Side Hustles and Handouts: A Tough Year Ahead for U.K. Theater Workers – The New York Times


Freelancers — both actors and backstage crew members like Boucher — are the lifeblood of Britain’s theaters, making up an estimated 70 percent of the country’s 290,000 workers in the performing arts, according to U.K. Theater, a trade body. But that workforce’s flexibility makes it particularly exposed to any changes in coronavirus restrictions.

Facing a new wave of the virus, England on Monday went into a national lockdown again. Theatrical performances are banned for months, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said restrictions could last until March 31, which means Britain’s estimated 200,000 freelance theater workers are once more facing financial trouble and looking for ways to get by.

Boucher guessed it would be April, at best, before he could work again in a theater. On Monday, with bills piling up, he applied to the Theater Artists Fund, a body that gives emergency grants to theater freelancers imperiled by the pandemic. He was hoping for 1,000 pounds, or about $1,350.

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

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

Just a few weeks ago, Britain’s theaters seemed to be on the verge of a triumphant return. On Dec. 5, “Six,” the hit musical about the wives of Henry VIII, returned to the West End, in London, alongside several other shows including a concert version of “Les Misérables.” But then restrictions were tightened in the city, forcing those to shut, and then came the nationwide lockdown — England’s third since March.

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