Offstage report demands urgent skills overhaul for ‘exclusive and antiquated’ sector
An independent report has warned that the offstage theatre sector is characterised by low pay, poor professionalism and a shortage of skilled workers.
Trade bodies UK Theatre and the Society of London Theatre – which jointly commissioned the independent report – have pledged to use its findings as the basis for a development strategy to improve the issues highlighted as affecting offstage workers.
Research for the report, called Offstage Workforce Review of the Theatre and Performing Arts Sector, included a survey of 550 workers and employers from the offstage sector, as well as in-depth discussions with three focus groups and interviews with 18 key figures. Research took place over the past 12 months.
The report also claims unpaid routes into the industry are "rife", with the percentage of people coming into the sector through unpaid internships and volunteering more than doubling in the past 20 years.
It also delivers a damning diagnosis of representation and access to the sector, describing it as an "exclusive world".
As part of this, UK Theatre and SOLT will establish a consortium of sector organisations and skills providers, comprising employers and bodies such as the National Skills Academy and the new National College for Creative and Cultural Skills to develop a new approach for the industry.
UK Theatre and SOLT chief executive Julian Bird said he plans to chair a consortium of industry employers to set out this new approach, for which he would seek government support. SOLT sister charity the Theatre Development Trust will provide seed funding for the initiative.
UK Theatre's own training programme will be reviewed and updated to bring it up to date with the workforce challenges laid out in the report, written by consultants Nordicity and The Stage's editor Alistair Smith.
Key challenges identified include:
- A culture of being overworked, promoted by both employers and peer pressure
- Low pay, identified as the main reason why people leave the sector
- A two-tier workforce in which some offstage workers feel undervalued compared with their creative colleagues and onstage talent
- Antiquated attitudes to flexible working, particularly around caring responsibilities
- Unpaid routes into work are rife and appear to be increasing
- A shortage of in-career training and advice options
- A shortage of skilled technical workers, senior managers and those with skills in demand from other industries
- Low representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic workers and very low representation of disabled workers
- Overrepresentation of workers from more affluent and educated backgrounds
- An endemic culture of networking and closed recruitment practices
The report goes on to claim there is an "urgent and overarching need for a sector-wide strategy" to address the challenges identified.
Announcing UK Theatre and SOLT's response to the report, Bird said: "We are rightly proud in the UK of our dynamic and world-leading theatre industry. For the sector to continue to thrive in 10 or 20 years' time, we need to make sure we have the right skills in place and are attracting the right, diverse mix of people."
He added that the report provides a "roadmap" from which to work on behalf of the industry with government and employers.