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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.

NEW AWARDS: Unsung Heroes

Theatre website WhatsOnStage has launched new awards to celebrate the offstage work of venues and staff to improve the theatregoing experience.

The WhatsOffStage Awards include prizes for a front-of-house team, food and drink, and accessibility, as well as for theatres that are child-friendly or community-driven.

As with the existing WhatsOnStage Awards, winners for the offstage awards will be voted for by the public. Voting is already open, and nominations can be submitted until October 5.

Sita McIntosh, chief operating officer of WhatsOnStage, said the awards would be “a huge round of applause for all those unsung heroes who make the theatregoing experience the best it can possibly be”.

She added: “We are delighted to announce the first ever WhatsOffStage Awards this year. We want to celebrate areas of the industry that don’t always receive the recognition they deserve but which are instrumental in ensuring audiences and communities are able to engage with and enjoy live theatre.”

Categories also include best box office, best stage door, best theatre website and favourite theatre.

Votes can be cast here.

Funding the Greatest Show on Earth

“Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the [American] public.”

Click here to read the original post. If you would like to subscribe to the emails click here.

This month we are talking the finances for the Greatest Show on Earth. This project is not about one company making millions it’s about creating opportunities for those who may not otherwise get a chance, as well as raising vital funds for Arts Industry Charities to help them continue their work in supporting the industry. It’s all about about touching souls and changing lives, but most importantly to inspire hearts and minds.

In the UK alone over £10billion is donated to charities across the country a year, but only 2% of money raised goes into the Arts and yet the industry puts over £6billion into the UK economy as a predominant not for profit organisation.

Each of the projects as laid down in last month’s email (click here to view) are meant to be just one off performances per year. However, if the demand is great enough and you know you can fill the theatre for 2 nights, 3 nights or even four and maybe not every night you have the same acts, there is nothing restricting you from making a long weekend out of Lighting the Beacon. As long as you use the weekend allocated to you by AT2R, as we discourage having Lighting the Beacon events in more than one location at the same time.

The same goes for Community Spirit, the plan is that it would be a single event per year. But because we don’t allocate dates for this project and as long as it happens before your Lighting the Beacon then just go for it. Maybe its was felt it could be integrated into a local arts festival or maybe you can see opportunities more than once in year, go for it! Get it out there it is so important that as many people are given the opportunity to perform and be part of this project.

The point being that the more money you put into the Greatest Show on Earth project, the more money you as organisations, individuals and venues will get out of it.

The only rule when it comes to money is that everything has to go through the Greatest Show on Earth’s central account. This is because of the way this project runs we need to have a paper trail of every penny in and out. So where venues usually sort out percentage of ticket sales this would be done by AT2R and we would then you’d be credited accordingly.

However this said, if you wanted your own account at Community Spirit level or even Lighting the Beacon that would be fine but money still needs to come into central first then you would credited accordingly. But please be aware that there will be strict terms and conditions for all accounts that are separate from the central account which will include the account being subject to an unlimited number of unannounced audits through the year.

So where will the money be coming in from? Well mainly from ticket and merchandise sales, but we all know that the arts can’t survive on just these, so we are looking for investors, sponsors, grants and partners to work with us and of course some good old fund raising.

Here’s the important thing when it comes to investors, partner, sponsors and grants if these are found at local level and they only wish to support the local event being that just Community Spirit and/or Lighting the Beacon then that is absolutely fine! National and international sponsors and investors are expected to support the project in it’s entirety, though they can focus in one area if they wish.

Finally at every level right up to the Greatest Show on Earth there is an opportunity for people to donate money either during or at the end of the event that will be in support of three charities The Theatre Trust, Playing Sane and for Lighting the Beacon and Community Spirit there will be a nominated local charity/organisation at each event that money will be donated too.

You may remember read above ‘the more money you put into the project, the more money you get out’ well that’s because all who partake in these projects will receive a share in the overall profits. So looking into each of these projects, before any profit is dealt with the budget for the production must be covered in full; this may seem obvious I know, but let’s look at what is included in the budget for each production:

Production Materials:

  • Stationary (pen and paper)
  • Meals for team on get in and get out days
  • Scenery (paint)
  • Technicians (tapes)
  • Wardrobe consumables (cotton)
  • Special effects (pyrotechnics)

(This list is not exhaustible but every item has to be within good reason)

Things that are excluded:

  • Theatre bar takings
  • Any theatre specific merchandise
  • Venue hire charge
  • Venue staff wages

And all expenses are paid out with valid receipts only, a very small budget because this about the people not the material things. So you might have an old set in your scenery dock that might be appropriate for Lighting the Beacon, alternatively you may choose not to dress the stage.

At the beginning suppliers of hired in equipment may have to go into the budget to meet the invoice cost, but the aim will be to have them taking a slice of the profits which would cover their invoice, hopefully plus extra.

