Most focus at the moment is on theatres and how they’re dealing with the effects of Coronavirus. But what about freelance workers who are just starting out? Eleanor Dewar talks to fellow-creative, Izzy Carney about how the situation has affected her as a recent graduate.
The irony is not lost on Izzy Carney and I as we realise the date we are talking is exactly one year since we both left the University of Reading. To say that 2020 has not been the sort of year we expected as recent graduates, would be an understatement. The fact that no one is having a good time during COVID-19 would also be an understatement, and a pending global recession the size of which no one has ever seen, suggests that the far lasting impact of the virus will only stretch on even when lockdown ends. With the closure of theatres showing little hope of ending on its advised date of June 30, most major venues have admitted they are in trouble and are relying on live streams and donations to get them through this difficult period.
But what if you are not a giant London theatre with savings and live streams to spare? For many fringe and freelance theatre makers, COVID-19 is an unpredictable and a potentially financially ruinous time. Carney is one such creator. Since graduating a year ago, Carney has not stopped, with work at Edinburgh Fringe, stage managing at the Chapel Playhouse, The Cockpit Theatre and as a venue manager at the Vault Festival. Now all of that has gone. “I cannot work,” Carney tells me, “my job is bouncing between fringe festivals like Edinburgh and the Underbelly but that’s all been cancelled.” Again, the cancellation of Edinburgh Festival in August has made it clear to all those in the industry that August 2nd is an optimistic guess at best. Having quit her ushering job at a major London theatre to focus on her freelance career, Carney is now in a particularly strange and potentially vulnerable situation. “Being a freelancer, I am not entitled to any furlough. I was in the process of applying for new contracts but all my new prospects got cancelled before I was accepted for them.” As a recent graduate in the early stages of her career, other unique problems have also arisen, just as they have with many others in the same boat. “I haven’t been freelancing long enough for the self-employment scheme so I’m on universal credit at the moment, and that all depends on your situation.”
So, what do you do when the start of your career has been hindered by the slight inconvenience of a worldwide pandemic? “Take a break for the first time on years,” Carney jokes, but like so many people working in theatre, working from home and in isolation is not an option. “I literally cannot do my job in any form or capacity. I cannot prepare or practice for my job and I need people,” Carney tells me, “but I’ve been trying to find a new ‘normal’ – a new routine, I struggled at the start without one but I’m doing okay now.” Despite work drying up, Carney has taken the time to “focus on other creative projects that have come about since the lockdown.” Carney has been a guest on a podcast, taken over an Instagram and has reached out to a multitude of theatre-based charities. Never one to stay still, Carney has “started back on learning music theory, as for some stage manager jobs it is needed and knowing how to follow music may give me an edge.”
Despite her positivity in seeking opportunities, Carney is fully aware of the danger theatre is in. “If we do not get a bailout soon, then things will begin to close.” Like many people, Carney feels frustrated by the lack of direction given by the government, “It isn’t clear or helpful,” and as lockdown drags on for another month, the theatre industry has reached boiling point. “They need an investment; the theatre industry employs so many people and It’s so important to our culture. We are world leaders in the arts so why aren’t we acting like it? If there is an investment, they are bailing out airlines but are not even glancing at us. If they help, things can survive and continue to help communities.”
“I hope I’m not being too depressing but there’s no good spin on it,” Carney laughs. Always one to try and see the positive, I finish the interview by asking her what she sees for the future of theatre. “It can go two ways, and that depends on actions we take now. It’ll survive or it won’t.” Carney continues optimistically, “hopefully there will be a resurgence and people will want to go to the theatre more after this. Also, like post-World War II, there will be a radical transformation of the arts.” As for the industry workers who will have suffered months of financial uncertainty and disappointment for at least half a year… “when we come back, people will be driven and stronger than ever – I know I will be.” So, despite all the worry and uncertainty, art continues to unite and excite us, and a post-COVID-19 explosion of art is something we can all look forward to. Now we just need the funding to do it.