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70% of freelancers are pessimistic about the future

Over 70% of theatre freelancers are ‘pessimistic’ about the future, according to a collaborative study between East 15 Acting School, Manchester Metropolitan University, and Queen’s University Belfast.

According to the survey, which involved 397 theatre freelancers, the majority are ‘worried’ or ‘fearful’ about their future in the industry.

Freelance staff also reported feeling a lack of support from organisations, public bodies or the government, and more than half (54.8%) said they feel unsupported by their employers.

The emerging findings also suggest that theatre freelancers have shown a high degree of adaptiveness. Many are reorganising their working lives and developing new skills in response to changes in the sector.

Findings show that 62.2% of theatre freelancers have gained or developed new skills since March 2020 with 51.6% intending to use their new skills.

New skills range from making theatre on digital platforms like Zoom to the development of creative practices such as writing to taking online mental health first aid courses, to understanding how to work in COVID-secure ways.

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Dr Holly Maples, from East 15 Acting School, who is leading the study, said: ‘Freelancers are not a cohesive unit, but have varying needs and responses to the pandemic based on the disciplines they work in, the areas of the country they live in, and other demographic factors.

‘In the survey, our 140 interviews, and ongoing focus groups, freelance theatre workers articulate a desire to individually, and collectively, fight for better and more equitable working conditions in the post-pandemic world because the institutions, arts organisations, and government bodies are felt to be letting them down.’

Dr Ali FitzGibbon, lecturer in Creative and Cultural Industries Management from Queen’s University Belfast, and a co-investigator on the project added: ‘This early finding highlights just how much theatre and live arts relies on people to thrive and survive. This tells us a lot about how future planning and policy needs to be attentive to people’s hopes and ambitions as well as their livelihoods.’

Photo by Kilyan Sockalingum

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