Brexit and the Arts

The one things everyone’s mind at the moment in UK and around the world is what has become known as Brexit, the UK’s exit from the European Union. Every channel you turn to you can hear how Government has turned on themselves with ministers resigning left, right and centre. But what does this mean for our industry, what does it all mean for the arts?

It is known that the arts industry is one the largest proportions of stay voters through the campaign. For the industry to survive it needs policies like freedom of movement for people and equipment, the current set up also allows access to further funding that would not necessarily be otherwise available.

So what happens when Brexit deal is reached and article 50 is triggered, what will this mean for our industry?

  • Well the price of tickets will go up or the number of production will go down
  • Restriction on funding
  • Delays to projects where equipment is shared cross boarder
  • Worker rights may be affected cross boarder

So what are industry representatives and unions negotiating to be part of the deal? Well it looks something like this:

  • The continuation of free movement
  • An immigration system that works for both members and their families
  • Tariff free movement of equipment
  • Democratic oversight of negotiations
  • A voice in any negotiations regarding tax and state aid rules
  • Continued membership of Creative Europe
  • EU regulation on copyright to be brought into UK law
  • A continuation of European Employee protection in UK law

The organisations are working hard, there is no better time to join a union in the creative sector as now, the more people they have to back this, the better the outcome.

Remember, the UK was Hollywood’s choice of location to film blockbusters like Solo: A Star Wars Story, Mission: Impossible – Fallout and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. All of which contributed £1.7bn to the UK’s economy. But film makers are worried that recruitment of industry specialists will become harder if the deal on Brexit is not right.

Lord Puttnam, who produced Chariots of Fire and is president of the Film Distributors’ Association, has said more investment in home-grown films “with a distinctive British voice could help to deliver a form of national re-branding”.

Rejuvenating Local Theatre

What do you do when it feels as though the support and enthusiasm for local theatre or Arts Centre begins dry up?

Firstly look at those who are at the helm of the organisation, those on the board, staff, anyone who has any influence. Their experience may well be credible; their past work to forward the organisation may be extensive, and above all they could be a decent human being.

But how long have they been there? How long have they have been doing what they are doing? It may not be their experience that’s the problem it may just be that things have gone stale. Maybe they have done so much that the ideas have dried up or their own enthusiasm away from the public eye may have gone. This is ok, it’s a perfectly normal thing to happen as human beings as long as you know that is the time to move on and do something about it, rather than just stay because nobody else will do the job.

Next look at the program you are offering the community, as well as the methods of advertising. If you are a volunteer run theatre then ideas should be coming from volunteers, the advertising and marketing should be supported by the volunteers. If this is not happening then you need ask why the volunteers don’t support the programme, maybe a review on the program is needed. Whatever you put in your program should be fully supported by the volunteers.

Next is to look at is the volunteers, now let be careful here, this isn’t about getting them all together and giving them an ear full because they are not pulling their weight. Remember that dealing with volunteers is very different from dealing with employees. If you upset volunteers it will have a far bigger shock wave effect then if you upset a paid member of staff and volunteers have no obligation to tell you what they really think.

So when it comes to volunteers it very much a self-assessment into what the organisation is doing in how they treat the volunteers, is change happening too quickly or are you expecting too much of them to do. I have written a whole blog on this which you can read by clicking here.

Finally looking at the source of funding, are you only getting funding from one source? Do they have any influence on what happens and how things are done? Could it be time to find a new source of primary funding?

There are a whole number of things that could be issue, but whatever the issue it needs to be dealt with at source, rather than beating round the bush.

Becoming family friendly


It has always been known that working in theatre as an actor or crew member with children can be hard, especial for single parents or where both parents are in the industry with school aged children. And working in not the only problem finding the time to go and get the work, the auditions can be difficult as well.

So are parents being pushed out of the industry? Do directors and producers really not understand the issues surrounding parenting? I am sure many parents themselves! All other industries where employees are parent, whether that’s full time, part time or contractor, there is some form of flexibility, there is an appreciation of the time and effort children play in the lives of parenting.

For the first time a childcare service has been set up in London for those artists and crew with children, at the moment it is only one day a week; a Saturday, the day when most productions have a matinee. It’s called the Matinee Club, and it aims to deliver a program for creativity to the young people who use it, while their parents are working.

