Freelancers are the Prize

Guest blog from Freelancers Make Theatre Work member and Curtain Call co-founder Matt Humphrey - Freelancers are the lifeblood of our productions, and should be coveted, sought after, paid well, respected, consulted, and included.

Matt Humphrey

October 27, 2021

This is, I believe, the first time I’ve written a newsletter for Freelancers Make Theatre Work (FMTW), although I have been a member since the launch in June 2020. During this whole time I’ve been wearing two hats in the FMTW work and meetings, like several of the members. I am a freelance photographer, ex-stage crew, and am no stranger to the perils, challenges, and joys of being a freelancer. My other hat is as one of the founders of Curtain Call - a hiring platform for our entertainment industry.


One of my first big FMTW projects was the Big Freelancer Survey, which turned out to be a fundamental driver to conversations within, as well as about our freelancer community. Emotions were raw, energy was high, and I got involved because we needed to know how people were feeling at this pivotal time. Amongst the numbers and quantitative data were text answers to open-ended questions - or qualitative data. These anonymous responses were brutally honest, and compellingly heartfelt. They expressed the consequences of both the famine of work alongside the desperate hunger for change.


It is these answers that have become the focal point of my working life within Curtain Call. 


Whilst there was NO photography work to speak of, I have been fortunate enough to have this other work. As a company, we were incredibly fortunate to bag some funding from the government via Innovate UK, which has enabled us to rebuild and launch our new platform to help freelancers get work (at no cost to themselves). We wrote our pitch for this in April 2020 - when none of us had any idea how long, how deep, how dramatic an effect the pandemic would have. 


It felt wrong to predict the shite circumstances that we have all had to endure and continue to live through: the skills drain; the movement of freelancers out of the industry, and to other sectors; and so on. The stark-need-vs-clever-solution-proposal that we wrote obviously struck a chord with the assessors. But we knew that this was also an opportunity for change, and that was laden with emotion.


Freelancers are the lifeblood of our productions, of any creative project. Without them, costumes do not get made, sets do not get built, pieces of scenery do not move, lights stay in the warehouse, music stays on the page, tickets do not sell, and it all grinds to a halt.


So why have we always felt undervalued, disposable, replaceable …?


Actually, freelancers are the prize!


They should be coveted, celebrated, sought after, valued, paid well, respected, consulted, included. And more than 8,000 of you were telling us through that survey.


Enough of the monolithic, top-down behaviour that had plagued our industry for too long. Let us not forget that it created a topsy-turvy world with systemic issues, mixed priorities and clouded judgments. Where getting a job because you know someone, or someone knows you is totally normal. 


That is not equal access to opportunity. It does not engender diversity of talent. It does not include. It does not open doors. 


Of course, Trust is crucial. But a system like that where the alternative to shmoozing at a press night party to get work was to pay a subscription to even hear about a jobs, is also ineffective. And unfair. 


We cannot solve all the problems, or make all the changes. These will evolve (hopefully) with conversation, and by listening. We can offer an alternative though, and help employers to widen their go-to talent pool, consider the options, start the dialogue, and be more flexible with barriers of entry.


Technology can be a great equaliser, and we are on a mission to use it for good. We want to offer more transparency in the recruitment process, and give more visibility to those who work hard to get ahead.


We believe it is important to broaden the access to the opportunities available and promote a system where merit, skills and achievements play a bigger role than who you know.


And, most importantly, to not charge freelancers for that privilege.

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The original version of this blog post was published as a newsletter on the FMTW website here.

FMTW is an inclusive, indpendent community for the 200,000+ self employed and freelance workers from all areas of the live performance, theatre and opera who make up 70% of the UK theatre workforce.

If you are interested in volunteering for FMTW, please do drop them a line.


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