Theatre Artists Fund set up by Sam Mendes raises £1.6m

Money will help freelancers affected by coronavirus as experts warn of worker exodus

A fund set up by 1917 director Sam Mendes to help theatre freelancers hit by the impact of Covid-19 has raised £1.6m, but industry figures have said more support is needed to avoid an exodus of workers from the sector.

The Theatre Artists Fund, which was launched at the start of July with a £500,000 donation from Netflix, has had more than 4,000 applications in less than a month and will provide one-off grants of £1,000.

Mendes said the fund had received donations from actors and writers including Michaela Coel, Armando Iannucci and Imelda Staunton, with £85,000 in donations coming – in part – from members of the public. But despite the support, Mendes said the grants would provide assistance to only a small fraction of the freelancers who made up 70% of theatre’s workforce.

“This fund has enabled us to move fast in response to the urgent need that is out there,” Mendes said. “However, I urge other studios, streaming platforms, business owners, philanthropists and theatre lovers to come forward and show their support in order to help more of those in need.”

Julian Bird, chief executive of Solt and UK Theatre, said until details were shared about how the government’s £1.57bn investment package would be distributed and the industry had a date that theatres could reopen fully, thousands of freelancers would continue to have no way to make money.

He said: “In lieu of details on how the investment package will be disseminated, we need to raise a lot more money and we need to do it fast, if we are to encourage people to stay in their professions and not abandon this wonderful sector.”

The fund said that despite the news that indoor performances could resume with physically distanced audiences from 1 August, staff and freelancers remained in limbo because it would not be economically viable for many theatres to reopen while adhering to the new guidelines.

Bird called for more clarity from the government, which has been heavily criticised by parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee this week over its handling of the coronavirus crisis, with MPs saying its support came too late and its guidance had been too vague.

“Unfortunately a proposed review in November of social distancing for the whole economy almost certainly means that it will be too late for the major Christmas pantos and shows,” Bird said. “We need a ‘no earlier than’ date now to allow theatres and producers to plan properly.”

Contributor

Lanre Bakare Arts and culture correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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