Following the government's recent advice and the subsequent closure of performing arts venues, clubs, restaurants and cafes on Friday 20th March, in order to strengthen measures to enforce social distancing, the COVID-19 pandemic is having a dramatic impact on the performing arts industry. This unprecedented situation brings into sharp focus the need for organisations to review their practices and approaches to flexible working, remote working and support for parents and carers, whilst also continuing to demonstrate their cultural value to the community. On March 12th PiPA called for increased support for carers and parents who now face a precarious future for their families due to loss of work:
'Those who are freelance or contractors and look after ill, disabled or elderly loved ones or have small children will be confronted with loss of income and employment if self-isolation is required, or if events, shows and concerts are cancelled, but also if new guidance advises that schools must close.'
MP Tracy Brabin highlighted the damaging effects COVID-19 would specifically have on parents and carers in performing arts who were on parental leave or who were self employed, and therefore at high risk of losing income with no sufficient statutory provision or benefit to support them. We are hopeful that these concerns will be addressed imminently by the government, as without a positive development the effects on the livelihoods of many, and the longevity of the performing arts industry as a whole, will be devastating.
However, against this challenging landscape performing arts organisations who are partners of the PiPA Best Practice Charter Programme have been demonstrating resilient and innovative approaches to supporting their parent, carer and wider workforce. PiPA Strategic Partners, including Unions, Employer and Membership Organisations, have been working tirelessly to ensure the sector and wider workforce, employed and self employed, are fully supported to navigate these challenging times. Charitable organisations have been inundated with urgent requests for help and have been drawing down additional resources wherever possible to support the community. A list of some of these organisations is available on our website.
Over 30 PiPA Charter Partners, spanning theatre, dance and opera have been developing responsive policies, working practices and resources to support their workforce at the same time as their wider communities. Companies will be remembered for the way they responded during this unprecedented time, and we are proud to see that PiPA's Charter Partners are already demonstrating their desire to put people first.
- Community Value - Performing arts organisations depend on the income from box office sales to pay their workforce, so many of the PiPA Charter Partners such as Theatr Clwyd, Donmar Warehouse, Birmingham Rep, Bristol Old Vic, Northern Ballet, Shakespeare's Globe, Hull Truck, Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, Lyric Hammersmith and Scottish Opera have appealed to their audiences to donate the cost of their purchased tickets to enable them to honor payments of staff and freelancers. All of whom have felt extremely supported and valued by the support given. The Royal Lyceum Edinburgh and Theatr Clwyd have been giving back to their community by donating food and making creative packs to be distributed to the most vulnerable and isolated members of their communities, as well as creating a telephone schedule to continue regular contact with their Arts From The Armchair participants. Scottish Opera have also made their touring truck, usually used to transport their sets, available to delivery drivers to keep supermarkets supplied.
- Sharing Resources - With the closing of schools coming into effect from Friday 20th March, and enforced self isolation, many find themselves in need of vocation and activity. Many PiPA Charter Partners are sharing online resources for children, both educational and vocational, to support their parent workforce during this time of homeschooling. Organisations are also providing access to production related resources, such as the RSC and Sheffield Theatres' learning and education resources and the RSC, Shakespeare's Globe, Donmar Warehouse, Northern Ballet and Royal Opera House's free online screenings of their productions through marquee.tv. LW Theatres are streaming their production of Eugenius and Opera North's Turn of the Screw. National Theatre Scotland are launching a digital programme called Play Dates for children, young people and families, and Nottingham Playhouse have started Social Dis-Dancing to continue their classes online for the over 55s, whilst Tamara Rojo of English National Ballet has started live-streaming ballet classes. The Young Vic are continuing their Directors Programme virtually and Theatre Clwyd are creating ways to deliver their work online for the 200 young people they engage with.
- New Policies and Practices - Supporting parents and carers and the wider workforce: In this period of uncertainty, PiPA Charter Partners are acknowledging the need to work differently and guide their staff through this change, taking into account the increased challenges home-working parents and carers now face, in trying to combine work demands with ongoing care for their children and other loved ones in need. The RSC have relaxed their Time off for Dependants policy and ensured the RSC nursery remains open to children with key worker parents (including those from outside the organisation). Rambert are encouraging their staff to discuss altering their core hours to enable them to prioritise caring responsibilities at this time. Sadler's Wells has enabled their staff to work from home with relevant software and are responding to individual needs of parents and carers, whilst Tutti Frutti Productions, along with other organisations have hosted their first of many virtual staff meetings. Derby Theatre have already scheduled in online catch-ups for line managers, teams and their full staff (as well as wellbeing sessions) and Tangled Feet have developed an emergency policy specifically to support their workforce through this time, along with adapting digital resources and online shows for their audiences. Mercury Theatre amongst others, is harnessing the benefits of remote access to keep their workforce connected from virtual full staff meetings to dial-in tech support from their IT Manager. Furthermore online social interactions, including online company coffee breaks, team lunches and online Quiz nights are being embraced by many to support staff's wellbeing during isolation. PiPA has been supporting its partners by sharing further resources about home working and reduced hours, planning online drop-in sessions and is continuously developing new tools.
- Supporting Freelancers - The performing arts industry is heavily dependent on the skill and contribution of a freelance workforce, who will be one of the biggest hit cohorts during this pandemic. Middle Child Theatre have set up a GofundMe page to support 20 artists financially during this difficult time, whilst many, including English National Opera, Theatr Clwyd, Scottish Opera and Stellar Quines have made the decision to honour all of their freelance contracts for cancelled performances and artist engagements, and Rambert and Mercury Theatre for their freelance artists. In April, the RSC are paying all of their zero hour workers based on their average weekly hours over the last 3 months, paying all staff, acting companies, stage managers and creative teams for the work they would have completed in this time and honouring all freelance agreements as if they had been worked. English Touring Theatre gave a call out to offer advice to touring companies and shows, and Mercury Theatre have posted a blog on how everyone can support freelancers, as well as creating their own hardship fund for staff and freelancers, and working with their local authority to offer secondments. The RSC are continuing rehearsals for Projeckt Europa via Zoom, and National Theatre Scotland are hosting virtual castings for upcoming seasons, whilst also creating virtual opportunities, including 'Scenes from Survival' which will create commissioned work from a place of isolation and act as a fundraiser for a hardship fund.
Parents and Carers in Performing Arts has spent the past four years developing a comprehensive PiPA Best Practice Charter Programme. This work is supported by PiPA Strategic Partners and Charter Partners as well as Arts Council England. This is a rolling programme through which organisations share learning and resources, take part in the PiPA Baseline Survey and have access to our toolkit of resources in order to increase access to work for carers and parents in the sector.
In response to the Coronavirus pandemic, we are making freely available some of the Charter Programme resources which we hope will be of use to the sector and focus on home working. Please do feel free to share with your colleagues, employees and wider workforce communities as appropriate.
This is a defining moment for our sector. Whilst taking every precaution to protect our audiences and workforce, PiPA partners continue to demonstrate leadership, innovation, collaboration and compassion as we dig deep to ensure the longevity of our sector.