An Open Letter from Fuel: Where we’re at with all this change

Posted on: 14th May 2020

We thought it might be time to share some more about where we’re at with all this change. I hope this is useful, even though it is as full of questions as answers, and as full of uncertainty as it is of commitment.

The family of theatre makers who are Fuel – staff and freelancers alike – are all-absorbing a huge amount of change every day and every week. It is a rollercoaster – some days are overwhelming, others are exhilarating: the combination is exhausting.

We spent the first few weeks after lockdown ‘unproducing’ (thanks to David Greig for that new word) a programme of work we’d carefully put together for 2020. We committed to paying everyone who was expecting to work with us from March to the end of June in full. We shared updates with our audiences. We started talking with our partners about their situation, and the constantly evolving timelines which we might work towards in rescheduling long-planned projects. Then we started helping freelancers and non-NPOs with their applications for ACE emergency funds and other hardship grants.

Since early April, we’ve been doing lots of thinking about where we are and what comes next. We want Fuel to survive this, to be useful and kind during it, and to be true to our values and our mission throughout. There is a balance to find, and through lots of scenario planning, we think we might be starting to understand where that balance may lie – with the caveat that things are changing daily and the biggest lesson we’re learning is how to live with uncertainty.

We thought we’d share with you what we’ve pledged to ourselves and what we’re pledging to you, in its raw and evolving form. We’d love to hear what you think so please email us here, or find us on social media and share your thoughts.

In 2020, we will:

  1. Look after ourselves: Following the principal of ‘fit your own oxygen mask before helping others’, we will take care of ourselves and each other. Daily check-ins, taking time out when we need it, looking after our children and other dependents, sick leave if we get sick, fresh air, exercise, good food – these will be the things that enable us to do our work well. We will also use the time we will need to spend on furlough for training – together and individually.


  1. Support freelancers: Through weekly group get‐togethers, through individual catch‐ups, through Digital Farm (an online offer to replace Producer Farm), through providing help for the freelancers we work with to access sources of funding and through open offers of support for freelancers seeking to access public funds through our social media channels, through listening, through commissions and creating opportunities for R&D wherever we can find the resources, we will continue to support our collaborators and the wider freelance theatre community to weather this storm together.


  1. Produce live performance: It is now unlikely that any of the 2020 programme we initially envisaged will be possible in the form we intended. We will work with the theatre makers and partners involved in all these projects to develop new plans for them – postponing them, yes, but also reimagining them for the world they will encounter when they come to life. We are also starting to develop live performances which we hope might reach audiences in the year ahead, before theatres can reopen, in new and different ways. We’ve always worked outside theatre spaces as well as within them, so we’re drawing on those skills and that experience, as well as the vivid and inspiring imaginations of the theatre makers we’re lucky enough to work with.


  1. Share work online: We are developing and delivering a programme to share existing and adapted work online. We recently streamed Barber Shop Chronicles via National Theatre at Home from 14 to 21 May and Love Letters at Home, will embark on a digital world tour from 20 May to 26 June.


  1. Scratch ideas: We are continuing to develop some of our commissioned projects online, through R&D, for example, the brilliant Heather Agyepong working with Gail Babb and Imogen Knight on their new project The Body Remembers, the team behind Izzy, BOSSS and Fractal – Alan Lane, Keisha Thompson, and Börkur Jónsson, and the formidable duo of David Farr and Rachel Bagshaw forging ahead with plans for A Dead Body in Taos. When we’re ready, we’ll share more – and if you’d like to be invited to come along, join our mailing list and we’ll let you know what’s coming up.


  1. Support scientists and health workers: We’re continuing our work with our Associate Scientist Dr. Magda Osman, and colleagues in scientific research, supported by the Wellcome Trust and building new relationships with the NHS and the World Health Organisation. You can see some films we made for the NHS early on in lockdown here and find out more about our Open Call for The Lab here.


  1. Imagine the future: In place of some planned ‘away days’ for the team in May, we are coming together for a series of online sessions with external speakers/provocateurs/facilitators to help us re-imagine the future in terms of artistic programme, audience engagement, and organizational model and methodologies. Big thanks to François Matarasso and Lara Lloyd for their counsel and inspiration so far. We’ve been thinking about how varied this experience is, for audiences, artists, and even our own staff, and we’ve been thinking about the links between wellbeing and creativity for all of us too.


  1. Prepare our future programme and ways of working: We are starting work to develop a new programme for 2021 and a new approach to delivering it. This is likely to include some 2020 projects bumped into 2021, some 2021 projects we would like to preserve, and some new thinking. It will involve working with our partners as they plan their re-openings and thinking afresh about how we budget and deliver our work. And lots of fundraising. In doing this, we are using this moment of hiatus to remodel how we work, so we can, resources permitting, replace old ways of working with new approaches.


  1. Transform our sustainability: We are making the most of this hiatus to step towards a new model of sustainability – with all its meanings, including environmental, human and financial – working together to balance our current contribution to the world with our long-term sustainability, our need to look after ourselves and our organisation with our duty and desire to support those we serve, now and in the future. In practice, this will means lots of scenario planning, re-modeling, budgets, cashflows, a closer relationship with our board, and implementation of our new environmental policy.


  1. Seek to inspire: We will try to inspire each other and those we engage with by living our values – creativity, collaboration, representation, learning, trust, curiosity, and sustainability – and in the process have as much fun as we can together. There are difficult weeks and months ahead for us, our friends, families and colleagues. Our aim is to be kind and useful (copyright Alan Lane ;-)).


Financially, we are facing significant challenges. The situation is changing rapidly, but right now we are forecasting that our income this year will be around 74% lower than last year, so we are making huge cuts in our expenditure, for example:

  • The Director and Planning (some people call this Senior Management) Team have all taken either a pay cut or a pay freeze
  • Six of our team are currently on furlough
  • We have cut every line we can across all areas of our budget
  • We can only green-light projects which are financially viable, somehow or other
  • We have emergency grant funding from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and the Wellcome Trust (for which vast oceans of thanks), and much-needed grants from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the Garfield Weston Foundation (both of which we had applied for before lockdown). At present, it looks like we will not be able to apply for the Arts Council’s emergency funding for NPOs, because it is restricted to organisations who will not survive until 30 September without it: our financial crisis will come later.

Even with all these measures, we will need help to survive the year and to support our freelance community. So we launched an appeal for donations. We have pledged that any donations to Fuel received in April, May and June will be split with 80% going directly to freelance artists in the form of commissions, and 20% (plus gift aid where applicable) going towards Fuel core costs. If you think you can help us in this way, you can do that here or email us to find out more.

Finally, we do not work in a vacuum – everything Fuel does is a collaboration, and we rely on a vibrant ecosystem. At this time, we are working as hard as ever to connect with colleagues across the struggling theatre and arts industry, to share the challenges we face, to work together to find solutions, to lobby collectively for the support the arts will need, and to fight for everyone who faces acute need now and in the weeks, months and years ahead.

We hope this long read has been useful, to give you some insight into our situation and our thinking right now. We miss you – our community – so please be in touch with your thoughts and ideas – we would love to hear from you!

Take care, and here’s to a brighter future.

From all at Fuel x

14 May 2020