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Arts of the UK 2021: Theatre Support Fund+ wins the Innovation Award at this years The Stage awards

Screenshot 2021-01-09 at 7.45.46 PM

LONDON – Theatre Support Fund + The eye-catching design of The Show Must Go On! campaign – the cornerstone of the Theatre Support Fund+ – has become one of theatre’s most memorable symbols in 2020.

It adorns T-shirts, tote bags and face coverings, is ever-present on social media, and is the simple message that has raised more than half a million pounds for the theatre community. This year, in the face of unimaginable hardship and a dearth of government assistance for so many in theatre, widespread fundraising efforts have proved both necessary and inspiring. 

But while many well-known faces and affluent companies have, rightly, stepped up to the plate to galvanise funding, the Theatre Support Fund+’s innovative and effective response came from backstage professionals at the heart of the industry. Set up in May by theatre workers Chris Marcus, who jointly runs West End props company Marcus Hall Props, and Damien Stanton, an assistant stage manager and graphic designer, the campaign began as a way to put their lack of work and excess of time to good use by raising money for theatre charities. Using the Marcus Hall Props’ premises as a warehouse, they began work on a new project that would lead to them becoming website builders, logistics managers and order packers, aided by in-kind marketing and social support and alongside a small team. 

With permission from the producers of 16 iconic West End shows, from Hamilton, Mamma Mia! and Come from Away to Six and Wicked, snippets of their logos were redesigned on a range of merchandise, as a mark of the West End standing together with the theatre community across the UK. From a standing start, after seven months the enterprise has amassed over 55,000 orders from over 70 countries, raising more than £600,000, which has been split between theatre charities Acting for Others and the Fleabag Support Fund, as well as the NHS Covid-19 Urgent Appeal.

 Its impressive list of supporters includes Judi Dench, Patti LuPone, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Keira Knightley, Beverley Knight and Derek Jacobi. Upon its launch in May, few predicted that British theatres would still be largely dark by Christmas, but as the pandemic continued, unrelenting, so did the Theatre Support Fund+, growing as it went and continuing to innovate. 

The original selection of T-shirts, hoodies, mugs and notepads were joined by collaborations with Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre (on a face mask to celebrate its reopening in August), and ice-cream brand Northern Bloc (whose The Show Must Go On! flavour is sold in Waitrose), as well as a Christmas range. 

Next – and Covid-restrictions allowing – The Show Must Go On! Live at the Palace Theatre will run in March, starring casts from the shows featured on the T-shirts. Meanwhile, more than 30 West End stars – including Tracie Bennett, Alice Fearn, Janie Dee, Clive Rowe and Tyrone Huntley – have sung on a Christmas charity single. ‘The show must go on’ is a well-worn phrase, emblematic of the determination and commitment needed to work successfully in theatre, yet the idea has not always been one of tolerance, or of support. In this most challenging of years, the expression has been granted new meaning as a beacon of solidarity and hope, at least in part thanks to the imagination and extraordinary achievements of the Theatre Support Fund+.

For more information about Theatre Support Fund+, visit their website here

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