Getting the childcare physically isn’t always the only problem, financially there’s a strain on parents in the Arts, it is time consuming looking for affordable childcare. Now you may argue that as parents they should know when they are working and therefore should plan ahead or that becoming a parent they should consider these things. But the arts and theatre particularly can be very unpredictable. Yes there are schedules, but like many other industries those schedules aren’t always based around social able hours and producers and directors don’t always give sufficient notice on changes when the things need extra practise or where there has been a rewrite on the script. It has been said before that as an artist you are ‘at the beck and call’ of the producer.

No theatre or production company can afford to run its own crèche as there is no guarantee it would be used regularly, especially with all the cuts to the industry. Not all cast and crew for every production would require it, but as a group of theatres; whether London or Regional, could have a central fund for childcare service and an agreed list of ‘approved’ services that cast and crew can use. Then when the services are used during productions or auditions the central fund contributes to paying of the service. Yes! The production company contribute, why not? You have said the individual is good enough to be part of your show as you gave them the chance at the audition and interview, and they would have told you that they have dependents!

As the Equity/SOLT agreement on pay and other allowances come to an end April 2019, Equity have put together a various ambitious package that looks at sustaining the future of the industry across the board.

Some of the suggestions being put forward for negotiation are rehearsals to be Monday to Friday, and no rehearsals on Sundays. Better conditions, pay rates, travel allowance into London to be raised, bigger venues pay cast and crew more.

But the one thing that really goes with today’s post is to enable the right to job share. Charlene Ford, a performer in London’s 42nd Street made history by becoming the first actor to job share her role in the show after returning from maternity leave. It was hailed by the campaign Parents in Performing Arts, in the article to Charlene explained to The Stage that it took a lot of conversation to have the notion carried by her producers.

Producers argued that it is best to have the same cast and crew night in and night out. But the truth is that never happens. Holidays, sickness, cast changes in long running shows, so it is just not a reality.

Producers and directors need to wake up the 21st century. Women do have children, they do have dreams, the do want to work. But they will negotiate, they will listen to what is being said, they will offer their own opinions on things that matter them. But above all, they auditioned for your show because they believed in it and want it to succeed and all they ask of producers and directors, just like everyone else in the industry is for a bit of give and take.

This industry may be being crippled by the government cuts in funding and the access to arts from primary education, but within the industry itself it needs to be sustained from the top, the producers and directors. The industry is at a point where these individuals at the top could really help and invest, but they have to listen to be able to do so wisely.

Health and Safety in the Arts

Here is another episode from the series of ‘How to in the Arts…’. This post we are looking at the Health and Safety in theatre and the arts. This is obviously one of, if not the, most important part of running theatre as it can be the most costly if things go wrong.

For the purpose of this post theatre is defined as anything where a live performance is created, whether the audience is paying or not, from street theatre right up the stadium and big arena productions.

I have been involved in the Health and Safety for many years for several businesses ranging from completing checklist as a worker to creating the companies Health and Safety strategies. I recently completed an official IOSH Creative Industry Passport course with BECTU and Creative Skillset which refreshed and reestablished what I already knew.

So here are my top 5 bits of advice for theatre or any creative professional on Health and Safety when surviving in the arts industry:

1. Ensure it is written down

So often management try and get rid of staff for breaching Health and Safety as the individual is seen as a liability to the company, but in fact the liability is often on the company simply because they had not got the procedure in writing in the first place. The aim of Health and Safety is remove assumption and grey areas from the line of work, so one of the best way to do this is to simply write it down and make sure staff, crew and freelance are all aware of it and know where to find information if they are not sure. Even better get them to sign to say they have read and understood.

2. Training is never too expensive

While most theatres and industry personnel may feel confident to train their own staff in house, never be afraid to invest in some professional training by sending individuals on external courses. This does two things, firstly it will raise the morale of the individual as they feel appreciated because you value them enough to invest in their learning. Secondly the training will pay for itself as it will mean less accidents, less injuries, less time off as things are being done not just efficiently but safely too. There are far more courses and expertise available external to your business then what you can offer. To help decide what people need to be trained on look at their job role, CV and your business risk assessments. A great example of some training the arts fail to complete although it is stated in almost all risk assessments is that of Manual Handling. Something that most industry professional look for when taking on freelance and contractors and even staff is the IOSH Creative Industry Passport training provided by BECTU.

3. Don’t be afraid to say NO

This is really important, it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure everyone who works for them, including contractors and freelances are safe in doing their required job. So if you see something that you feel is not safe then say. If you are required to go up a bit scaffold and you don’t think it looks safe then you have a right to ask to inspect risk assessments and other appropriate paperwork that declares the structures safety. Also be clear beforehand what exactly it is that you are required to do, this relates to the first point, don’t assume. The last thing you want to do is turn up to a theatre assuming that the rig is on electric motors only to find you have to climb up and lower bars by hand or worse still they don’t move at all and you have to hand ball lights up and down ladders. Ask for risk assessments and any other relevant paperwork before you sign the contract.

