There’s no contesting that this last 12 months (and beyond) have been exceptionally hard, especially for the arts. It’s also a truth we all hold to be self-evident that we theatre folk are strong and fight hard to overcome what the world throws at us – the show must go on after all! However, just because life is hard, doesn’t mean we have to be: some new theatre companies are championing the small changes every company can make to drag the industry into a kinder place. Now everything is coming back, it’s a great time to restart in a better, kinder way.
With theatre looking to make a return in the coming months we spoke to two companies about how their kinder approaches to working policies and the individual needs of their staff makes for a much more successful environment for everyone.
When Jemma Gross and Rachel Barnett-Jones started Fly High Stories in 2019 they had already amassed many years of stage experience as a director and writer respectively.
Despite the pandemic and juggling work with homeschooling, Fly High Stories have continued to create work for young people online (including Together/Apart NHS for the families of front-line workers in two of their local hospital trusts). Whilst making this work the company got to thinking about how they work now and how they want to work moving forward.
“We realised that the most important thing to us is that we work 'kind'. It makes our working lives happier and we hope it will make the lives of the people we work with happier too.”
In the first instance the five guiding principles Rachel and Jemma wrote down were just for them and the people they were working with, so everyone in the team knew what to expect and what was expected of them as members of the company. They then realised others in the industry might like to take the principles on board too, and so they popped it on the internet, invited a few friends to join and WeWorkKind was born. The principles are:
- We recognise, support & encourage the fact that people have lives beyond their jobs.
- We pay fairly and on time. We value ourselves and our fellow artists.
- We use easily understandable language on all our documents, including our contracts.
- We communicate openly & honestly and are transparent in everything we do.
- We care about diversity and inclusivity, and we amplify marginalised voices.
Also a fan of writing it all down are the newly launched The REcreate Agency, who are devoted to making the industry better through better mental health, inclusivity and support for producers and artists. The company was founded around producer and writer Emily Beecher’s dining table as fellow producer Reece McMahon bubbled with her to work during the pandemic – and they realised they were so much better together than lone freelancers. They’ve based their working practices on their shared values of inclusivity, generosity, joy, connection and also, kindness.
They put this into practice by embedding wellbeing at the heart of their work and asking the artists and producers they work with what they need to do their best work. This might be childcare friendly working hours, printed materials on coloured paper, a quiet break out space or simply enough coffee to sink the Titanic. Each group of people is different and giving every individual a voice and input means making the best working environment, and by extension the best work. And some of the things that come up just make so much sense they become part of company policy.
“While working with a dyslexic artist, it was pointed out that as some of the directors we were interviewing were also dyslexic, so they might need the interview questions in advance. We decided that because most people don’t want to lead with their disability or neurodiversity, we’d share the questions in advance with all candidates. If they don’t need them early that’s fine, but it just provides more equity. These changes don’t harm the people who don’t need it, but it makes a huge difference for those who do.”
So now we are getting back into the room, fresh from such a long break, it is an ideal time to take stock and think, what kind of theatre makers do we all want to be? And what changes can we make to shift industry standards and improve things for everyone?
As Fly High Stories say “Together we can make working in theatre just a little bit kinder, and that’s got to be worth it. A kindness revolution.”
Fly High Stories invite anyone to join the #WeWorkKind network on their website www.flyhighstories.co.uk or on Twitter or Facebook.
The REcreate Agency support artists and producers by encouraging growth through sharing skills, resources and knowledge. You can find them on Twitter: @REcreate_agency and Instagram @recreateagency
How are your team adapting their working practices following lockdown? If you have any thoughts on the #WeWorkKind campaign we'd love to hear them.
If you'd like to keep up to date with all our blog posts, important and exciting stories in the worlds of theatre, arts and media, plus job ads and opportunities from our industry friends, sign up to our daily media briefing at this link.