Panto protestors march on parliament to demand help for theatres and live events

30 September 2020

Pantomime dames, creative workers and others excluded from government support during the COVID-19 pandemic joined together today (Wednesday 30 September) for colourful and creative protests through London to parliament.

Pantomime dames at the Panto Parade to parliament attended by members of Bectu, Equity, Musicians Union and other supporters

The Panto Parade, which started in the West End, highlighted the cancellation of this year’s pantomimes In theatres across the UK, and the damage to the theatre and live events industry caused by inadequate government help.

The dames wore colourful costumes and protestors held banners with poignant messages like “22 years a stage manager. It’s not just a viable job, it’s my life”; “Arts is valid, we are valid” and the humorous “Are you behind us?”

Supporters of ExcludedUK marched from the Southbank to Parliament Square at the same time.

And from 8pm, using the slogan “red alert”, WeMakeEvents protesters were set to turn venues red, projecting images of what should be happening inside the buildings and shining white shafts of light into the night sky as part of a co-ordinated day of global action.

Five key demands

The Panto Parade called on the government to:

  • Close the gaps in the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.
  • Introduce a top up to the SEISS for the worst affected.
  • Target support to theatres and live events that cannot afford to access the Jobs Support Scheme.
  • Provide insurance for theatres and live events.
  • Introduce a subsidised theatre ticket scheme.

On arriving at parliament, participants organised into groups of five to talk to those MPs who came out.

We will not stop

At a rally en route in Trafalgar Square, protestors heard from head of Bectu Philippa Childs; shadow minister for the cultural industries Tracy Brabin MP; Nimax Theatres CEO Nica Burns; and Excluded UK founder, Anneka Hicks.

Philippa Childs thanked all taking part and welcomed the opportunity to connect for the first time in  long time.

“I’m very proud that Bectu has worked with other organisations and other unions throughout this time,” she said. “And we together will not stop until we have highlighted the damage that this government is doing to this industry.”

She welcomed the Excluded UK and We Make Events protests, as well as MPs from the all-party parliamentary group backing excluded freelancers.

Tracy Brabin MP described as “amazing” the support the creative unions have given members. She urged non-members to join their union and check out Excluded UK.

“Trade union membership isn’t just about when you’re in work, it’s also about getting that support when you’re not working,” she said.

Despite making the case for excluded freelancers again and again “the Chancellor is tin-eared – he is not listening and he won’t even commit to meeting us”.

She expressed frustration that theatres, community centres and music venues could not re-open because there is no proper track and trace system.

Oh yes we do!

Nica Burns told protesters she was proud as a theatre owner, producer and employer to stand side by side with the “fantastic” theatre unions Bectu, Equity and the Musicians’ Union.

“There has never been such collaboration between all of those in our industry who can try and make things happen for all of us, and I think this has been an incredible step for complete unity across all our fantastic industry.”

Burns said the consequence of pantomimes being closed this year was that “families aren’t able to enjoy this incredible tradition, when many children go to the theatre for the first time and then want to come back for ever”.

The government should reconsider how freelancers who had fallen through the cracks could be brought back into the financial support schemes.

“We want to stand proud and earn our living. We are not here holding our hand out to the state because we want to.

“We’re here because freelancers have been denied the opportunity to work and haven’t been able to get help from any of the schemes.

“So if anyone says to you, ‘oh you lot don’t want to work’, what’s your answer?” In response the crowd roared, in true pantomime style: “Oh Yes we do!”

Anneka Hicks said she had founded Excluded UK four months ago with people she had never met “to stick up for and represent three million people cast aside by this government – so  many individuals, age groups, and circumstances, all being denied access to those schemes.

“We all one have one thing in common, we are all UK taxpayers and we need fair, equal support.”

Paul Fleming, Equity general secretary elect, addressed protestors and online supporters via his union’s live YouTube feed. “You are as much a part of this as anybody who is here physically,” he said, urging people to protest to your MPs – “tweet them, Instagram them, email them, pigeon carrier them now”.