The Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and UK Theatre has announced the Theatre Artists Fund has raised £3.5m, including a £1m contribution from Arts Council England.

Spearheaded by director Sam Mendes the fund provides short-term relief to hundreds of theatre workers and freelancers across the UK.

The fund was established in July with a £500,000 donation from Netflix to specifically support those who have been ineligible for Government aid and have not been able to work since theatres closed on March 16 due to Covid-19.

In the first round of application grants of £1,000 each were provided to 1,600 practitioners from across the UK. The fund is now open for its next round of applications as uncertainty remains on when theatres will be able to reopen without social distancing in place.

Simon Mellor, deputy chief executive of 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. We are complementing the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund by reopening our National Lottery Project Grants programme and will shortly be relaunching Developing Your Creative Practice.

“I’m delighted that we’ve been able to contribute to the Theatre Artists Fund, which is working hard to provide a lifeline to thousands of theatre professionals, including those from our most under-represented communities, during this unparalleled crisis for the arts.”

The Theatre Artists Fund has also received further support from Backstage Trust, Es Devlin, Jim Broadbent, Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg, Lee Hall and Beeban Kidron, Michelle Dockery, Peter Morgan, Phyllida Lloyd and Ralph Fiennes.

Mendes added: “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.”

Despite the news that indoor performances can resume with socially distanced audiences, it will not be economically viable for many theatres to reopen whilst adhering to these guidelines and most will remain closed, with staff and freelancers in limbo.

Julian Bird, chief executive of SOLT and UK Theatre said this means thousands of people in the theatre workforce “remain in desperate need.”

He added: “We are delighted that following the government’s announcement on 14th August, theatres can now proceed and allow the opening of indoor performances with social distancing measures firmly in place.

“This also means that pilots are permitted to go ahead and this is something we are working on to provide further potential solutions for theatres. Theatre wants to take its place alongside restaurants, galleries, museums and cinemas in being a major contributor to the economic and social recovery of the nation, as well as entertaining our audiences and supporting our local communities.

“However, until we have a date for reopening theatres, as normal, thousands of our workforce remain in desperate need and that’s why this fund is so vital.”

Image: David Joyce / CC BY-SA 2.0 / Edited for size