Ambassadors for the Industry

I thought this week I would write about something more positive then my usual posts, something that is encouraging and enlightening young people into the creative part of the industry. We hear a lot about young people wanting to go into singing, dancing and acting and there’s a lot of support for these dreams, but not very often do we hear of projects and programmes to inspire them into a career backstage.

In June 2017 The Society of London Theatres (SOLT) and UK Theatres commissioned a major piece of research called Workforce Review of the Offstage Theatre and Performing Arts Sector. This report explored what the UK backstage looks like and how it will look in the future. (Click here to read the report)

As a result of this report a new ambassador program was created, SOLT and UK Theatres have partnered with the charity Inspiring The Future and it will be officially launched this project on the 11th July 2018 with a series of events for young people across the county to inspire and educate them about careers in backstage theatre.

Since the registration for ambassadors opened in the April 2018there have been over 500 candidates sign up to be an inspiration for young people, these include artistic directors, costume cutters, lighting designers, prop master and even producers. The aim is to give young people a taste of the full spectrum of the diverse jobs available within the industry. The project is also about strengthening and encouraging the links between schools and theatres across the country and close the skill gap by encouraging access to the arts and culture industry.

If you would like to sign up to an ambassador then please click here for more information.

More information about the program and project can be found at the Inspire the future website:

Use hashtag: #inspiringfuturetheatre to see updates on social media.

Lighting with the EU

Like most industries, theatre knows that it has to become greener and reduce its carbon footprints, without the need for someone to tell them, let alone have a laws made with an unreasonable time frames put in place to make it happen sooner.

But out of all the environmental carbon footprints that theatres produce lighting accounts for just 5% of the total usage, so it makes no sense to put pressure on the 5% over the other 95% that also need to be dealt with, and to make matter worse this small amount is by far the most expensive to upgrade quickly so it would surely be better to take it slowly to ensure the job is done properly plus it some of the replacements needed haven’t yet been invented and this is not because theatre is dragging it’s heals but about keeping things affordable while staying in line with industry standards. Not every theatre or creative space can afford state of the art equipment at a blink of an eye.

It is granted that lighting and it power source is the most expensive to run in a theatre so why then does the statics claim that it only accounts for no more that 5% of the total footprints used by the theatres? This is simply because it’s the length of time this equipment is used, if you think about it most performances last between two and three hours and most techs will only physically put the lights on half hour before the performance or as the audience are let into the auditorium. During creative days where lights are being focused and prepared for a performance they are only on at most a day or two.

But surely it would make more sense for the EU to deal with the power source that theatres use and those carbon footprints, which have longer lasting effect rather than the actual equipment being used? That it would then be down to the theatres themselves that would deal with the updating of equipment as ways to reduce the cost of the power being used during performance.

If legislation as it is currently written is passed in October 2018 then it would cost the creative industry over £1bn and £180m in the UK alone to have the changes completed by the 2020 deadline as it will condemns even the current most efficient lights – LEDs. So the industry would be looking at a complete new rig for each creative space, that is just not practical nor is it affordable, with no other industry having to deal with such a change it could almost be seen another nail in the coffin of the creative industry.

Things that the creative industry is doing to reduce carbon footprint in other areas of the industry the accounts of the 95%:

  • They are engaging everyone
  • The active with the 4 R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle
  • Experiment and use sustainable material
  • Energy efficient
  • Design energy efficient lighting – SEE IT ALREADY IN THE AGENDA!
  • Use rechargeable batteries
  • Reduce transport
  • Recycle materials after shows
  • Monitor environment impact
  • Talk about it

On the positive side of this some of the industry’s biggest organisations have met with the EU to discuss exempting theatres from this regulation which resulted in them being charged to write the exemption for the legislation before it is passed into law in October 2018.

The Doctor Will See You Now….

Just imagine if you went to your GP with some form of welfare problem and the doctor wrote out the prescription but when you looked, instead of it being for a bottle of pills or medicine it was for you to book tickets to a show at your local theatre or to attend a creative session at a community centre, wouldn’t that be weird?

In Wales they have trailed putting the arts on prescription, in a document called Arts and Health in Wales: A Mapping Study of Current Activity claims 20% of patient visit their GP for welfare reason rather than medical problems. It was also reported that 28% of those prescribed with some sort of social activity, for example within the art reduced repeat care from GPs after 12 to 18 months.

So last month we saw Mental Health Awareness week with various news items, adverts and activities throughout the UK in an attempt to bring home to people just how important Mental Health and Wellbeing is.

Mental health is something that is often seen as a taboo topic, something we shouldn’t talk about. But it’s important and not just in the arts but in general to be out in the open, in the wider community as that’s the only way these things can be dealt with properly.

It is ironic that the creative industry is often merited for helping those with mental issues and yet the link has not been made between those in the creative industry who are not currently working and their mental health.

The arts may contribute £27bn to the UK economy a year and has an increase in jobs by 17.8%, yet it continues to struggle with unemployment, low pay and unacceptable working conditions to be at an all-time high.  What these figure don’t take into account is that most of the ‘new jobs’ are temporary lasting between a couple of months and year or two maybe so they are not counting the number of people coming out of work each year as they squeeze arts budgets, because that is how the arts industry works, people are always looking for the next job after all its freelance work.

So let’s just be clear, what exactly is mental health? It is the psychological wellbeing and functions of emotional and behavioural adjustment and recent studies have found that as many as 1 in 4 people in the UK suffer from some kind of mental health issue.

