Despite the travel disruptions the 42nd ABTT Theatre show took place at Alexandra Palace on the 22nd and 23rd of June 2022. A key part of the shows itinerary is its vibrant and varied seminar schedule, with provocative and stimulating discussions, industry lead product demo’s, presentations and sessions lead by the many active associations we are lucky to have within our sector as part of the Alliance of Associations of Professionals in Theatre and Live Events (AAPTLE).
The seminar schedule got off to a powerful start on the first day with Phill Brown from SOLT UK and his panel of industry professionals presenting the newly updated and revised code of conduct. This unified document shows the real power of industry lead joined up thinking, offering guidance and advise on the safe running and conducting of show fit ups and get outs. The updated version of this document now features a reporting structure which will monitor incidents across the sector, leading to a unified approach to identifying hazards and managing risks in our work place. The revised code of conduct also has a supporting statement from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) a true endorsement of support to a document that is committed to reducing accidents and incidents. 
While on the topic of the HSE we were very lucky to have with us Karl Raw our Health and Safety Inspector for the Entertainment & Leisure sector. He brought with him his wisdom and knowledge and contributed to several seminar discussions across the 2 days. Karl expertly chaired the “The Danger of saying yes”, a seminar looking exclusively at post covid issues with a wide and varied panel. They discussed the many urgent and worrying issues we currently face around the recruitment and retention of staff. Karl also presented the newly launched “working minds” campaign, highlighting the legal requirement to manage stress in the work place. He showed us the accompanying website full of useful advice and guidance on how to risk assess and begin to action plan for this in our work place.  He then very aptly joined the seminar session on “Mental Health and Well-being in the workplace” where Raff Covino from “Applause for thought” talked of the work they are doing to advise and work with our industry to promote a positive change towards mental health and wellbeing in the work place. In this session we also heard from Mig Burgess Walsh as she continues her mission to campaign for us all to consider the mental health of workers in our industry. She spoke more on the first mental health guidance note launched by the ABTT looking at the wellbeing of freelance workers, and we know she is working on the second guidance note in this series so listen out for updates. 70% of our work force are made up of self-employed workers and it was great to give a platform to them to highlight the work that has been done to support these workers. In the seminar “focus on freelancers” we heard from Creative UK, the Bectu Freelancers Branch, and Freelancers make theatre work. All doing great work to support our self-employed workers.
Diversity and inclusion are still vital and much needed topics of conversation and this year’s seminar discussion was expertly chaired by Mark Dakin from Stage Sight. Continuing to highlight the need for work places, organisations and associations to be proactive in their approach to making sure that we promote and welcome more diversity in our work places.
The seminar schedule was full with talks and demo’s spanning 5 rooms. The Production Managers Forum hosted a welcome seminar looking at how people have been positively putting The Green Book into practices on their productions. Many associations from the AAPTLE group hosted their own seminars and discussions, the Association of Sound Designers, the Association of Production & Lighting designers, The Stage Management Association and The Society of British Theatre Designers. There were also some great product demos and discussions across the 2 days ranging from support on vectorworks and autocad, demos of some of the latest Robe kit including the robo spot, a look at digitising theatre with whitelight and Preevue and even a presentation on how UVC light can protect us more against viruses.
One of the most fruitful seminars of the show was “The current training and development needs of our industry now” an open and candid conversation with leading figures in the training world from industry and education all discussing the challenges we now face in upskilling and retaining our workforces. The discussion was so powerful the panel continued after the seminar and we are delighted to say a number of them have elected to join the ABTT training and education committee to focus and action their many great ideas.
The show ended on a powerful seminar entitled “The Voice of the Next Generation”, made up of early career professionals. It was refreshing to see young faces and hear from them on topics that they felt they wanted to talk about. They were particularly brave to discuss the role associations play in their early careers and training, and I know that here at the ABTT we have listened and have heard them and are working with them more to improve and show them that we can provide the support they need.
The seminar schedule provides a platform for us all across industry to share, discuss and provoke thoughts on some of the key issues and areas we want to focus on.
It celebrates our successes as we see great ideas presented such as The Code of Conduct, and the Theatre Green Book, but also gives time and space for us to start to share and develop new ideas and initiatives to problem solve.
Over 2 days of different seminar titles we often saw crossed discussion paths and key themes emerging despite the differences in topics.
- Recruitment & retention, how do we encourage people back into our industry?
- Well-being and working conditions, what are we doing to be more proactive in adopting good practices to consider the mental health of our work force?
- What happened to all the promises of “build back better?” Have we simply got pulled away by the excitement and speed of the reopening of shows and events that those great thoughts and commitments to our workers have been forgotten?
- We need more action and more joined up thinking to tackle some of the urgent issues we currently face such as training, recruitment, retention, diversity and well-being in our work place.
Every great idea started with the action of talking it through, and every good idea evolves and becomes a great result by continued talking, developing and sharing.
As always we hope that curating and hosting a platform for this series of discussions has sown the seed for more great ideas to evolve, and we hope we might be able to nurture and support those great ideas into the fruition of some even better initiatives, encouraging more joined up thinking in the hope we can start to tackle some of the challenges we currently face in industry.
The ABTT is a membership organisation that welcomes anyone and everyone from the backstage community. If you are passionate about any of the topics we have discussed and would like to actively join and do more we have a committee and group for you to bring your enthusiasm too.
We are extremely grateful to every person that gave freely of their time to contribute to our 2 days of discussion. All of the seminars can be accessed and watched by members on the ABTT website here:
 SOLT and UK Theatres code of conduct for members: https://uktheatre.org/login/?returnurl=%2fmy-uk-theatre%2frisk-and-technical%2f
 The Working Minds campaign. https://www.workright.campaign.gov.uk/workingminds/
 Applause for thought: https://applauseforthought.com/
 Well-being guidance note W1- Supporting freelancers in the workplace: https://www.abtt.org.uk/product/guidance-note-w1/
 Creative UK: https://www.wearecreative.uk/
 Bectu: https://bectu.org.uk/
 Freelancers make theatre work: https://freelancersmaketheatrework.com/
 Stage Sight: https://www.stagesight.org/
 The Theatre Green Book: https://theatregreenbook.com/
 The Alliance of associations & professionals in Theatre & Live Events: https://aaptle.uk