Category: Uncategorized

Health and Safety in the Arts

Here is another blurb from the series of ‘How to in the Arts…’. This post we are looking at the health and safety in theatre and the arts. This is obviously one of, if not the, most important part of running theatre as it can be the most costly if things go wrong.

For the purpose of this post theatre is defined as anything where a live performance is created whether the audience is paying or not. So this is from street theatre right up the stadium and big arena productions.

I have been involved in the Health and Safety of many businesses over the years ranging from completing checklist as a worker to creating the companies Health and Safety strategies. I recently completed an official IOSH course with BECTU and Creative Skills with an emphasis on the creative industry.

 So here are my top 5 bits of advice for theatre or any creative professional for survival in the arts industry:

  1. Ensure it is written down

So often management try and get rid of staff for breaching Health and Safety as the individual is seen as liability to the company, but when in fact the liability is often on the company simply because they had not got the procedure in writing in the first place. The aim of Health and Safety is remove assumption and grey areas from the line of work, so one of the best way to do this is to simply write it down and make sure staff, crew and freelance are all aware of it and know where to find information if they are not sure. Even better get them to sign to say they have read and understood.

  • Training is never too expensive

While most theatres and industrial personnel may feel confident to train their staff in house, never be afraid of sending them on external courses. This does two things, firstly it will raise the morale of the individual as they feel appreciated and that you value them enough to invest in their learning. Secondly the training will pay for itself as it will mean less accidents, less injuries, less time off as things are being done not just efficiently but safely too. There is far more course on offer external to your business then what you can offer. To decide what people need to people need training look at your risk assessments, a great example of the failings of training in the arts industry is that of Manual Handling. Something that most industry professional look for when taking on freelance and contractors and even staff is the IOSH Passport training provided by BECTU.

  • Don’t be afraid to say NO

This is really important, it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure everyone who works for them, including contractors and freelances are safe in doing their required job. So if you see something that you feel is not safe then say. If you are required to go up a bit scaffold and you don’t think it looks safe then you have a right to ask to inspect risk assessments and other appropriate paperwork that declares the structure safe. Also be clear beforehand what exactly it is that you are required to do, this relates to the first point, don’t assume. The last thing you want to do is turn up to a theatre assuming that the rig is on electric motors only to find you have to climb up and lower them all by hand or worse still the don’t move at all and you have to hand ball lights up and down ladders. Ask for risk assessments, any other relevant paperwork before you sign the contract.

  • Be Prepared

The Scout motto is Be Prepared. This leads on from point 3 as a freelance ask the right questions before you take on a job, you are entitled to see paperwork relating to Health and Safety. Find out exactly what you are being required to do, the more information you get before the day the better prepared you will be, theatre is by far the most dangerous place of work. Most of the crew are freelance or work with touring companies that go from one venue to the next, safety should never be compromised and anything can happen so you need to know what is what is what, who you are working with. Better still write your own risk assessments for your line of work, then you can align them with the venues assessments as part of the negotiations.

  • Take Ownership

Whether you are management, staff, volunteer, contractor or freelance, make every task you do your own, take the responsibility to make the area safe. Communicate your thoughts and ideas about safety in the area you are working, because safety is everyone’s job regardless of grade or role. If something goes wrong or looks like it may go wrong tell someone, don’t just assume someone else has said something. As someone who has been in had oversight of a health and safety strategy for a business, I always say that I would rather be told about a problem by every person on site, and that may well be 50 or more times, but that is better than nobody say anything and an accident happens. Things can only be sorted and changed if people speak up. The human condition means we are always looking to put blame on someone else, but sometime a fault in the first instance may not be anyone’s fault, it only becomes someone’s fault when they fail to report it. We often fail to see our own mistakes which could simply be not saying anything when something looked wrong.

So there you have it, Health and Safety in nutshell. Remember if things go to court on the grounds of neglect of Health and Safety in the workplace, whether a company or an individual you are guilty until proven innocent, the reverse of criminal law. Judges will often use the view of an everyday passer-by to determine fault, then set the penalty and sentence on what could have been the worst possible outcome.

#BaccfortheFuture

You may have heard recently Prince Charles say that ‘Every child should have access to the arts at school’. Something that I have written lots about on this blog this year, it has also been a huge discussion point within the industry with so many campaigns being set up to support the notion.

