More than three quarters of musicians working in West End theatres will face financial hardship by September if venues have not reopened, with more than half ineligible for the government’s self-employed support scheme, a survey has revealed.
The Musicians’ Union polled more than 180 musicians engaged on a UK theatre show when venues closed on March 16.
It found 53% of theatre musicians are ineligible for the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme and 77% report they will be in financial hardship if they are unable to return to work until September.
Matthew West, chair of the MU theatre section, said: “We don’t know when we can work again or what will greet us when we do. After devoting your entire life to this craft, the mental repercussions are incredibly challenging. But then there is the financial situation. While the self-employed assistance was useful, too many fell through the gaping cracks and the uncertainty surrounding the scheme gives no security.”
Flautist Jennah Smart said she qualified for the self-employed scheme, but said this only covers her until June.
“If I can’t return to work in September or indeed for the rest of the year because the theatres are still closed due to the coronavirus, I will most certainly undergo hardship, which will not only have an effect on me financially, but in a mental capacity also. It is a terrifying prospect,” she added.
MU deputy general secretary Naomi Pohl said members who were engaged on musicals at the time of the Covid-19 closure “face months, possibly a full year, without work”.
“The results of our latest survey are absolutely devastating. We need the government to urgently fill in the gaps of the self-employed income support scheme to ensure all our members are able to access it. The theatre industry will also need additional subsidy and support as it plans for a phased reopening,” she said.
MU national organiser Dave Webster urged the government to “look carefully at the theatre industry to ensure the nations cultural health is protected when this pandemic lifts and musicians can get back to work doing what they do best”.
Their pleas come as the industry begins a major drive to get the government to support the sector, with Sonia Friedman warning it is on the brink of collapse.