A relatively new role, the Welfare Officer is a useful addition to a production team, especially on larger productions where there are many cast and crew members and maybe a longer run. Contrary to popular belief, there is much more to be a welfare officer (especially a good welfare officer!) than providing snacks - but they can often go a long way to boosting morale.
Importantly, the problems that a Welfare Officer deal with aren't, and cannot be, considered confidential. Discussions may be had with other production team members, ADC Management or funding body committee members and whilst the Welfare Officer will always have the interests and wishes of the individual in mind, they should not promise confidentiality.
What counts as welfare?
Welfare is often used as a jokey, throw-away term but the welfare of the company is important. The most important part of the Welfare officer job is to be adaptable because there is no clear list of examples or categories that could cover what issues may arise but here are some suggestions:
- Tension between cast members - this is particularly relevant if the show is a tour show or at a fringe event and so actors are living together or feel they 'can't escape' each other.
- Tension between Production Team members - this is often from a lack of communication early on in the process regarding what the understanding of each role was by each member and how they intended to approach and commit to the position.
- Tension between a production member and cast member - since this is student theatre, there is no real hierarchy within the cast and crew but miscommunication can often cause frustration and leave people feeling unheard and unappreciated. In rarer cases there are concerns for propriety as to language use, intimacy etc.
- Concerns for health - this can by the individual for themselves or by others noticing changes in behaviour etc.
- Audience reaction - during show performances, occasionally audience members can cause incidents that leave the cast and/or crew shaken or generally affected. In Cambridge this is likely to be managed by the theatre management but the cast may still need looking after. At fringe venues there is likely to be more responsibility by the production team to deal with the incident themselves.
Unlike Producers and Directors etc there are few obligatory responsibilities of a welfare role in terms of specific tasks and so it can be approached in many different ways. However, a welfare officer should:
- Help the rest of the Production Team create a communicative and constructive environment during the rehearsal process and show week
- Act as a contact for all cast and crew for issues concerning welfare : This is commonly done via a form of some kind which allows for anonymous responses as well as more direct, personal questions and actions. Crucially, the Welfare Officer needs to be seen as approachable and level-headed by the entire team.
- Keep a general idea on the health of the cast and crew in rehearsals and the show week. Particularly relevant in extra-long and gruelling rehearsals such as the tech run and dress rehearsal, the Welfare officer should ideally be present for at least some of this to make sure people feel confident and supported and to help the Technical Representative and Producer enforce the 16-hour rule.
- The fun bit: Snacks! - It's generally worth asking if there are any specific requests these are more appreciated and can be quite rogue at times (each show should have a welfare budget from which snacks bought by the Welfare Officer or other team members for the team will be reimbursed).