In this short post this week I would like to list come of the campaigns that you can get involved with, whether you work in the industry or not, a teacher or even a parent. It encouraged that everyone gets involved in these campaigns.

If you have read about my latest project The Greatest Show on Earth then you will know it has its own indirect link to this campaign as it is about giving everyone an opportunity to be part of theatre, regardless of social status, race or background. To read the original post on this you can use the search bar to the right of this post ‘This is Theatre’. You can also click here to sign up to the monthly newsletters.

Other campaigns that all have useful resources include:

www.baccforthefuture.com

Are Arches Still Required?

What will theatres of the future look like? In a time of economic uncertainty and when there seems to be continual government budget cuts with the public supporting its funding cuts to the arts (The Stage 30 June 2016) does the future look bleak? Or is it a Doctor Who opportunity, time to regenerate our theatres and venues.

Some venues are becoming multipurpose with their wide variety of uses and more productions are being accommodated with fewer restrictions. But there are still many venues that have not made this transition whether it is due to funding or tradition. So have the 1900 year tradition where the audience sits in rows looking at the proscenium arch become outdated or just restricting for users and writers? So is it possible the arch only has repercussions on income as only a certain type of production can play to a restricted interest audience.

A new question arises, “Will funding cuts really ruin the arts financially or are the arts bringing it on themselves?” Am I saying we should do away with tradition of an arch? Of course not, but remind ourselves that modern day imagination sees beyond a picture frame style of theatre.

In 2010 the Guardian published an article about theatres being high contributors to the carbon footprints and two years later the Arts Council of England introduced an element into its criteria to encourage the arts to examine their impact on the environment, with the same organisation introducing diversity into the criteria in 2010. It almost seems like ACE either are not keen to give out funding or is it just they can see beyond tradition.

While there is enough acknowledgement that cuts in funding will continue in the currently climate, there are a lot of people in the industry who are digging their heals in demanding that funding improves, which won’t do any good as when the money has finally gone it won’t be able to just reappear.

Organisations like The New Art Exchange Gallery in Nottingham that heavily rely on funding as they only generates 18% of its income are going to be the worst hit. By contrast and an excellent example to the Arts Industry is the Leicester Curve, a building project that overran its schedule and was well over budget, but now has become a money maker cutting it’s dependency on funding from 33% to 25% with a program that continually looks at ways to become financially better off (ITV News 20 July 2016) and they have an arch, but it’s not the only space.

No money has ever been guaranteed as any funding body could collapse or have its own funding cut at any time. Regional’s need to open up by looking out for new ways of being funded this may include going down the commercial line and have local business support, there is always opportunity to help each other in a partnership. But more than that looking at how they spend the money given through funding, what costs could be cut and I don’t mean making staff redundant. But the fact is funding criteria’s are going to get tougher, having to show budget and proving some sort of percentage to self-funding will always be on the cards.

Creating a new diversity of use to a space opens the door to new opportunities which have a high chance of leading to more income. Just imagine what would happen if a venue redeveloped its main auditoria that just has a proscenium arch format into a format where the incoming company had a choice of either an arch, being in the round or a bit of both and still have the same number in their audience. I know there are venues that currently have studios on the side, but these are often smaller then the main auditorium, and not every venue can afford or get the permission to build studios.

If a venue is being redeveloped why not make it far more environmentally friendly, while the cost of installing systems which have a lower impact on the environment can be high, this is usually accompanied by high long term savings. There are money making schemes, for example what if a venue had solar panels it would reduce spending on electricity during the season and during the dark period its feeding electricity back into the National Grid.

There are theatres that taking in conferences and weddings which is a wonderful way to utilise their spaces. But there are also theatres that are possibly too picky on what they accept, even when the production offers to do a profit share. So as a producer when you encounter this response you understand further why we have a public that supports funding cuts to the arts, it looks like the industry just wants free hand outs year on year.

Most theatres plan their seasons months in advance, if it was done on a week to week bases there would never be an audience. So why are we planning theatre funding that way? Do we need to stop thinking about a theatre for tomorrow and start thinking of the imagination of the new works of the future?