Theatre freelancer fund set up by Sam Mendes has now raised £3.5 million after Arts Council donation

A fund set up by 1917 director Sam Mendes has now raised £3.5 million to help support out-of-work theatre professionals who face financial uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Theatre Artist Fund today announced it had hit £3.5 million thanks, in part, to a £1 million donation from Arts Council England.

The fund specifically helps freelance theatre workers in urgent need of financial support.

It was set up at the start of July with a £500,000 donation from streaming giant Netflix. I May Destroy You writer and star Michaela Coel, The Thick Of It creator Armando Iannucci and Harry Potter star Imelda Staunton were among the early contributors to the fund – which provides eligible workers with one-off grants of £1,000.

Since then, actors Jim Broadbent, Michelle Dockery, and Ralph Fiennes have contributed plus director Steven Spielberg and the Backstage Trust among others.

1,600 people received a grant in the first round of applications, which closed on July 13.

The second round of applications open today at midday and will remain so for the next two weeks.

Figures suggest up to 70 per cent of those working in theatre are freelance.

Sam Mendes said: “This fund has enabled us to move fast in response to the urgent need that is out there amongst freelancers and self-employed theatre artists. But the situation is still desperate and many more still need help. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Arts Council England for this transformative contribution, which I hope will lead to an ongoing relationship with the Fund as it grows in scale and permanence.”

Simon Mellor, Deputy CEO, Arts and Culture, Arts Council England said, “The Covid-19 crisis has had a huge impact on every part of our cultural sector – but individual artists and freelancers have been especially badly hit, losing work and uncertain of their future. Supporting individuals to think, plan and practice is a priority for the Arts Council, and we are using our resources to make this possible.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a £1.57 billion arts rescue package in early July.

Social distanced performances have been allowed in theatres since August 15 – though for many venues it is not financially viable to open with drastically reduced audiences.

Outdoor spaces – including the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre – are now able to host performances. Its acclaimed production of Jesus Christ Superstar opened on August 14.

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