Sam Mendes & Netflix Set Up 500K Fund To Support UK Theater Workers

Sam Mendes / Netflix
Sam Mendes / Netflix REX/Shutterstock/Netflix

Sam Mendes, The Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre and Netflix have established a fund to support beleaguered workers in the sector during the ongoing COVID-19 closures.

The streamer is donating $620K (£500K) to launch the initiative, which will give out grants of up to £1K per person. To be eligible, applicants must have worked in theater between March 31, 2020, and the beginning of 2019. The goal is to support those not eligible for the UK government’s financial aid schemes. The initial round of applications will be open for one week from 12pm GMT (4AM PST) today.

Theaters have been closed in the UK since March 16 due to the government’s coronavirus closures. While the country is beginning to emerge from its lockdown, theaters remain a way off being able to operate at a meaningful capacity, and prominent figures including Cameron Mackintosh have said significant shows won’t return until 2021.

Mendes penned an op-ed in the Financial Times last month calling the the current situation the “biggest challenge to Britain’s cultural life since the outbreak of the Second World War” and requesting support from streamers.

“It would be deeply ironic if the streaming services – Netflix, Amazon Prime et al – should be making lockdown millions from our finest acting, producing, writing and directing talent, while the very arts culture that nurtured that talent pool is allowed to die,” he wrote. “Is there anyone among those people willing to use a fraction of their COVID-19 windfall to help those who have been mortally wounded?”

Netflix appears to have heeded the call with this donation. The initial pot is likely to run dry very quickly but the org hopes industry figures, corporations, charitable trusts and individual theatre goers could all make donations to fuel further rounds.

“We have created a fund to which the most vulnerable freelance theatre practitioners can now apply. It is specifically designed for theatre workers who find themselves at breaking point, for those unable to put food on the table or to pay bills, or for those considering leaving the profession altogether,” explained Mendes.

“I am well aware that this is a drop in the ocean in terms of what is required for a full recovery, but I hope it might ensure some form of survival until eagerly awaited rescue plans are announced by the Government. In the meantime, I would encourage all those who need urgent assistance to please apply.”

“Despite careful and collaborative consultation with DCMS, we are still waiting for the Government to announce a date for when theatres can fully reopen. Until then over 290,000 workers are in limbo and desperately concerned about their futures, with theatres and producers having no choice but to assume worst case scenarios,” added Julian Bird, CEO, Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre.

“We remain gravely concerned for the thousands of artists who have little or no income, especially those who have slipped through the cracks and missed out on the government schemes. Currently these artists are completely in the dark as to when they might be able to earn money again.”

“Playwrights and directors, theatre artists and performers, composers and comedians, are the lifeblood of our industry too and, while Netflix has been more fortunate than many, in the end we are only as strong as the people we work with,” Added Netflix’s Anne Mensah, Vice President, Original Series.

Applications to the fund can be made here, while people can donate to the pot here.

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