Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Olivia Colman have welcomed a donation from Amazon Prime Video to a fund which the actors launched to help support theatre professionals whose livelihoods have been threatened by the pandemic.
Amazon said it would give $6m to support the European film, TV and theatre production community get through the crisis.
The first awards are £1m to a Covid-response fund created by the film and TV charity; and £500,000 to the theatre community fund spearheaded by Waller-Bridge, Colman and their Fleabag producer Francesca Moody.
In a joint statement the three women said: “We’re utterly blown away to have such an extraordinary level of support from Amazon.
“Our theatre community has never been more threatened or fragile and this donation, alongside those from other industry individuals, is a game changer for its future. On behalf of the theatre community fund we extend a huge thank you to Amazon for the acknowledgement of the value and power of UK theatre and how we as an industry will survive anything when we hold each other up in times of crisis.”
Waller-Bridge is a hugely powerful figure in the film and TV industry whose career began, like countless others, in live performing arts – one of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic. Fleabag, her breakthrough, was first performed at the Underbelly at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013.
The fund was launched at the end of July with a £1m pledge of donations by its founders and from other star names including Gillian Anderson, James Corden, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Daisy Ridley, Daniel Radcliffe and Meera Syal.
The Amazon money will help in the fund’s two strands offering grants of up to £3,000. The first is hardship grants to freelancers in immediate need. The second is innovation and creation money to help artists produce work.
The other donation, of £1m, will go to the film and TV charity, which has so far distributed more than £3.3m in financial support to thousands of workers in the industry. The Amazon money will, it said, “kick-start a second wave of support including a major new grants scheme that will focus on supporting diverse talent as the industry recovers and production resumes”.
The donations can arguably be traced back to an intervention made by Sam Mendes in June. In the Financial Times he wrote of the irony of Netflix and Amazon Prime “making lockdown millions from our finest acting, producing, writing and directing talent, while the very arts culture that nurtured that talent pool is allowed to die”.
He called on the streaming giants to use “a fraction of their Covid-19 windfall to help those who have been mortally wounded”.
Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon Studios, said: “The creative community in Europe has been vital to our success in producing high-quality Amazon original TV series and movies for our global audience, and it is essential for us to help that community through this pandemic.”
The money was welcomed by the UK government. Caroline Dinenage, culture minister, said: “We recognise that the last few months have been difficult for many people in the performing arts and screen industries given the impact of Covid-19.
“This donation from Amazon adds to the unprecedented support from the UK government to help secure these brilliant industries’ future and help them thrive once more.”