Research Project

A study of the impact of COVID-19 on live performers in the UK

Three acting students sitting and talking

Performing during/after lockdown

COVID-19 has cut a swathe through the UK economy and society. One area of work that has been hit particularly hard is live entertainment. Some venues and organisations have been able to access grants and government rescue packages. Performers, who are often self-employed however, face a more precarious future.

Many have found ways to adapt by performing via live streams, virtual singalongs and the like, helping to sustain a vital sense of connection and, for some, an income stream. Yet, what the future holds for these new ways of performing, and how sustainable these associated income streams are, remains uncertain.

Project leads

Philip Hancock and Melissa Tyler in Essex Business School lead this British Academy funded research project documenting the impact of COVID on self-employed live performers. The research, running from October 2020 to September 2022, reports not only on performing during the pandemic, but also on what performers and the industry might need in order to secure a sustainable future for live performance in the UK.

The project is being carried out in consultation with Equity and the Musicians’ Union and in collaboration with self-employed performers.

Please get in touch if you would like to find out more.

Interim report

The impact of COVID-19 on live performers in the UK - Survey results (.pdf)

“The live streaming of shows and artistic performances have been vital to keeping people entertained during lockdown. As venues and events prepare to re-open, however, a return to live performance will be important for both social and economic recovery post-COVID. This report, from a survey of 200+ self-employed live performers, highlights many of the personal, financial, artistic and technical challenges and opportunities they have encountered over the past 12 months. Equally, it considers what support these performers, and the industry as a whole, might need to make a sustainable and equitable recovery from the pandemic.” (Philip Hancock and Melissa Tyler, authors of Performing During/After Lockdown: A Study of the Impact of COVID-19 on Live Performers in the UK.

“The @COVIDperform research makes fascinating reading. The results only help to strengthen the case for extending financial support for freelance performers and creatives as the world opens up to the ‘new normal’ and the industry struggles to its feet.” (Tom Carradine @tomcarradine) – see

“This interim report confirms not just the profound impact that the pandemic has had on people working in the creative industries but also highlights the systemic problems that contribute to structural inequalities and pecarity in our industries. Equity welcomes this evidence and further work envisaged in this project which we hope will provide a driver for change.” Paul W. Fleming, General Secretary, Equity (@EquityUK)

About the project

Our objectives

Our objectives are to:

  • Provide evidence of how the working lives of self-employed live performers in the UK have been affected by COVID-19.
  • Document how performers have adapted to the demands of new ways of performing, particularly in respect of on-line provision.
  • Evidence the perceived importance of entertainment to the UK’s response to, and recovery from, COVID-19.
  • Identify ways in which such live performers, and the industry they serve, might be supported during the UK’s post-COVID 19 recovery phase.

Research focus

Based on a national survey and in-depth interview data, the research focuses on four key aspects of performance during and after COVID-19:

  • Performance as work: Changes in the labour market, working conditions, and the pursuit of economic security, as well as the challenges associated with home-based performance work.
  • Virtual performance spaces: Challenges and opportunities presented by on-line platforms and/or in socially distanced settings, including the embodied, aesthetic and technological demands that these place on live performers.
  • Audience responses to performance: Feedback provided by virtual audiences and performers involvement in, and engagement with, community events and support networks.
  • Future expectations: What resources and support might be needed, depending on the longer-term impact of COVID-19 on the industry.


group of men holding drums performing on stage
Read our blog

Philip Hancock and Melissa Tyler explore the impact of COVID-19 on the performing arts sector and the significance of occupational identity in understanding the personal and professional contexts and consequences of change.

Read more