Benedict Cumberbatch, Michaela Coel Among Donors as Sam Mendes' Theatre Artists Fund Raises $2M

Sam Mendes

Despite a number of high-profile donors, the fund has only been able to support a fraction of U.K. theater industry freelancers seeking financial help during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The Theatre Artists Fund, spearheaded by Sam Mendes to help support freelancers in the U.K. stage industry struggling during the lockdown amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, has raised £1.6 million ($2 million) since it launched July 6, with donations from a number of major stars. 

Set up by Mendes, The Society of London Theatre and U.K. Theatre and established with a £500,000 ($636,000) donation from Netflix, the fund has grown with support from The Estate of Sir Peter and Lady Saunders, who will join Netflix as headline supporter, as well as other donations received from The Mackintosh Foundation, Eileen Davidson Productions, Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, Linbury Trust, Benedict Cumberbatch and Sophie Hunter, Imelda Staunton, Eddie Redmayne, Sonia Friedman, Caro Newling, Colin Firth, Hugh Bonneville and Tom Hiddleston, to name a few.

The fund has also received almost £85,000 ($108,000) in donations from members of the public and donors from across the industry, via online donation platform Enthuse, including Michaela Coel, Michael Frayn, David Hare, Nicholas Hytner, Armando Iannucci, Thea Sharrock, Mark Strong, Emma Thompson, Laura Wade, David Walliams and Edgar Wright.

However, despite the money raised so far, the fund — which offers quick and easy access to individual grants of £1,000 ($1,270) per applicant — can only support a fraction of those looking for help. From 4,000 applications received in just a week from out of work theater practitioners, it has so far managed to support 1,600 freelancers. 

These professionals have been unable to receive government support since theaters closed in March, and have little to no idea as to when they will be back at work, despite the news that indoor performances can resume with socially distanced audiences starting Aug. 1. It will not be economically viable for many theaters to reopen while adhering to these guidelines and most will remain closed, with staff and freelancers in limbo.

The industry is 70 percent freelance, said Mendes. "So we know that literally thousands more actors, writers, directors, stage managers, costume designers and many more urgently need our help," he explained, adding that he hoped to help many more than the 1,600 given financial support from the first round of fundraising. "This fund has enabled us to move fast in response to the urgent need that is out there. However, I urge other studios, streaming platforms, business owners, philanthropists and theatre lovers to come forward and show their support in order to help more of those in need."

Added Julian Bird, CEO of the Society of London Theatre: "This fund is an industry initiative designed to provide a short-term lifeline to the core workforce of the theatre sector's ecosystem. To see so many key industry figures writing cheques to support talent in great need is hugely encouraging. However, in lieu of details on how the welcome £1.57 billion ($2 billion) investment package will be disseminated, we need to raise a lot more money and we need to do it fast, if we are to encourage people to stay in their professions and not abandon this wonderful sector."