Community Spirit will charge a nominal amount to each performer to cover costs, sell merchandise, maybe refreshments and the sale of tickets to Lighting the Beacon can all be done at this event. All profit from this event will be put back for the next Community Spirit event.

After all these expenses have been paid for Lighting the Beacon the profits would be split down as follows:

13% direct to the venue

54% will be shared between cast, crew, creative team (Excludes current paid theatre staff)

12% will be shared between suppliers

  5% will be shared between investors

  3% to go towards the budgets for the Greatest Show on Earth (for the first 5 years, thereafter this is divided between the venue and investors)

  3% towards budget for the next Lighting the Beacon

10% A Ticket 2 Ride (As the company that has sole interest in the project)

(N.B. These figures are a guide only)

And finally a share of 11% from every Greatest Show on Earth and Greatest Show in the Country is put into the local projects, both Community Spirit and Lighting the Beacon.

This project is not all about profit, it about opportunity for those who may not otherwise get them. It’s about getting as many people involved as possible in the industry, it’s about bringing the industry together to become self-sustaining.

Here’s to the Greatest Show in the Country, to The Greatest Show on Earth!


Losing to the Digital Age?!

A survey conducted by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports showed that around 77% of adults in England have engaged with the Arts the 12 months prior to filling in the survey. A similar survey conducted by the same department focusing on film where 84% of adults engage with digital media (film and TV).

So what is happening within the arts? Why are people disengaging from the industry? Let’s just have a look a few more of the statics from the survey before unpacking some thoughts around this as many show a trend and changes within generations.

Young people (aged 16-24) are far more into the digital age then those who are 65 year plus. 78% of young people go to the movies and an unsurprising 92% enjoy watching TV. While only 69% of older people will go to the movies and 70% watch TV. Whilst when it comes to live arts, with the exemption of music the story is quite the reverse.

Live arts for this survey included everything from exhibitions to theatre and participating in some way or other in free time or voluntarily. There seemed to be a higher proportion of individuals who participate in creative arts rather than attending an arts presentation.

For the digital age there is a great thirst for getting on TV or in films, as this seems to be looked on as something that requires less skill then live arts. Being an extra in a film could mean just walking down a street, whilst being in a TV show could potentially win you thousands of pounds. The world of soap operas gives people the escape from the real world while being able to identify with the storylines of characters and dealing with social issues. Cinemas have performances at convenient times and repeat films over a month’s period or so and if you still miss it you can just pick up a DVD or download the movie online.

A recent article in The Stage said this down turn in the engagement of the arts is due to lack of interest, rising cost and accessibility for those with disabilities or long term illness. This maybe the case, but there has to be a reason for it surely? Yes digital technology is still new and exciting and is making head way on improving, but surely the live arts knew this would happen and would do the same to keep up with new competing market?

Well the first reason I am going to put is the lack of opportunities in the key years, school. As I keep on about the disappointment in the fact the arts have been dropped from EBacc in the UK. This mean that schools are justified to not put funding towards these subjects as it will not benefit them in the exam tables.

So with schools putting less funding toward the arts subject there are less trips out to theatres for children who may not otherwise get that opportunity and less ways for them to be creative during the key learning years. So if young people aren’t able to experience theatre and the arts then how else will interest be aroused?

Also there’s a lack of interest due to lack of encouragement to take the arts up as a career, I know this is about arts as a hobby, but if the group you are with or an individual you are associated with really wants to be in the arts but is not encouraged then that in itself will have a ripple effect. The reason there is a lack of encouragement in career towards the arts is because it is looked on a ‘not a proper’ job. So the negativity this message gives has a spiral effect for those engaging from a hobby side of it.

The lack of interest from disabled and those suffering from long term illnesses may be just that they are not aware of what theatres are doing to enhance the experience for them. How many people know that the Prince Edward theatre in London has autism friendly performances? Is it commonly known that theatres are now required to have things like induction loops for the hard of hearing or ensure they are wheelchair friendly? These facilities are just automatically assumed to known about as most were done through changes to the law.

Rising cost of entry fees is such a common theme and this is why funding has always been important to the arts as it was initiated to bring ticket costs down. The fact that the commercial side of the sector still has high prices making businesses and producer’s multi-millionaires is another story. But the reason they commercial theatre gets funded is the very reason ‘not for profit’ theatre requires grants and funding for organisations like Arts Council.

It won’t matter how much the program is adapted or much is invest in facilities interest won’t aroused until you get the people in past the threshold. When was the last time your theatre held some kind of open day? Where people can just come through the door, no tickets and have mooch round? See what facilities you have, see what programme and workshops you put on. It can even be an opportunity to allow them to suggest their own idea for programmes. If they have suggested it, it may just trigger their engagement.

But on the whole if theatre is under represented by funding and opportunity then how can it thrive and arouse engagement?