We (Ash and Laura) have been selected to be part of the Freelance Task Force which has been designed as part of an initiative from Fuel to ‘strengthen the influence of the self-employed theatre and performance community’ - read more about it here.
Through a complex sequence of mental gymnastics these positions have been selected by and paid for by individual organisations who have each issued contracts for 13 days of work (8 hours) across June, July and August, for a remuneration decided by that organisation. Fuel have stated that it’s an imperfect system and that this was the only way they could quickly bring people together but it has still resulted in differing understandings of what we’re all actually expected to do there and who for. Manifold questions have already reverberated around discussions of this, including:
- Are we working for our “sponsor” organisations?
- Do they want anything from us in return for this money? Do we represent them in any way?
- Do we owe them something now?
- How radical can we be in our thinking about the sector if this might negatively impact the organisation paying us?
- Are we implicit in supporting the continuation of a sector build on racist, capitalist, patriarchal principles?
Audre Lorde’s ‘the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house’ have been echoing loudly.
We don’t know the answers, now or yet. But we know that this position comes with an ethical responsibility to be vocal, to be non-complicit, and basically be the mouthy cynical killjoys we both cherish being. We can’t represent anyone but ourselves, particularly other freelancers, as we’re the ones receiving money for our time, not them. However we can be the sort of people we would hope would be in “the room” if we weren’t there. We want to push, we want to provoke and we want to be part of perspectival change.
We spoke with one another at length about maybe not wanting to be part of this scheme. In part that’s because we felt like we weren’t totally sure what the aims and status of this position was, as hinted at above. In part that’s because we didn’t want to be opportunistic and were unsure that the group needed another 2 white, cis female voices. We also didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to ensure the task force is purposeful, meaningful and radical. Before taking the role, we asked if there were any appropriate candidates with a more marginalised voice who could be put forward, but sadly this wasn’t the case.
We applied to an open call sent out by The Yard, although don’t think it was an incredibly “open” open call because we only received it because we sent them an email asking how they were recruiting for it. We did this because we already work with The Yard and as we understood it each organisation was supporting freelancers they already work with. We were interviewed by two freelancers with no salaried representatives from the organisation. We explained at interview that we hoped this role might go to someone else. It didn’t. We were chosen, and we don’t take that responsibility lightly. We might have been chosen because of the really small pool of applicants which possibly has something to do with lead-in time, but also has something to do with the very limited methods of sharing the call. We also might have been chosen because we said in our interview that we were trying to “find ways to burn the whole fucking system to the ground”. Or maybe it was something else.
We’re being paid £150 a day to be part of the Freelance Task Force. We negotiated this up from what The Yard initially offered because this is the minimum amount we can earn for a days work and still be able to feed ourselves and pay rent. This is a job share, and therefore the whole fee (£1950) is split between us and we’ll divvy up the work accordingly. It is a job share, and not a split and WE WILL CERTAINLY NOT BE WORKING FOR £75 A DAY. No one should be.
We’ve seen a document (and we don’t even think we were supposed to see it), but it shows what each institution are paying their freelancer. In some cases, quite frankly, it’s disgusting and undermines the intentions to “support” a freelancer entirely. If we realise we can share that document without compromising our source (because we’re spies) we’ll post it here - maybe it’s even “public” already? Pay seems to range from £100 - £200. Some people’s labour will be worth twice as much as the same labour of their peers. What does this mean for the value of this labour? Almost all organisations said they landed at their varying figures in line with ITC rates, which suggests there is some very abstract maths occurring. Fuel have said that all the organisations have “acknowledged” that it isn’t right that they’re all paying each freelancer differently and expected the same work, but that’s the issue we have with bringing something together so quickly and at such a precarious time. That’s fine, but it’s also your final warning folx - that’s not an excuse you get to use again ok?
We went into the task force inquisitive as to what the point of it all would be. We want to be incredibly clear - we will not be “going back” or “re-opening” or “working within the new normal” unless the new normal is defunded buildings in favour of the prioritisation of people; un-bordered and un-boundaried access to participation; no racism, no gender discrimination, no ableism, no classism, no intersectional injustice or disadvantage; intentional and conscious programming, curating and designing for the benefit of society and communities, not just white middle class audiences; genuine accountability for the spending of public money; no trauma related to a complete lack of value towards pastoral care; collective ownership; complete rejection of exclusionary practices that participate in anything like hostile environment policy; and flexible and equitable working to support wellbeing and work/life balance.
Having said that, of course, we will - because otherwise we would packing our shit up and leaving now. However, motions like long-term contracts between organisations and freelancers; extended covid-related financial support; promise of accountability to make organisations change intersectionally discriminatory policy through training alone - these are all just transitory demands towards TOTAL DIFFERENCE.
The first task force meeting was on Friday. It was 2 hours long, via zoom and rightly so there were a whole host of housekeeping, technical and administrative issues that made it slightly painful, although it was carefully and expertly facilitated by Xana. It's fair to say there was a certain air of people shouting their varying demands into a vortex of ever increasing zoom breakout rooms. Hopefully we’ll find our way through the anti-hierarchal nature of this before it’s too late, so that anything like genuine change can be affected. It seems that on a self-electing basis we’re going to be meeting with organisations like Equity and Arts Council England. Truthfully we still don’t know what any of it is yet. It’s messy, and that’s ok for now. However, we’ve got to quickly come up with some collective, concrete, attainable and radical action so that the sweat and tears of dismantling and doing falls into this time, and that it doesn’t just become another Theatre Zoom™ for individualised hopes and naval gazing.