Neal Street News

Sam Mendes' Theatre Artists Fund announces rollout of £1.5m two year pilot programme

Following the announcement in 2021 that Sam Mendes’ Theatre Artists Fund would commence a two year pilot programme, investigating necessary support for mid-career artists by creating full time professional positions in arts organisations across the UK, the Fund is delighted to share further details of the pilot programme.

The programme has been designed to address the huge shifts in the creative workforce (towards film, tv, other careers) exacerbated by the pandemic. Largely affecting mid-career professionals - the 'exodus' is also impacting people looking to enter the industry as there are now fewer experienced practitioners on-hand to support essential professional development. This pilot seeks to embed skilled people back into buildings, provide financial stability and value them. A range of models for improvement are being explored, with a view to creating a blueprint for the future. 

Funding is nearing completion to enable 20 individuals to be offered full time two year positions in backstage roles throughout the industry. Up to 15 partner organisations will host the positions. Each individual has been offered a full time post with commensurate salary, in addition to which there are plans for them to receive mentorship from industry professionals throughout their time in the scheme and additional learning and professional development provided by Theatre People.

Sam Mendes said: ‘This is proof that at least something good has come out of the pandemic, despite the fact that theatre and its practitioners suffered substantially during that time. I very much hope that this is the beginning of a scheme that will help many more theatre freelancers over the next few years. After all, those people are - and have always been - the beating heart of the theatre industry.’

The organisations signed up so far are Theatre Royal Plymouth, York Theatre Royal with Wise Children, Leeds Playhouse, Chichester Festival Theatre, Lyric Theatre, Belfast, Nottingham Playhouse (with Rocket and Glitter Productions), Unicorn Theatre, Kiln Theatre, National Theatre with National Theatre Productions, National Theatre of Scotland, and Theatr Clwyd.

Participants are undertaking roles in a wide range of departments including Production Management, Design, Company Management, Lighting, Automation & Rigging, Costume, Props, Draughting and Scenic Art.

I graduated in Theatre Design and Production in 2003 and worked my way up through the Wardrobe ranks at Chichester Festival Theatre and various UK tours and West End shows. I changed direction to make time for my family and went into teaching; but much as I enjoyed encouraging the next generation of theatre makers, I really missed working in theatre. This scheme has enabled me to get back into the industry I love.
Helen Flower, Senior Costume Assistant, Chichester Festival Theatre

Everyone in the industry is acutely aware of the challenges for freelance artists, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. The Theatre Artists’ Fund is providing invaluable, practical and financial assistance for both mid-career artists and theatres in helping to smooth out obstacles in the pathway to employment and enabling talent development. It’s win-win for both sides and we’re immensely grateful for their support.
Justin Audibert, Artistic Director, Chichester Festival Theatre

My time as Company Manager at Kiln has been great in terms of career development for me. I have been able to hone and grow my skills and confidence in a supported environment. There have been opportunities and experiences that have challenged me such as transferring the Kiln production of The Wife of Willesden into ART in Boston and BAM in New York City.

I have also been involved in recruitment for roles in Kiln’s production department and as a result have given support and mentorship to less experienced freelancers. I am passionate about this part of the role because the backstage industry is lacking in people from underrepresented backgrounds, particularly those from the Global Majority and if people can see and learn from those like themselves, we may begin to break down some of the barriers to access.  
EJ Saunders, Company Manager

The Theatre Artist’s Fund pilot programme has allowed us to employ EJ as Kiln’s full-time Company Manager, a role that is proving invaluable to us. We have been able to increase our capacity to deliver excellent productions whilst also ensuring we are always providing pastoral support for our freelance workforce. We have also been able to increase our efforts to demystify technical, production and stage management careers - EJ has been absolutely instrumental in this work. 
Nicki Brown, Head of Production

The pilot is operating in phases, responding to the recovery needs of each organisation which has the facilities and opportunities to enable mid-career professional development. Early partnerships and placements began in October 2022 whilst later partnerships and placements will complete by January 2026 at the latest. The final evaluation will be ready in early Spring 2026.