In recent months Mental Health has come higher on the social agenda with all sorts of campaigns and campaigners popping up everywhere, but the attitude of those working in the arts is not helpful when it is considered not to be a ‘proper’ job, they are seen as wasters or just doing what they do for fun. Yet the same people would feel very lost if they weren’t able to enjoy music or read a novel or be able to see theatre.

A report that was conducted in 2015 in Australia showed that those in the performing arts experiences symptoms of anxiety as much as ten times higher than those in the general population and are five times more likely to suffer from depression. These are all linked to money and job insecurities alone.

The arts can be lonely, isolated and alienating, but four of the industries big organisations have set up an awesome charity ArtsMind to support those with mental health problems, so if you are working within the creative sector and you do feel your mental health is not in a good place then do reach out, it is so important that you do, it won’t be easy, you may even feel embarrassing but it can only get better by reaching out, the ArtsMind website is:

Dancing in the Street

Street theatre is one of the oldest forms of theatre and yet we don’t seem to see much of it these days unless there’s a special occasion or festival, but this it seems is down to councils having decided to cash in the on what was a success of street theatre by enforcing a permit policy for outdoor public performances and these permits are not always cheap for individuals, so hence why you only see them at festivals and special occasions.

When you think about street theatre the first place that may come to mind is probably Covent Garden in London which is the most common place to enjoy it these days. But street theatre as a whole reflects that of ancient world. Back then it was about mocking a serious character through comedy and from this format came the idea of Harlequin was born, a comic who had a dark side deliberately seeking to make fun of others. Today though, its more about an individual just clowning about and getting audience participation.

There are many different types of street theatre from carnival to flash mobs mostly for entertainment purposes. But back in medieval it was all an important part of the teaching communities about issues surrounding social morals and health education as well as religious teaching as the reformation took hold.

Using the streets for entertaining a crowd even today gives a very unique feel and atmosphere to a setting that a traditional theatre or town hall gives, but at the same time, it is a not a lesser version of theatre that that of conventional building known as theatre.

Busking is also something that comes to mind when someone mentions street theatre. It’s one of the oldest forms of street theatre, dating back to well before medieval times, it was the most common workplace for musicians before there was recordings. Busking has been a tradition for travellers and gypsies music, dancing and fortune telling. Today we still carry some of the traditions with the seasonal carol singing and Morris Men dancing in some parts of England.

Carnivals at best are a celebration of community, bringing everyone together in what is sometimes a very competitive event for those who part take in creating floats costumes. For most these are big colourful and loud events like in Brazil. Then at the other end of the spectrum there are the night carnivals, like in the South West of the UK made famous through the Guy Fawkes events of the 1600s and just to think that now there are people who spend the whole year planning and making the floats and costumes for these events.

The latest crazy for street theatre are flash mobs, essentially this isn’t the first time the term has been used. Interestingly it was first used in the 19th century to describe a subculture in Australia of females. The variation of ‘Mob Crowd’ was then used in 1973 to describe what happens in riots as people would just appear from nowhere and intensify the situation.

But flash mobs today in the 21st century has become one of the most respected forms of street theatre as they continually come up with new and exciting ways to excite an unsuspecting crowd. But even this is under threat from councils and governments as they insist that permits are applied for, which completely defeat the point of a flash mob.

Do entertainers really need a permit to do their job when the price the entertainer charges is the price of some a smile?

Weight Check

Can you imagine walking into an interview and being asked to strip down to your underwear then being weighed and measured by the interviewer only to find that if you are just a little over weight or a millimetre too wide then you can’t have the job.

To be fair if any other industry did, there would be a lot of court cases, firstly for discrimination, that’s if sexual harassment doesn’t make the grades first. So why is it OK for the arts to get away with it? I once heard it said that unless there are specific guides in the script that a person has to look or weigh, then expecting an individual to be any other way a part from them self “you are looking for a model and not an actor.”

Not only is the director looking for a model, but at the same time they are ‘body-shaming’ an individual who is stood in that room who has worked so hard on their performance. It will not only lead to lowering self-esteem but it will do nothing to benefit mental health of individuals.

It is completely unacceptable for any individual to lose weight or change their appearance in some way unless it is for health or lifestyle reasons which the advice should only come from health experts but not for a career, leisure, relationships or anything else. And when body shaming comes from the arts it makes it all far worse, as they are the ones who are supposed to stamp it out with their creativity to help society become a better place.

The arts are supposed to be encouraging, empowering and confidence building industry, but there seems to be a lot of negativity recently, what with bullying and now body shaming.

There is no reason why actors shouldn’t be able for feedback on why they didn’t get the part and if the feedback comes in the form of weight or size then the question needs to be asked ‘why?’ and find out if it has to do with the character you auditioned for, ask for evidences in of this in the script, and most of all if your experience is bad make sure you tell others. By creating a bad reputation through word of mouth is the best way to stamp out this kind of behaviour.

Actors and actresses already experience pressure of body shaming on social media and on the world stage in general so they shouldn’t be forced to endure it more through auditions and other industry standards put in place by directors and producers.

But we have to remember that this is not just an arts industry issue its society wide and it can have devastating effects, including social anxiety, stress and even obesity and other eating disorders. So when it comes to an audition we need to be more sensitive because whether the body shaming is intentional or not it does happens and the person on the receiving end will be affected in some way or other if the producer says, ‘You need to lose weight for this part’ or something to that effect as they take the measurements and weight of the individual.

It is really important that as the term ‘diversity’ is addressed within the arts that we don’t forget that this is not just about race, religion or colour of skin, the fundamentals behind the diversity, whatever the show maybe, is to show the very real world we live in.

There are very few shows either established and new that have written the way a person looks or weighs as the main theme. The only exemption being those musicals that are dedicated to specific people or celebrities.