Industry orgs Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre will set up the fund, which is supported by a £500,000 ($623,000) donation from Netflix. The initiative will provide small grants for theater practitioners that have run out of options as theaters endure a four-month shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The fund is designed specifically to support those who have been ineligible for government aid and have not been able to work since venues closed the week of March 16. The drive comes alongside a newly announced $1.9 billion support package for the arts sector, revealed Sunday by U.K. Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
Spearheaded by Mendes — who has been a vocal advocate for the theater community during lockdown — the fund will provide short-term relief to hundreds of theater workers and freelancers across the U.K., and particularly those from underrepresented groups, which are disproportionately affected by the crisis.
The grants will be £1,000 ($1,250) each, with the full criteria available to view on the Theatre Artists Fund website. To be eligible for the fund, applicants must have worked in theater between January 2019 and March 31, 2020. Applicants will need to provide information of recent work, as well as a reference. For the first round of the fund, applications will be open for one week from Monday.
For the fund to continue, it will require support from industry figures, corporations, charitable trusts and individual theater goers. Spielberg, Iannucci and actor David Walliams are among those who have so far donated, and a host of others are expected to contribute in the coming weeks.
While Netflix previously backed a BFI and Film and TV Charity-led fund for U.K. film and TV workers, the initiative marks an unprecedented step into the British theater arena for the streaming giant. However, it’s not altogether surprising, given so many British film and TV actors emerge from the theater world and continue to work in both fields long into their careers.
Mendes said: “Thousands of theater professionals in the U.K. are struggling. Many of them haven’t been able to get help from the existing government schemes. They need help now.
“We have created a fund to which the most vulnerable freelance theater practitioners can now apply. It is specifically designed for theater workers who find themselves at breaking point, for those unable to put food on the table or to pay bills, or for those considering leaving the profession altogether,” continued Mendes.
“The fund has been initiated by a donation from Netflix and I am extremely grateful for their remarkable generosity and leadership. Although the money is initially limited, I hope that it will encourage other individual donors and charitable organizations. The more money that is donated to the fund, the more grants we will be able to give out. So please do consider a donation. I promise it will make a difference.”
Julian Bird, CEO of the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre, added: “While we currently don’t have enough funds to help everyone, we call on those companies and individuals who have thrived in the sector and those who can’t imagine a future without theater, to give generously to help sustain this fund for a generation of workers that are at genuine risk.”
Anne Mensah, VP of Original Series at Netflix, said: “British theater is a vital cultural force, not least because so many emerging talents and original ideas begin life on the stage. Creativity is all about collaboration, and we are deeply concerned by the challenges our friends in the theatre now face, especially in the regions, and the likely consequences for the diverse voices and stories at the heart of our culture.
“Playwrights and directors, theater artists and performers, composers and comedians, are the lifeblood of our industry, too and, while Netflix has been more fortunate than many, in the end we are only as strong as the people we work with. If we continue to nurture the pipeline of emerging creative talent, cultivate diverse projects and provide opportunity for the most exciting new works to be seen, we remain optimistic that the industry can bloom once again and satisfy audiences’ insatiable appetite for culture, creativity and entertainment.”