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The Stage’s Christmas gift guide: fill your stockings while supporting theatre freelancers

Clockwise from top left: Cressida Peever’s diagram of the inside of the National Theatre; Peter Hannah’s pen-and-ink drawing of the Noël Coward Theatre; Andrew Keates’ Actopoly board; Helen Murray’s photo of the empty stage at Leeds Playhouse
Clockwise from top left: Cressida Peever’s diagram of the inside of the National Theatre; Peter Hannah’s pen-and-ink drawing of the Noël Coward Theatre; Andrew Keates’ Actopoly board; Helen Murray’s photo of the empty stage at Leeds Playhouse

Without work since March, many of theatre’s freelance workers have started selling their own products online, crafting everything from upcycled furniture to customised cakes, from abstract acrylics to tie-dye t-shirts. Our Christmas gift guide, compiled by Fergus Morgan, features a small selection of what is available 

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Something arty...

Plenty of freelancers have channelled their inner artists this year, and several have taken theatre buildings as their subject. Wardrobe supervisor Harriet Cox, who has toured with Matilda and Nativity, is selling prints of her stylish line drawing of 21 different theatres through her website. Prices start at £12 and the proceeds will be shared with various charities, including Acting for Others.

Actor Peter Hannah (on Etsy as PeterHannahArt), who originated the role of Earl in Waitress, has incredibly detailed pen-and-ink prints of West End theatres available for £35.

Playwright Cressida Peever, whose credits include Red Palace, set up a card and print business in March, when all her theatre work was cancelled. Her lovely prints, including a map of London theatres and the inside of the National Theatre, are available on her website from £9, as well as postcards from £1.50.

Photographer Helen Murray, who usually spends her time shooting publicity images of productions, has instead produced a series of photos called Our Empty Theatres, taken from inside abandoned theatres across the country – an empty dressing room at the Young Vic, a half-dressed mannequin at Leeds Playhouse, the ghost light on the stage of Lyric Hammersmith Theatre. Limited edition prints of her beautiful images are available via her website from £200, with 10% of profits donated to the Theatrical Guild.

Designer Peter McKintosh has also put some theatre-related artwork up for sale. The Olivier Award winner, who has worked on The 39 Steps, The Wind in the Willows, 42nd Street, Funny Girl and more, has framed colourful sections of his model-box designs and is selling them via his Instagram.

Director Andrew Keates, whose credits include Chinglish at the Park Theatre and Dark Sublime at Trafalgar Studios, has made a theatre-themed adaptation of the Monopoly board. Titled Actopoly, it replaces the classic properties with London’s theatres – Old Kent Road is the Old Red Lion, Mayfair equals Drury Lane – and prints are available via his website for £35.

Other theatre freelancers have found artistic inspiration in abstraction. Company manager Helen Spall (on Etsy as HelencraftArt) is selling music-themed acrylics from £30. Director Maeve Stone (on Etsy as MaeveStone) has a range of vibrant watercolours from £37. And costume supervisor Beth Nightingale, who has worked at Glyndebourne, English National Opera and Covent Garden, paints spectacular, swirling oil-on-canvas abstracts, with both originals and prints available on her website from £125. Designer Katherina Radeva was “drawing like mad” early in lockdown and has now put the works up for sale on a ‘pay what you decide basis’ on her website.

Actor Charlie Ryall set up the Sustainable Book Club in lockdown. The boxes of treats, each with a mystery vintage book from the library of her father, the actor David Ryall – many of which are theatre-related gems – start at £18.


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If it’s sculpture you are looking for, then designer Max Dorey is your man – his trippy, steampunky, hybrid works are made from recycled material and are available via his website.

Lighting designer Anna Watson makes stunning stained-glass creations, available from £140. And stage manager Emily Smith (on Etsy as HandmadeByEmX) sells cute, plant-themed, cross-stitch wall hangings – as well as DIY kits, if you fancy having a go – from £10.

