Like many creatives doing side-jobs, this writer was on a 0-hour contract and had no idea whether they were going to be furloughed. Here, they talk anonymously about the anxiety they felt before finding out the good news and how privileged they now feel.
If you had asked me two months ago what ‘furloughing’ was, I would have guessed it meant adding some sort of embellishment to a cushion, or something generally to do with textiles. Clearly, I had zero idea and I’m sure most of you didn’t either. Now however, being asked if you are a ‘furloughed worker’ is as commonplace as scrolling through memes of Carole Baskin and posting pics of your banana bread.
Over the last few weeks, I have become one of many front of house (FOH) workers furloughed by a West End theatre and subsequently am going to receive 80% of my average income for the foreseeable. For this I am entirely grateful. I am lucky to be receiving support from my workplace at this time, especially as someone working on a casual basis, with no contractual obligations in place to keep me safe and supported. But the lead up to this point has been worrisome; these are circumstances which I never even considered would occur in my lifetime, because quarantine was a notion reserved for the past or for a dystopian sci-fi film. Now I am in the incredibly privileged position of being able to reflect on the last 6 weeks and figure out what would have helped to ease anxiety in this most dramatic of times for both myself and my creative friends.
One thing I believe matched the accelerated speed of Covid-19’s rate of infection, was the spread of fear. Before the West End was closed down, there seemed to be very little information about what was going to happen to us. I started to hear from freelance creative friends that their work was getting cancelled, not just in immediate months but through until the summer. On top of that, I was hearing stories of friends being told that although they had completed work on projects already, there was no guarantee of payment now that the duration of the run had been reduced or cancelled altogether.
From the comfort of the FOH counter, you would not have known anything was abnormal besides the introduction of an extra bottle of antibacterial gel in each area and the depleted audience numbers. My workplace had not publicly or internally addressed how it would likely react to the pandemic, and staff were told to come in as normal. This naturally bred plenty of anxiety amongst casual staff, as we had shifts cut last-minute to rebalance the drop in audience numbers, but also anxiety about our health: were we safe at work? Did we still have to handle cash? Is there enough antibacterial gel for public use? Was that a DRY COUGH I just heard? Honestly, as I finished my final shift before the theatre closed, I had lost all hope. It had not confirmed or communicated a plan, I was scared for my health and I had a 0-hour contract, which meant that if the building was closed, so was my bank account. Morale was low on that final shift as the theatre faced an uncertain fate. Two days later, the whole of theatreland was dark. We were informed that any remaining rota-ed shifts over the next two weeks would be paid, but anything past this looked sketchy.
Thankfully, with the introduction of the Job Retention Scheme, both myself and my 0-hour colleagues are receiving protection and support. Thank god, because if we weren’t, most of us would be left up a certain creek without a paddle.
Overall, I think my workplace has responded strongly to this unpredictable plot twist. Considering the modern world has never needed to take pause before, why would we have needed to plan for one? I’m sure my colleagues would agree that we have been well informed and updated quickly as and when necessary over the last month, but that does not take away the fear and anxiety we have all felt before the ball was rolling. We were skeptical that we would receive support as the theatre itself had not made any attempt to assure us we would be, we felt alone and any communication after that felt like an afterthought.
I suppose right now, the thing to remember is that everyone is feeling much the same, and everyone is doing their best. We must continue to communicate with one another, remember that we will come out OK at the other side and that those of us who are furloughed are incredibly lucky – even if it does not always feel like it.
But what will happen when we come out at the other side? Well, who knows right now… Until then, let’s carry on enjoying our Zoom yoga sessions, Netflix binging and look forward to seeing each other in the bar when it’s all over.