Theatre is an art made for an audience. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, however, Italian theatres have brought down the curtain until at least April 3rd, with shows cancelled in peak season.
Entire festivals have been axed and it is impossible for theatres to postpone dates due to scheduling; autumn and winter programmes for 2020 have already been set.
This not only obliterates revenue, but also will inhibit workers in the industry being able to reach the threshold of shows or working days necessary to claim the minimum welfare allowance.
A 2017 study found that over 80% of Italians working in the sector do not have access to redundancy measures, terrifying for an industry characterised by infrequent employment.
Massimo Dapporto, president of the Italian Association for Theatre (ApTI) hopes this crisis will allow for a turning point in creating a welfare system for actors and theatre workers.
The group has called on the Italian Minister for Culture, Dario Franceschini, to declare emergency measures. Some have asked for a “quarantine income”, taking aim at the Five Star Movement scheme, the “citizens’ income”.
The economic damage will be more significant for independent theatres and productions not financed by the so-called Fondo Unico per lo Spettacolo (FUS).
Like many countries in Europe, theatre and arts can be subsidised by the government. However in Italy, more than 50% of the FUS fund goes to the opera alone.
On Facebook, people have been using the hashtag, #lospettacolononsiferma, meaning the show must go on. Social media users have been sharing 60-second snippets of a song, story, dance or monologue – a cry showing that they remain.
If you put no money aside, you’re in trouble, warns one actor
Speaking to Euronews, an actor, a manager of a small company and a theatre director all warned that their livelihoods have been damaged beyond the cancellation of shows, but also due to the shutting of educational activities within schools.
Using an alias, Giovanni told Euronews that if you don’t have money to spare, you are in trouble. He often works as a freelancer and collaborates constantly with a particular company. He also teaches, providing workshops for young people and adults.
The consistency of his income was guaranteed through his teaching and by workshops he ran before the lockdown.
Workshops are considered “consultancy”, even if “in reality I do lessons; if the labour inspector should arrive, I must say that I do consultancy. It is a predicament, as the employer is not in a position to treat me better,” Giovanni told Euronews.
Every year “our income is between €10,000 and €15,000. It’s just survival”.
Actors like Giovanni do not earn a salary every month, rather taking “everything in once, or two to three times per year. Each project is paid in one go. Maybe €6,000 in December and €7,000 in June, and with that money you manage all year round”.
And so, if the restrictive measures “hit you when, at the end of February, your bank account was at zero, then you’re in trouble. If you still had €3,000 left, you can manage”.
Giovanni graduated from one of the most prestigious theatre schools in Italy, but the job, he told Euronews, “is cruelly Darwinian: 10 years after graduating, only half of us still work in the sector. The others have changed professions”.
Paradoxically, “the better you are, the more you suffer in this period because it means that you do fewer workshops and live only on shows”.
The virus, he concludes, has “turned many of us actors into tax collectors: locked in our homes, we collect debts with those who pay late or have difficulty paying you, tearing up a reimbursement of expenses with our teeth”.
Beyond this, there is the issue of accessing welfare. In order to access health or unemployment benefits, you must demonstrate a minimum number of days of payment to INPS (social security).
What’s more, if forms have not been completed, workers can receive a dismissal for a justified reason and lose days for the allowance, according to Il Mattino.
A small tour company has lost more than 30 dates
Rossella Rapisarda has her own theatre company, the Eccentrici Dadarò, and lives exclusively on tours.
Milan, where the company is based, was the first area to be fully quarantined and all theatres have closed since 23 February.
“Like all companies that only live on reruns, we had a meltdown.” So far, “we have lost more than 30 dates, and it all happened in peak season, from January to March, when we expect the highest turnover”.
To date, Rossella tells Euronews, the economic damage to the company – which is also financially supported by the region – totals approximately €30,000 (on an annual turnover of around €250,000).
In terms of personnel within the theatre company, four are employed in the artistic department, four in the office and a dozen other actors, musicians and technicians . The members have a basic salary of €1,200, all identical – similar to a cooperative.
Each show, every actor receives about €100 in addition to tour contributions and benefits, with the minimum union salary set at €56.
Each of them has had a financial loss of “at least €3,000” from the beginning of the crisis. Beyond that, Rossella adds, “months of work, planning, management and rehearsals have been lost”.
“Everything is blocked. Now we have to schedule again and make up for next year, with the risk that next year’s dates will slide to the following year, in a cascade. In addition to the loss of turnover, liquidity is also coming to a complete standstill. Nobody pays anybody – and that goes for everybody”.
In a stable theatre, it will take two years to recover
Gaia Calimani, president of Manifatture Teatrali Milanesi – Milan’s fourth largest medium-large theatre complex – indicates that in the first day alone, the company lost “€55,000, cancelling about ten performances”.
The lion’s share of the damage was due to the closure of the schools and the tour grounded to a halt when all the tickets had been sold.
“To date we have been hit with €200,000 in damages on a €3,000,000 turnover,” Calimani adds. “In addition to the theatre, we have two acting schools. On the first day of closing we let more than 55 go, suspending them”.
Calimani told Euronews that the measure everyone is hoping for most is support for employment. “A sort of lay-off fund for several months, to get everyone back on their feet, at least until next autumn. The season is over. If it reopens in May, it’s over. We’ll try to postpone it until the next one.”
But if there is something positive, Calimani says, “it is that this total suspension will make people want to return to cinemas, museums, theatres and cultural activities. I firmly believe that the reaction will be positive, even if the damage to our cultural companies will never be erased. It will take us at least two years to get back on our feet”.