For those after a portrait of their pet, then writer and director Aimee Cross will draw dogs, cats, or anything else for £30 – just visit her website. If you want to frame a family member, then actor Stephen Cavanagh will do personal portraits if you contact him via Instagram.

Actor Charlotte McGuinness will even come to your door and take a ‘lockdown doorstep portrait’ of you and yours. She can be contacted via her website and is offering a 10% discount to readers of The Stage.

Photographer Simon Annand’s book Time to Act, featuring more than 200 incredibly intimate photos of famous actors – from Simon Callow to Sharon D Clarke – in their dressing rooms, is on Amazon for £28, with £1 of every sale going towards the Theatre Artists Fund. Prints of his shots will be available soon, too, via his website, with 10% of the proceeds going to the same charity.

Video designer Nina Dunn has also produced a photo book. Hers is called Standing By, and features photos of London’s locked-down theatres, alongside stories from the cast and crew that were there when they closed. It’s £35, with all proceeds going to charity, and is available via her website.

There are also books for children, including actors Joanne Gale and Jeffrey Mundell’s Rare Monkey books at joannegale.com. The illustrated stories of Freddie and Polo by director and writer Guy Unsworth, who was about to start rehearsals for the Bring It On tour when lockdown hit, and actor Stephanie Clift, who was rehearsing The Birthday Party, are available via the Freddie and Polo website.

For those looking to keep little ones entertained for hours, casting director Ellie Collyer-Bristow has come up with the brilliant idea of Boredom Bags, available via her website, packed with stuff for kids including games, arts and crafts and recipes.


Six places to look for gifts

Forget Amazon:
Six places to look for gifts

    • Visit @NotOnTheWestEnd, the website and Instagram page set up by Anna Saunders, which features a different theatre professional’s product every day.
    • On Twitter, search the hashtag #TheatreMakersSupportPledge – people using it have pledged to use 20% of sales to support other theatremakers.
    • BESEA has made a Christmas Gift Guide featuring products from British East and South East Asian makers, available via its website.
    • The Theatre Support Fund has a range of products – from hoodies to mugs to totes to posters – featuring their campaign, The Show Must Go On! You can buy through its website.
    • Search the hashtag #ActingForOthers on Instagram to find people pledging to donate a percentage of their profits to theatre-supporting charities.
    • Last week marked the launch of Out of Work Work, a directory of products and services created and sold by arts workers.

Something to eat or drink

Something to eat or drink...

There was a time in May when sourdough starters were all the rage, so much so that it seemed a raft of bakeries were set to open up. Some theatre freelancers went ahead and did just that. Pit musician Becky Brass has set up Dirty Bakes, a small business delivering indulgent delights – cookie slabs, salted caramel brownies, rocky roads and more – to your door. You can order a ‘Dirty Box’ via her Instagram page for £10.

Sound technician Jessica Howells, who was working on The Phantom of the Opera up until March, has set up Flour and Fold (pictured above), an online bakery offering bespoke cakes in a wide range of styles and flavours, starting at £30. She’s delivering nationwide via her website.

Dancer Jemma Wilson usually works on cruise ships, but this winter finds herself baking boxes of brownies, blondies and cookies and shipping them across the country via her Instagram page, with prices starting at £10.

Choreographer Tim Claydon is busy baking, too. His new company Spread the Loaf will send freshly made loaves of bread, starting at £8.25, anywhere in the country.

Theatre’s freelancers can do more than just bake, though. Agent Simon Mayhew makes soup, and will send you a batch, along with a few other goodies, for £14.99 if you visit his website.

And stage manager Daniel Haynes and lighting designer Stephen Pemble will make you up a bespoke box of sweets, whatever your diet, through their new company Oh My Sweets, for £6.99.

Actor Annes Elwy makes and delivers food hampers from Welsh independents around Cardiff and is making Christmas bundles – get in touch via her website Y Bwrdd.

Karibu sends personalised gift boxes of goodies including a coffee and chocolate box, a tea set and a breakfast box. It also does beauty products and stationery. It was set up by actor Robin Harris, with two friends, and 10% of the sale price goes to local food banks.

