Side Hustles and Handouts: A tough year for British theater workers


Freelancers – both actors and backstage crew members like Boucher – are the lifeblood of British theater and make up an estimated 70 percent of the nation’s 290,000 performing arts workers, according to UK Theater, a trade organization. However, the flexibility of this workforce makes them particularly vulnerable to changes in coronavirus restrictions.

In the face of a new wave of viruses, England again faced a national lockdown on Monday. Theater performances have been banned for months and Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the restrictions could last until March 31, which means the UK’s estimated 200,000 freelance theater workers are once again facing financial difficulties and looking for ways to get through.

Boucher guessed that it would be April at best before he could work in a theater again. On Monday, he applied with frequent bills to the Theater Artists Fund, an institution that provides emergency grants to theater freelancers at risk from the pandemic. He was hoping for £ 1,000, or about $ 1,350.

“I know it sounds silly,” said Boucher, “but £ 1,000 can really go a long way right now.”

The Theater Artists Fund, which was launched by film and theater director Sam Mendes in response to the pandemic, awarded around 4,600 grants in three funding rounds last year, said Eva Mason, a spokeswoman for the program, in an email . It reopened for applications on Monday and received “hundreds” within two days, she added.

Just a few weeks ago, British theaters seemed on the verge of a triumphant return. On December 5, “Six,” the hit musical about the women of Henry VIII, returned to London’s West End along with several other shows including a concert version of “Les Misérables”. But then restrictions in the city were tightened and forced to close, and then came the nationwide lockdown – England’s third since March.