Theatre and film director Sam Mendes is spearheading the creation of an emergency fund for theatre workers in need of urgent support due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Established with the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre, the Theatre Artists Fund has launched with a £500,000 donation from Netflix, which will support an initial 500 individual grants to struggling theatre professionals. The fund is also actively seeking further donations so that it can support more theatre workers.
The scheme follows Mendes’ recent calls for streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon Prime, who he said had made "lockdown millions from our finest acting, producing, writing and directing talent", to reinvest in the theatre sector.
It is hoped that Netflix’s initial donation will be followed by further support from corporations, trusts, industry figures and theatregoers to help individuals who will remain out of work over the coming months.
Mendes said: "Thousands of theatre professionals in the UK are struggling. Many of them haven’t been able to get help from the existing government schemes, and the situation continues to worsen. They need help now.
"We have created a fund to which the most vulnerable freelance theatre practitioners can now apply. It is specifically designed for theatre workers who find themselves at breaking point, for those unable to put food on the table or to pay bills, or for those considering leaving the profession altogether."
The Oscar-winning director, formerly artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse, said he was "extremely grateful for [Netflix’s] remarkable generosity and leadership" in supporting the fund.
He added: "The Theatre Artists Fund is not for buildings, or regular staff, but for freelance artists who actually make the shows that the public pay to see."
Grants will be £1,000 each and, in order to be eligible, applicants must meet certain criteria and provide proof of work and a reference.
Individuals must have worked in theatre, in at least one of a list of roles, for at least eight weeks between January 2019 and March 31, 2020. Applicants must be in need of urgent financial assistance and must be self-employed or unemployed, not furloughed.
Mendes added: "I am well aware that this is a drop in the ocean in terms of what is required for a full recovery, but I hope it might ensure some form of survival until eagerly awaited rescue plans are announced by the government."
Anne Mensah, vice president of original series at Netflix, said the company was "deeply concerned" by the challenges faced by theatre around the UK, and the impact the crisis could have on diverse voices and stories.
"While Netflix has been more fortunate than many, in the end we are only as strong as the people we work with. If we continue to nurture the pipeline of emerging creative talent, cultivate diverse projects and provide opportunity for the most exciting new works to be seen, we remain optimistic that the industry can bloom once again and satisfy audiences’ insatiable appetite for culture, creativity ad entertainment," she said.
A survey conducted at the beginning of lockdown found that more than 60% of creative freelancers predicted their income would more than halve this year, with over half saying all of their upcoming work had been cancelled.
Meanwhile, many theatre professionals have not been able to access support through either the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme or the Self-employment Income Support Scheme.
SOLT and UK Theatre chief executive Julian Bird said that with continued uncertainty around reopening, more than 290,000 workers "remain in limbo and a desperately concerned about their futures".
"Our industry is an ecosystem and so this scheme has been designed to provide a short-term lifeline to the core workforce of that ecosystem, with an emphasis on supporting those from underrepresented communities.
"While we currently don’t have enough funds to help everyone, we call on those companies and individuals who have thrived in the sector and those who can’t imagine a future without theatre, to give generously to help sustain this fund for a generation of workers that are at genuine risk," he said.
More information can be found below or on the Theatre Artists Fund website
Industry figures, corporations and charitable trusts who are able to contribute to the fund, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Eligibility criteria in full:
• You are a theatre professional and have worked in one or many role/s (within the sector) totalling at least eight weeks between January 1st 2019 and March 31st 2020
• You are in need of urgent financial assistance due to the Covid-19 pandemic
• You are self-employed or currently unemployed
• You are not currently furloughed by your employer on the Government’s Job Retention Scheme or received any support via the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme
• You are not currently in full-time further or higher education
• You are a resident of the UK
• You earn the majority of your income through professional theatre work in the UK
• You have less than £2,000 in savings
• You have not received support in excess of £1,500 from any other industry coronavirus emergency (COVID-19) grant scheme. Please note the ACE Project Fund does not count as an emergency grant in this context.
• You have sought to access any statutory support (government provided i.e. Self- Employment Income Support Scheme) available to you and to reduce financial commitments wherever possible
The following job roles are eligible:
• Assistant / resident director
• Casting director
• Choreographer / movement director
• Circus artist
• Costume maker
• Costume supervisor
• Education, outreach and/or participation
• Fight director
• Live artist
• Musical director
• Production manager (freelance)
• Props maker
• Puppet designer / maker
• Theatre technician, including operator / programmer (freelance)
• Scenic artist
• Set and/or costume designer
• Stage carpenter
• Stage and/or company management
• Sound, video or lighting designer
• Voice or accent director
• Wigs, hair and/or make-up