other things that actors often do when they are not perhaps acting, bar work, restaurant work, teaching work, that is all stopping as well, so even the other sources of income that they would have looked to to top up their work in the theatre or film or television, those are also being taken away.

“It’s going to need a serious intervention.

“We will be announcing a way that everyone in the theatre workforce can get a one-stop shop of information on how to access charitable grants.

“We have brought all the charities together across the theatre community to work together in one place, so if you are in desperate need and you need to pay your rent this week, or equally if you need someone, there is a 24-hour helpline there available to help you.”

Choirmaster Gareth Malone has warned that musicians face “financial destitution” as concerts are cancelled and venues are closed amid the pandemic.

He is launching a digital music project, The Great British Home Chorus, to allow both amateur and professional performers around the country to sing together while social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak.

He told the PA news agency: “I have literally nothing else to do, all my work has been cancelled.”

Classic FM Live with Viking Cruises – Royal Albert Hall – London
Gareth Malone (Matt Crossick/PA)

He added: “If you’re like me and you’re a freelancer then it’s a frightening time for musicians because most musicians are fairly hand-to-mouth, apart from the top 5% or something really tiny.

“All concerts are cancelled, all gatherings, all recordings, rehearsals, and there is only so much you can do on your own over the internet.”

He added: “I’m worried about organisations and orchestras … I am very worried for the financial destitution of my friends.”