THEATRE KEY WORKERS
Since COVID-19 and the closure of theatres, more than 70% of self employed workers in the creative industries are worried they will not be able to pay their bills (BECTU Union), including close to 50% not eligible for any government support (The Stage).
As a sector built on creativity, we have been known to innovatively turn every threat to an opportunity and the current pandemic is no exception. Theatre professionals are adapting, repurposing their skillset, both as a way to survive financially and to exist meaningfully for our community, something the arts sector prides itself in. This is a series of portraits to tell their stories.
Sarah currently works as a Home Carer in South East London. She was photographed on her route to work.
When lockdown began I was working on Waitress at the Adelphi theatre. We were stopped from performing immediately and within days the show was closed for good. This meant it closed 4 months early.
I saw online that care workers were needed and I felt I had health and age on my side so I was at a lower risk than some. I’ve always had an interest in health services and I enjoy caring for people. I can’t get to my family during this time so thought it would be good to know that other people’s loved ones are being care for.
I bought a bike for getting to and from work, avoiding public transport and getting some extra exercise in. The work varies from day to day. It can consist of waking people up, helping with exercise, medication, bathing, making meals, food shopping, cleaning around the house and general company. Everyone is different and it is always nice to meet new people.It has been a huge adjustment, the times I work are opposite to what I was used to even though I’m glad to be out and to have a purpose to my day. My life has completely changed and there’s not much similar to what I was previously doing. Maybe in time if people want to hear me sing I will. But that hasn’t happened yet – it would be a bit random just bursting into song!
It is challenging in a lot of ways and emotionally it takes its toll. But also, if anyone is interested in caring and feels they could do it, apply! Whilst it is tough it is also very worthwhile and rewarding. We’re all human and need to look out for one another.
I just hope that the government get behind the arts industry and help us find a way to get back on our feet, we’ve been completely left in the dark and have had no support. We can’t just close all shows with no date as to when we can reopen. It’s our livelihood. We are a massive income for this country and how we’ve been treated is just not good enough, everyone involved need more support.
Special Effects Make Up Artist
Paris currently works as a Funeral Care Operator in a Funeral Home in Ealing.
When lockdown began I was in between jobs. I worked on a Disney film at the beginning of the year and was waiting for the high season of the entertainment industry to kick in whilst I was also due to be working on another film.
I have received no financial support from any scheme at all but by chance I was asked to work at one of the temporary morgues in East London. That job ended and I felt that since I was already working with the dead I could get a job as an undertaker. I applied for a few positions and the rest is history.
As a funeral service operator my job consists of transporting cadavers/coffins, funeral admin and pallbearing at funerals. I find the job highly satisfying and enjoy the role. I think that my background as an artist helps me in some subtle ways. For example when needing to be articulate and considerate whilst interacting with bereaved families.
During the peak of the pandemic we were attending 5 funerals a day all week. Boys in their teens were recruited in order to help with the demand. Fortunately the pace has slowed down and we are back at normal levels now.
Designer, Prop Maker & Stage Manager
Dev currently works making and testing ventilators at the Ford Engine Plant in Dagenham. They were photographed at the end of a night shift.
Hollie and Tanya are friends from drama school, during the pandemic they have both taken jobs in supermarkets.
Andrew currently works as a Tesco delivery driver in South East London.
Actor & Director
Nadia currently volunteers as a Chef with the charity FEAST! at a Women's Refuge in Islington.
- One day we arrived at the Shelter and there hadn't been any food donated, and we still had to feed 20 women. We (myself, a theatre director, & ?) managed to create a curry from the limited things we brought ourselves
- Noticed when volunteering in Calais previously how many of the volunteers were from the theatre industry. I think we are a very empathic bunch.
Producer, Writer & Actor
Kara currently works in an independent Health Food Shop in Lambeth North.
"When Lockdown started I was working on producing a show at the Edinburgh Fringe with my theatre company, Crossline Theatre. We had just confirmed a slot and funding, and then lockdown began and it all unravelled quite quickly. My freelance non-theatre job stopped about a week before lockdown due to the impact of social distancing, and it will likely be a while before it can resume. I was not eligible for the freelance support scheme, but thankfully I am still on the payroll as cover-staff at Camden People’s Theatre where I have worked on a 0-hours contract. Despite not having the opportunity to cover for them since December, they were able to furlough me based on my income from last year. If they are able to continue through the summer it will make a dent in the pay I’ve lost. I am hugely grateful for this! It has helped take some of the stress off.
My key worker role is in a small independent health shop near where I live. For the lockdown period, the shop was the only non-supermarket business open in the area and a lot of people would come in to feel some sense of “normal”. A lot of our regular customers are vulnerable people who rely on us for supplements and natural remedies, locals in the area, and NHS staff who work at the nearby hospitals. Many people have come in and talked about loved ones they lost to the virus, their own experiences recovering from the virus or their fear and loneliness.
At the beginning of lockdown customers were incredibly grateful, and very happy to comply with our social distancing and safety measures. Then once the government announced that businesses could start opening I felt a distinct shift. In the first week of June, myself and my co-workers all had incidents where customers got upset, kicked up a fuss, or were outright rude to us about our social distancing (not allowing access to the whole shop, not taking cash, etc.). That was a hard week for me because I still felt just as at-risk. Some of the community seemed to no longer care that we were key workers; they wanted to go shopping normally again. Thankfully that is not true of all our customers, and many continue to keep us safe."
Paul currently works at Tesco in Brixton. He was photographed after his final night shift before the end of his contract.