Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Olivia Colman Launch COVID-19 Support Fund for U.K. Theater Freelancers

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Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Olivia Colman

With a long list of major founding donors, including Danny Boyle, Emilia Clarke, Tom Hiddleston, James McAvoy, Ian McKellen, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Thompson and Rachel Weisz, the Theatre Community Fund has received a pledge of $1.3 million.

Some of the biggest names from British stage and screen have joined together to support creatives in the U.K.'s beleaguered theater industry as it struggles to survive the COVID-19 crisis.

Created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Olivia Colman and theatre producer Francesca Moody (who was the original producer of Waller-Bridge's Fleabag stage show), the newly-launched Theater Community Fund has already received a pledge of £1 million ($1.3 million) and amassed £500,000 ($650,000), having signed up a who's who of actors, directors, writers and producers as founding donors.

Reflecting their own recognition of having personally benefited from the health of British theater, each donor will contribute through initial lump sums and fixed, confidential percentages of their incomes over the next two years.

The impressive list of names includes Gillian Anderson, Jesse Armstrong, Tim Bevan, Danny Boyle, Emilia Clarke, Russell T. Davies, Jane Featherstone, Eric Fellner, Richard Curtis, Kit Harington, Tom Hiddleston, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, James McAvoy, Matthew McFadyen, Ian McKellen, Josh O'Conner, Daniel Radcliffe, Daisy Ridley, Andrew Scott, Emma Thompson, Rachel Weisz and Jodie Whittaker.

Aimed at helping ease the immediate and long-term economic strain of theatrical artists and professionals who have found their livelihoods and creative futures under threat due to the pandemic, the Theater Community Fund will be split into two strands giving grants of up to £3,000 ($3,900). One will help freelancers survive the present by providing hardship rants to those in immediate need, while the other will look to the future by providing innovation and creation grants for artists to produce work.

Conceived as a longer-term supplement to other schemes already in operation, the fund will be dispersed and monitored by The Royal Theatrical Fund (RTF) in partnership with the Fleabag Support Fund (FSF), set up by Waller-Bridge in April to award hardship grants to COVID-19 affected theatre professionals. In May, the FSF distributed grants totally more than £87,000 ($108,000). 

Like much of the U.K.'s creative industries, the theatre sector is dominated by freelancers, many of whom have been unable to apply for the government COVID-19 financial support schemes. Although authorities announced earlier this month that theaters could begin reopening on a trial basis from Aug. 1 and has unveiled a huge $2 billion support package for the arts, social distancing rules will likely force many venues to remain shut. The crisis has already seen several close their doors for good, with others announcing major redundancies. Cameron Mackintosh, producer of major West End productions such as Les Miserables and Hamilton, has indicated that he doesn't foresee shows getting back up and running until 2021.