And, if you need something to wash all that down with, try video designer Duncan McLean’s new dry gin. Or his sloe gin. Or his triple-distilled vodka. Or his single malt whisky. They’re all available via the Instagram page for his small distillery Green Room.


Something to wear

Something to wear...

Plenty of theatre freelancers have turned their hand to making the must-have fashion accessory of 2020: the facemask. You can order pretty ones from former Elphaba and Only Fools and Horses actor Ashleigh Gray (on Etsy as CraftyAshleighShop), from ENO costume-maker Alice Smart (on Etsy as SmartCostumesShop), from costume supervisor Jackie Orton (on Etsy as JackieOUK), who spent 14 years at London’s Royal Court, and from many more freelancers.

It’s not just facemasks, though. Performer Hayley Riley is selling hand-embroidered, personalised t-shirts for £20 via her Instagram. Actor Emma Mullen has stylishly tie-dyed t-shirts (among other things) for sale for £10 on her website.

Comedian and actor Katie Pritchard is selling T-shirts with original, amusing designs printed on them – including some festive ones – for £19 on her website.

Designer Constance Villemot (on Etsy as ConstanceVillemot) will even hand-embroider your own design on a T-shirt for £15.

During lockdown, designer Ti Green, whose work includes Touching the Void, set up sustainable clothing label Article Green (pictured above). Its range is based on her experience of working with actors in the rehearsal room and on stage. A tenth of Article Green’s sales are going to the commissioning fund at Bristol Old Vic, which was set up to pay freelance artists to make new work while the usual programme is suspended.

A range of stylish handmade hats and headscarves are available from £10 from costume designer Erin Maddocks via her millinery business.

Costume maker Denise Heywood was about to start a job with the Welsh National Opera in March; instead she is selling kimonos made from rare and vintage fabrics for about £300 via her website.

And scenic artist Hannah Dimelow (on Etsy as ColourfulSelf) has started selling hand-painted hi-tops in a range of starry, spacey patterns, starting at £20.

Theatre and movement directors Jonnie Riordan and Neil Bettles do a nice line in colourful handmade scarves at £27.50, perfect as the cold really sets in (on Etsy at MenWhoMake).

If you’re after something sparkly, on the other hand, then plenty of performing arts professionals have spent 2020 making jewellery. Check out the range of rings and bracelets made by stage manager Charlotte Padgham at 9-lives.org.uk.

Actor Zarima McDermott (on Etsy as HardCandyResinArts) makes resin earrings in a range of elegant, understated designs, and sells them from £6.

Also making earrings are actors Alice Osmanski (on Etsy as AliceRoseHBB), Olivia Barrowclough (on Etsy as Lugole) and Alison Campbell, whose gloriously kitsch range Fruity Danglers can be found on Instagram (@fruitydanglers).

Designer Bek Palmer (on Etsy as CrunchyLipstick) repurposes materials into punky necklaces from £8.

And costume supervisor Daisy Woodroffe has designed the Velvet Rope Bracelet – a symbol of solidarity, with a donation made to the Theatrical Guild with every sale. It’s available for £6.99 through her Instagram (pictured above).

To accessorise, wardrobe supervisor Lisa Hickey set up a business designing 1960s retro bags and accessories including the Mary Q Clutch for £30 (pictured above) and the Mrs Peel cosmetic bag for £12 (on Etsy at LisaHickeyDesign).

Also making clutches, as well as tote bags with a positive message (on Etsy at HappyToteQuotes) at £10-£15, is actor Laura Beth Mortemore, who was in The Visit at the National when lockdown hit.

Not forgetting gifts for the young, costume maker Rachael Graham sells baby and kids’ clothes, as well as decor, all with a South African twist (on Etsy as Loganberryandfriends).

