Here’s a new fun quiz to while away what’s left of lockdown. Ask your friends this: how many people does it take to make a show – to deliver even one performer on stage in front of an audience?
You’ll get some numbers thrown back at you immediately, 10, 20, 40 or 50. For those who work in theatre it depends on the size of their venue. For those who don’t, it’s always a lower number: it all happens by magic after all.
Then, a pause. Then questions. What exactly do you mean by making a show? Getting it on stage – putting up the set, hanging the lights and speakers? Or further back than that – actually building the set? Making the costumes, the props? Engineering the rigging? Well, that’s more. Who designed all those things? A few more there. Backstage during each performance, more still.
Another pause. Just in the theatre, right? Shrug. The number grows again, rapidly. The people working at the sales and rental companies prepping gear. The companies who actually design and build the products, all their employees. Transport to get it to you, or from venue to venue on tour.
And you meant just backstage? Well, no, not necessarily. So who found the actors? Sent them (or their agents) their contracts? Who told them when to turn up to rehearsals, who coordinated those rehearsals? Directed and choreographed them?
Come to that, whose words are they saying? Whose songs are they singing? Who’s playing the music? Who’s marketing the show, selling tickets, checking tickets, food, drink, making sure your seat is clean, keeping the theatre safe? Who, who, who?
As we argue for support to help preserve the arts, this poor data is a big problem
Even for those of us who work in theatre, the number gets surprisingly big surprisingly quickly. Several hundreds, easily, for any one show, a production chain where each member is intimately and inextricably connected to every other. Non-theatre friends have their mouths agape by now, which I guess means we have succeeded in staying hidden behind the scenes.
But if even we don’t know how many of us there actually are, how can anyone else?
The government talks about sectors, but does it know what sector you work in? For companies there are Standard Industrial Classification codes – but several theatre suppliers have noted they are encouraged to classify themselves as ‘manufacturing’ rather than SIC 90010 Performing Arts or 90020 Support Activities to Performing Arts.
As a freelancer I didn’t know these codes existed until last week. I’ve never been asked to identify my sector, which makes me think that in tables showing numbers of people furloughed or on the self-employment support scheme, the figures for “arts, entertainment, recreation and other services” will be dramatically low – that the freelancers from our world are actually under “unknown and other”.
As we argue for support to help preserve the arts, this poor data is a big problem. We are a big industry. We need to be recognised as such. Let’s urgently start figuring out how to achieve that. And, in the meantime, if you want to make the world see what you do as a freelancer, a good place to start might be here.