Stage Sight is working with its members (at the time of writing this in July 2020, this was 102+ members made up of organisations and individuals) to ensure the offstage / backstage workforce of theatre and performing arts is more reflective of our society today – in terms of class, ethnicity and disability.
These offstage roles include production, technical, design and stage management positions, and are very often short-term, freelance contacts, which offer little in the way continuity of work, on-going professional training, are relatively low-paid well beyond entry level roles, and have historically been accessible only through personal networks.
The sector has long struggled to achieve an inclusive workforce, and we work with our organisational members to implement practical changes to ensure things are done differently, and make this an inclusive sector. Our process has always been around three key areas: how the sector recruits; how it reaches out to invite people in; and how it creates new pathways into the industry. www.stagesight.org
What has been the immediate impact of Covid-19 on the sector?
A greater divide in already existing inequalities – specifically impacted by the varying financial support available for freelance offstage theatre and performing art workers.
The COVID-19: Routes to recovery is an evidence-based study of the Freelance theatre workforce, its findings say:
– 1 in 3 of the freelance workforce received no support from SEISS / CJRS
– 1 in 4 of the freelance workforce have been unable to access emergency income ofany kind
– 1 in 3 say they are likely to leave the theatre industry. Their circumstances today, will greatly affect their ability to return, and will increase the issue of great inequalities that were already existing in the sector pre Covid-19.
“Those reporting as most likely to leave (the theatre industry) include:
– Stage and Company Management
– Specifically, 47% of all Stage and Company Management who identify as people of colour
– Black, Asian, Minority ethnic sound, video and lighting designers
– 42% d/Deaf and disabled workers.”
The report suggests a strong case to make an investment into this area now. Supporting our values at Stage Sight, encouraging a focus on the sector committing to practical change now, will help ensure we give our sector the best opportunity of returning to an inclusive offstage workforce.
How effectively has the support provided by DCMS, other Government departments and arms-length bodies addressed the sector’s needs?
The Government has announced a £1.57 billion support package for Britain’s museums,galleries, and theatres. However, if this is to go to organisations in order to survive the next nine months, this means freelancers are at further risk of leaving the industry, as they have no means of financially surviving this period of unemployment.
ACE have announced their funding will open on 22 July and we encourage freelancers to apply. There is however, a historic barrier amongst some groups applying for help in this way. We must overcome pre-existing attitudes and behaviour patterns to ensure those who once would not see themselves applying to the ACE for assistance, do so. However, to ask freelancers with no prior experience in reaching out to ALBs, to do so confidently now, must be taken into account, and many will find this process unnatural, and they will not be comfortable in undertaking a completely new system of applying, and may be overwhelmed by the process, leading to non applications from certain groups who are unfamiliar with these ways.
What will the likely long-term impacts of Covid-19 be on the sector, and what support is needed to deal with those?
The sector is still not representative. Given the challenges of the lockdown period and the ongoing difficulties as it recedes, the lack of employment for many working in theatre and the performing arts could reverse all strides that have been made to make it more inclusive.
The sector is at greater risk of returning to being an exclusive sector, alienating those from diverse backgrounds.
In practical terms, those that are already in the industry from more affluent backgrounds may be more likely to be able to return to work in the sector due to their financial security. Those that are ready to step into the industry from a working-class background will have yet more barriers to contend with. Those who are disabled will need to shield for longer, and this will seriously impede their ability to engage and contribute their skills and talent. Medical evidence has shown that those from a BAME background are at higher risk of suffering severe health implications from coronavirus, which puts them at a disadvantage of returning to normality.
We therefore need to ensure that during the period where theatres remain closed, the industry ensures those who are already under-represented in the sector are not further disadvantaged. This is best achieved by ensuring that the sector is supported to achieve diverse outcomes, and this is achieved through ongoing furloughing and financial support for all freelancers.