And, if you want to spoil your pet, then actor Mary Fox (on Etsy as MaryTheCraftyFox), who was on the UK tour of Kinky Boots until March, is knitting hats for cats (pictured above) and stitching bandanas for dogs. They are available for £9 and £4 respectively.


Something for the home

Something for the home...

When it comes to candles, there are plenty of options created by theatre freelancers. Tor Grace (on Etsy as CandlesByTor), former deputy head of wigs on The Prince of Egypt, now sells eco-friendly candles from just £4. Actor Alice Henley’s Coppertop Candles come in stylish jars and start at £10. And actor Olivia Holland-Rose has traded touring a production of My Fair Lady around Italy for making multi-wick masterpieces – starting at £18.99 – with the Little Light Company.

If you are after kitchen equipment, you can get theatre-themed cookie cutters from £4.50 from designer Declan Randall (customcookiecutters.uk). Or eco-friendly paper towels for £3 from actor Emma Nelder (on Etsy as EmmasEarthShop). Or hand-stitched oven mitts for £15 from costume-maker Charlotte Wainwright (on Etsy as ClothAndClayLtd). Or carefully crafted ceramic mugs (pictured above) from designer Lily Arnold (on Instagram).

Actor and musician Timothy Bond’s woodworking business sells everything from spoons for £25 to chopping boards from £28 at timsboard.com.

A few freelancers are making furniture. West End actor Craig Mather is upcycling old drumkits into bespoke wooden tables. Mather can be contacted through his Instagram. Opera singer Mike Bradley is also turning instruments into furniture – he’s making lamps out of old clarinets, and can also be commissioned via his Instagram.

Actor Matt Thorpe (on Etsy as UrbanGrooveFurniture), who has been in Jersey Boys, American Idiot and more, is also upcycling stuff out of copper and reclaimed timber(pictured above).

Stage manager Lowri Evans is making everything from coffee tables to wardrobes out of flight cases, too. She can be contacted and commissioned via her website.
Caro Burke-Findlay, a wardrobe assistant on Wicked, turns vintage flags into cushions and blankets and makes pennant flags – all available on her website.

Costume and set designer Laura Jane Stanfield sells a glorious range of cushions (starting at £45), among other things, at byghostlight.com.


Something festive

Something festive...

Scottish theatremakers’ collective Thou Art Viable has designed and produced a range of brilliantly funny Christmas cards. They can be bought in packs of six for £10 online (pictured above), and any profits will go to support funds for culture and the arts.

There are plenty of other options: lino-printed cards from director Kate Pasco (on Etsy as KPPaperDesigns), watercolour ones from usher Libby Mewes (libscards.co.uk), embroidered ones from usher Rachel Louise Martin (on Etsy as BoonCompanions), and papercut ones from designer Isobel Power Smith (on Etsy as IPowerSmith).

Costume supervisor Hannah Bell (on Etsy as ToBeJollyStore) is selling hand-stitched stockings in a range of designs for £16. Actor Anna Campkin (on Etsy as SofaSews) has a musical-themed one for sale for £17, and stage manager Chloe Walker (on Etsy as HabitOfFabric) has cable-knit ones for £20.

Natasha Hughes, who has worked in wardrobe departments across the country, has created an environmentally friendly way to wrap gifts by creating reusable fabric wrapping ‘paper’ for £8 and reusable envelopes for £6. She also makes cushions – all available via Etsy (NLHhandmade).

Actor Rachel Bingham is selling personalised tree decorations, among other things, on her website. Or if you are looking for a Deadpool Christmas decoration, Emily Walker, a stage and automation technician at Leicester’s Curve, has you covered for £19.67 (on Etsy at EmilyVictoriaArtwork). Designer Natalie Johnson (on Etsy as WeaveItAllToMe) has festive-themed wall-weavings available for only £7.

Choreographer Mariel Letourneau (on Etsy as CreativeFauxFlorals) is making artfully arranged seasonal wreaths, as does Claira Duffy, a member of Wicked’s wardrobe team (on Etsy as CastleCottagewreaths).