4. Be Prepared

The Scout motto is Be Prepared. This leads on from point 3 as a freelance ask the right questions before you take on a job, you are entitled to see paperwork relating to Health and Safety. Find out exactly what you are being required to do, the more information you get before the day the better prepared you will be, theatre is by far the most dangerous place of work. Most of the crew are freelance or work with touring companies that go from one venue to the next, safety should never be compromised and anything can happen so you need to know what is what, who you are working with. Better still write your own risk assessments for your line of work, then you can align them with those of the company and venue’s assessments as part of the negotiations.

5. Take Ownership

Whether you are management, staff, volunteer, contractor or freelance, make every task you do your own, take the responsibility to make the area safe. Communicate your thoughts and ideas about safety in the area you are working, because safety is everyone’s job regardless of grade or role. If something goes wrong or looks like it may go wrong tell someone, don’t just assume someone else has said something. When I was overseeing the health and safety strategy for a business I always said that I would rather be told about the same problem by every person on site, and that may well be 50 or more times, but that is better than nobody say anything and an accident happens. Things can only be sorted and changed if people speak up. The human condition means we are always looking to put blame on someone else, but sometime a fault in the first instance may not be anyone’s fault, it only becomes someone’s fault when they do notice and fail to report it. We often fail to see our own mistakes which could simply be not saying anything when something looks wrong.

So there you have it, Health and Safety in a nutshell. Remember if things do go wrong and you end up in court on the grounds of neglect of Health and Safety in the workplace, whether a company or an individual you are guilty until proven innocent, the reverse of criminal law. Judges will often use the view of an everyday passer-by to determine fault, then set the penalty and sentence on what could have been the worst possible outcome, and that is not going to be pretty if it could have been fatality.

Health and Safety is everyone’s responsibility and only a team can produce a production worth paying to see.

Mental Health and the Arts

It’s so good to see that mental health in the arts is finally making its way up the industry’s agenda. Across the social spectrum as well there are so many organisations and a campaign trying to break the stigma that surrounds what is often a delicate and sensitive issue.

I briefly touched on this in June 2018 as I write about GPs in Wales putting the arts ‘on prescription’. You can read that post click here. But with an ever increasing strain on an underfunded health service by a government that has put money higher on their agenda then the people they serve, it quickly becomes apparent that industries need to find ways to look after their own.

Mental health is so important, it can either make or break a person whatever industry they are in. The creative arts are one of those industries that can be very isolating at times especially in the current economic climate where jobs are not guaranteed, and almost by irony the same creative industry can be a help.

So wouldn’t it be good if venues themselves had an in house service or at least someone that staff, cast and crew could all use whether they are resident or not. I am not saying that each theatre needs to employ a specialised doctor and councilor, but just have appointed resident staff that have the appropriate training and can be available.

Wiltshire Creative has published a guide for venues to use when working with artists with Mental Health Problems: Click here to see guide.

The guide lays out exactly what Mental Health is and how it sits within the UK laws and regulations. It also gives a list of charities and organisations that can be of help, as well as recommending the ‘Mental Health First Aid’ Course which is very quickly becoming widely available across the UK.

As a venue or theatre having this information is so important, you may not be able to deal with the immediate situation, but you should be able to support an individual by being able to point people in the right direction and that can only be effective by having the right contacts.

We are not just looking to make theatre accessible to more artist, we need to be open a wider audience. How about becoming an autistic friendly theatre? While autism is not a mental health problem statics have shown that those with autism are at a high risk of having mental health issues.

A lot of venues are now creating ‘safe spaces’ for those with dementia, while this again is not a mental health problem, those who care for loved ones with the disease can feel isolated, and it is this feeling that can lead to mental health problems.

Opening your venue to become a hub for individuals with mental health issues to use the creative arts as a means of support, while allowing them to socialise and gain confidence in a safe environment. Of course nobody is expecting a creative team to organise a support day or group as experts in dealing with mental health issues, but by taking the advice of Wiltshire Creative about building those contact of organisations that can support that is the first step for a venue when it comes to stamping out the stigma surround mental health.

Remember any charity or organisation will be more than happy to help and support a venue that wishes to reach a wider audience while supporting those artists who work for them. If any industry can be the driving force behind removing stigma about anything in society the arts can, but first they must lend that support to their own.