New Survey Addresses the Pandemic Experiences of Theatre Freelancers

2 January 2021

Freelancers in the Dark have launched a survey asking theatre freelancers to reflect on their personal experience of the pandemic as the UK faces new COVID-19 restrictions and theatres remain dark. The survey addresses the hopes, frustrations, fears and collective coping strategies of theatre freelancers, aiming to illuminate the diverse lived experiences of those who make theatre what it is.

The survey builds on emerging themes from interviews conducted by Freelancers in the Dark. Rapid-response research has shown the economic impact faced by theatre freelancers, with 1 in 3 receiving no support from the SEISS or CJRS. Even those that did receive Government support faced severe financial pressure, and while some have been able to continue to work, others have seen their livelihood evaporate.

 “80% of not very much is not very much.”

 “I’ve got friends who are fantastic and talented, but haven’t had a hint of any work”

For theatre freelancers, however, COVID-19 has had more than a financial impact. Interviewees commented that their work is deeply entangled with their identity. When theatres go dark, they lose a part of themselves. What’s more, freelancers fear that emergency cash from the Government will shore up buildings, while forgetting the freelance workers than animate them.

 “We don’t say “I work at this…”, “I work this…” You say, “I am”. You just are.”

“Other people might be more connected with buildings, but I’ve always been connected with individuals”

During lockdowns freelancers turned to collective action, raising issues of inequality and exclusion in the cultural workforce and highlighting failings in Government support for the arts. As new restrictions mean reopening is further delayed, freelancers have seen a space to advocate for a better workplace for all when live performance returns.

“There’s a lot of thinking going on about not only how do we link up as a community, but how do we start to mentor or pass on influence or power”

With all of these experiences at its centre, the new survey will help illustrate what it has meant to be a theatre freelancer during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Freelancers in the Dark is a research project led by Dr. Holly Maples at the University of Essex and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

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