Looking ahead to what is hopefully a happier year for the performing arts, you can buy 2021 calendars from Lazarus Theatre Company (lazarustheatre.com) for £12.50. They feature shots by photographer Adam Trigg, and all proceeds are split between the featured artists and Acting for Others.

Or you can spend all of next year in a festive mood with actor Tim McArthur’s pantomime dame calendar. It features the veteran performer in a range of outlandish outfits, costs just £10, and a percentage of the sales are donated to the Toy Project, a charity that recycles used toys and gives them to children who need them. Email TheDame2021@gmail.com to order one.


Something to do

Something to do...

There are only so many Zoom quizzes anyone can be expected to participate in. Fear not: if you can’t stand another round of trivia questions, theatre’s freelancers are here to save you.

Actors Sedona Ferguson and Rebecca Ross are packing up parties into boxes and sending them to you and yours. They are themed – Nights at the Circus, Christmas at Hogwarts, James Bond – and come with cocktail-making kits and a variety of tasks and challenges to complete. They can do children’s parties, too, if you are stuck for ideas to entertain your kids. Everything can be booked via their website.

Scunthorpe’s dame, actor Darren Johnson, isn’t on stage this year. Instead, he is sending pocket pantomimes in the post for families to stage themselves, including everything from tickets, to scripts, to costumes. You can order one via email: pocketpanto@hotmail.com.

If you’d prefer not to perform yourself, musical director Bobby Goulder will personalise your favourite song, then record it, and donate 20%of his profits to charity. He can be contacted via his website.

You can also order private, online yoga classes – or a voucher for one – from actor Lucy Kane, who can be contacted via her Instagram.

Actor Grace Galloway, who was in the UK tour of Blood Brothers before lockdown, is offering online voice lessons via her Instagram.

And, for a spot of Christmas cheer, director Paul Boyd is providing personalised, musical messages from Father Christmas (pictured above), starting at £10. Visit his website for details.


Not on the West End

Not on the West End:
Showcasing side-hustles

Anna Saunders was working as wardrobe assistant on 9 to 5 the Musical when the Covid-19 pandemic forced theatres to shut in March. A few months later, inspired by the number of out-of-work theatre freelancers setting up online shops to sell handmade items, she decided to do something. On August 14, she posted for the first time from her Instagram account @NotOnTheWestEnd.

The concept is simple. Three times a day, Anna’s posts feature the ‘side-hustle’ of a performing arts professional: pet portraits painted by puppeteers, candlesticks crafted by costume supervisors, skirts sewn by set designers. The page has more than 5,000 followers, and Saunders says she has products scheduled to feature until October next year.

“At first, I sent an email to eight friends,” she says. “Within two weeks 100 had people signed up to be featured. Now I have more than 400 and I still haven’t got to the bottom of my inbox. The variety of people and products is incredible. We have actors, writers, directors, designers, costume-makers, box-office workers, front-of-house staff, casting agents and managers. They are selling all sorts of things. It’s really inspiring.”

Saunders does it all for free – the entire operation is run not-for-profit. She doesn’t take a cut of featured businesses’ proceeds, and her only income is from donations via her site.

“I’m not asking anyone for anything,” she says. “I just wanted to do something to help people that have had a really difficult year. The entire thing is just me and my sister, in our flat, slightly freaking out about how big it has become. I think it is currently running at an £11 profit through donations.”

Saunders hopes people will be thoughtful when buying Christmas presents this year, and not just turn to Amazon and other major internet sites. Buying from a business featured on Not on the West End is a much better idea for three reasons, she says.

“Buying from a small business means that you are going to get something that is more personal and better made than most stuff,” she explains.
“Secondly, you will be getting something that has a real story behind it, and that someone has really poured their heart into.

“And thirdly, you will be supporting a theatre worker who has already had to face so much difficulty this year. There is so much talent out there, so many people managing to be creative and clever despite everything. It’s a cliché, but there really is that ‘show must go on’ mentality to it all.”

Visit Not on the West End’s website

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