The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated job industries across the board. One particular industry exceptionally hard hit is the live entertainment industry. Musicians, magicians, cirque performers, and comedians among others have all suffered as capacity restrictions drastically cut audiences, and closures drag on in some places. The movement, organized by WeMakeEvents.org, hopes to help entertainment workers by drawing attention to their plight.
Live performers suffer as people can’t gather in audiences
From coast to coast, as the pandemic took hold in the United States, performance locations and gigs across the country were shut down starting in March. Performers who had busy summers planned suddenly found themselves bereft of a way to acquire income as their venues shut down. For many live performers, making music or performing their art for audiences is more than a career, it’s a way of life. Losing the ability to earn income has not only devastated many performers financially, but it’s removed one of their main creative outlets which takes a toll on mental health and wellness.
Stages across the country go dark
From large venues to small community stages, as the pandemic spread, people found concerts and other live performances shuttered indefinitely. School plays were canceled and bands found themselves with no sports events to play for. In Las Vegas, casinos and concerts shut down, and magicians and other live acts were asked to go home and await instructions for the eventual re-opening. But that day still hasn’t come for most. In fact, MGM has recently laid off 18,000 workers in casinos across the country, casinos which often partner with live musicians to bring entertainment to guests. As more and more workers find themselves laid off, more entertainers are competing for fewer spots as some venues began opening to limited audiences in August and September.
Performers find other ways to reach audiences
Creators of art are nothing if not creative, and over the summer as many starved for income, they came up with alternative ways to reach audiences. Some took to digitally recording their work and releasing it online, others offered performances that respect social distancing measures and required strict capacity restrictions. Many community theaters have been kept afloat by local donors or philanthropists, providing just enough income to keep workers from starving. But it hasn’t been enough to stop the hemorrhaging of livelihoods for most performers.
Artists and those in the industry seek a way forward
CELEB spoke with several people in the entertainment industry affected by the pandemic, and their stories are heartbreaking. They remind us why it’s so vital that attention is drawn to their plight. Alex Kanakis, an audio engineer, spoke with us about the impact he’s seen on both his ability to work and the industry as a whole. Kanakis says, “My name is Alex Kanakis. I’ve worked in the live entertainment industry as an audio engineer for the past 8 years. I’ve worked with bands/artists such as Bishop Briggs, Raphael Saadiq, Britney, The Killers, and events such as Coachella, Bottlerock, The Grammys and the Emmys.
In our industry, most of the technicians and engineers work on a freelance (gig-to-gig) basis working with anywhere between 4-8 different audio vendors throughout the year, leaving us without any health benefits or matching 401k. So when COVID brought the world to a halt back in March, our industry was the first to shut down, and we saw our entire work schedule disappear within a week. We relied strictly on government support and unemployment for income.
In July, that support came to an end and now the 12 million that service the entertainment industry here in the US are left without any form of support or income. Our industry will be the last to open, and we won’t be back to arena size shows till summer of 2021. That leaves us scrambling to figure out how we are going to pay our bills and live for the next year. Most small venues and theatres won’t be able to survive that long and, quite frankly, I’m not sure how the people who work at those venues are going to either.“
Scott Gendel, a musician/composer/pianist/vocal coach also spoke about his experience, and shared what he hopes people will understand about what artists need from their communities moving forward, “The Covid-19 pandemic has completely shut down the live music industry. Nearly everything I and other freelance musicians do to make a living has been cancelled for safety reasons. As we transition to performing online, or find safe ways to perform outdoors, or otherwise completely change the way we work, we need both the support of the public and the government. We need audiences to be part of reinventing our art form, to come along with us on this wild ride as we adapt to this strange world in 2020. And we need the government to recognize that the arts are a vital industry that keeps the economy running and keeps the American people connected to each other! We need financial assistance to make this transition happen, to prevent the music industry from disappearing as musicians try to decide whether or not they can afford to keep being musicians.”
Operation Red Alert Restart hopes to draw attention to the plight of entertainment workers
In Las Vegas, venues like Fremont Street Experience, Space, the Thomas & Mack Center, Allegiant Stadium and the Las Vegas Ballpark all lit up red on September 1st to draw people’s attention to the plight of their performers and entertainment workers. Across the country, they were joined by Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, the Stifel Theater in St. Louis, and Baltimore’s Center Stage and Royal Farms Arena joined in. Hundreds of other venues, small and large, joined the cause. The band Pearl Jam and actor/singer Jack Black also joined in on showing their support via Twitter. A video shared on the WeMakeEvents website discusses the issues and talks about meaningful changes that can be made to help the industry moving forward. They ask for people to show support for the S.3814 Restart Act to support small businesses, and for congress approving an extension and expansion of PUA and FPUC benefits. The website also lists other ways that fans and concerned community members can be involved.
The Arts are vital, we can’t let the industry flounder
The Operation Red Alert Restart has achieved part of it’s goal, as news outlets and Twitter discussions have been visiting the topic over the past two days. But it remains to be seen if people will rally for their favorite performers or entertainment workers. The Performing Arts is one of the most vital industries in any society, because they nourish more than the body or wallet; they nourish the spirit. If the US can’t find a way to support entertainment workers, we will lose artists and skilled workers who cannot be replaced. It is hard to imagine a sadder post-COVID-19 America than one which is bereft of its musicians, its acrobats and magicians, its small community theaters and local club events. Imagine a world where our artists and those who make the magic happen have had to leave the field to put food on their tables, and concerts become a relic of the past. Imagine not being able to see your favorite play at a community theater, or attend a music festival to enjoy the atmosphere and fun. Entertainers have always helped people through some of the toughest times in history, and it’s our turn to help them.