Sam Mendes’ Theatre Artists Fund Announces Rollout Of £1.5m Two Year Pilot Programme
Sam Mendes’ Theatre Artists Fund is set to launch a ground-breaking £1.5 million two-year pilot program, with 75% of the necessary funds already secured. This initiative aims to provide 20 mid-career professionals with two-year contracts at 15 venues across the UK. In collaboration with 11 partner organisations, the program supports 15 skilled professionals working in various craft and technical disciplines, including production management, design, company management, lighting, automation, rigging, carpentry, costume, props, draughting, and scenic art. Recipients will not only receive a salary but will also benefit from additional paid mentoring by established freelance professionals throughout the two-year period. The Theatre People will support their professional development, and the pilot program’s evaluation will be conducted by Tonic Theatre. Funding for this initiative is sourced from Backstage Trust, Gatsby Charitable Foundation, Maria Bjornson Memorial Fund, Mackintosh Foundation, Swire Charitable Trust, Jacqueline & Richard Worswick, MAMA Exhibition Group, and one anonymous donor.
This visionary program is not just about providing a salary; it goes a step further. Recipients will benefit from additional paid mentoring by established freelance professionals throughout the two-year tenure. Moreover, their professional development will be nurtured and supported by the Theatre People. The evaluation of this ground-breaking pilot will be conducted by Tonic Theatre, ensuring a comprehensive assessment of its impact and effectiveness.
Speaking about this initiative, Sam Mendes expressed his optimism, stating,
“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 funding for this ambitious endeavour comes from a consortium of esteemed sources, including Backstage Trust, Gatsby Charitable Foundation, Maria Bjornson Memorial Fund, Mackintosh Foundation, Swire Charitable Trust, Jacqueline & Richard Worswick, MAMA Exhibition Group, and an anonymous donor. This collaborative effort signals a collective commitment to revitalising and fortifying the mid-career theatre professionals, a group disproportionately affected by recent shifts in the creative workforce, exacerbated by the pandemic.
The partner organisations signed up for this transformative program include 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 Theatre Clwyd.
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
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 program, operating in phases, kicked off with early partnerships and placements in October 2022. The final partnerships and placements are scheduled to conclude by January 2026, ensuring a comprehensive and thoughtful approach to addressing the recovery needs of each participating organisation. The final evaluation results are anticipated in early Spring 2026, providing valuable insights into the program’s success and its potential to serve as a blueprint for the future. This initiative is a testament to the resilience, adaptability, and collaborative spirit of the UK theatre industry, working together to overcome challenges and champion the vital contributors to the theatrical ecosystem.
The Mid-Career move
Amidst evolving attitudes toward career trajectories, a significant trend has emerged—mid-career professionals are increasingly making transformative shifts into the arts. This departure from conventional paths signifies a quest for greater fulfilment and a desire to align personal passions with professional pursuits. The once-perceived riskiness of entering the arts later in one’s career has given way to a contemporary landscape where individuals, regardless of age, seek creative expression and authenticity in their work.
This trend transcends specific artistic disciplines, encompassing realms such as theatre, visual arts, literature, and more. In the theatre industry, seasoned professionals are diversifying their roles beyond the spotlight, bringing their rich backgrounds into backstage positions like production management, design, lighting, and more. This shift challenges the notion that creativity is the domain of the young, emphasising the timeless nature of artistic expression.
The Sam Mendes’ Theatre Artists Fund pilot program aligns seamlessly with this cultural shift, recognising the value that mid-career individuals contribute when embarking on new artistic journeys. By providing opportunities for full-time positions in the arts, the initiative not only enriches the creative landscape but also acknowledges the diverse experiences and skills professionals bring from other sectors.
The emphasis on mid-career rather than mid-life is crucial, reflecting a broader societal acknowledgment of the importance of creativity, self-expression, and purpose-driven work. As professionals increasingly prioritise fulfilment in their careers, the arts emerge as a vibrant and viable option. This trend not only contributes to the development of a diverse arts community but also underscores the significance of embracing creativity at any stage in one’s professional journey.