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Same Storm – Different Boats
USA – As we all go through the COVID 19 situation, a great many sayings have emerged. Most were, at first, clever, uplifting, and catchy. Now, as we enter weeks nine and beyond, some of them do not ring so true to many people. Perhaps the most problematic catch phrase is now “We Are All In This Together.” As many people have now been without any form of income for eight weeks, a clear distinction has come to the forefront. Yes, we are all in this together, but it is deeper than that.
The truth is, “Same Storm – Different Boats.”
For those people fortunate enough to have a job that continues to pay them fully through this time, or those with large personal wealth, this is a “tough time” or “an inconvenience”, but it is not life or death. For those people and companies that have little to no income, and wonder how much longer they can survive, this COVID 19 situation is indeed life or death. We are all in the same storm, but some of us are in 300-foot yachts, and some of us are in leaking row boats, wondering exactly when the boat will sink.
Greater than 60% of the companies in America are “at risk” and an even greater number of people are either now unemployed or “at risk.”
The end result for many people is either unemployment, or a career change. The Enhanced Unemployment Income stops on 31 July. After that, those on unemployment will drop to an amount of funding that may not sustain their lifestyle. Those people that have sought other employment have, or may, in many cases, work for a wage far below what they were once earning. Nevertheless, there is a small level of income for most people.
Many companies, on the other hand, cannot continue to exist on 25% to 60% income levels. The reduced income will simply not cover their fixed operating costs. Once the companies cease to exist, there is no place for the former employees to return to work. For the last two months, and most likely for the next two or more months, all live entertainment production companies are at zero income. Zero. No one really knows when large crowds will be permitted again. No one.
The reopening will be a slow train, by all accounts. Live entertainment is the caboose of the reopening train, with live entertainment production people and firms sitting in the rear of the caboose. Entertainers can, will, and have come up with new ways to sell their products. Online streaming, live events with no crowds, small socially distanced public events and other events of this nature have and will occur more frequently. This provides some level of income for all of those at the top of the live entertainment food chain, but it does nothing for the millions of sound, light, video, staging, pyro, rigging, bussing, trucking, backline and production people and firms in the industry. The entire live entertainment production community will sit at zero income until large crowds are allowed to assemble. That is a fact.
The live entertainment production community has looked at every possible way to “pivot” and “reinvent” themselves. Both of these are also clever terms used in the last eight weeks. Again, the truth is that the billions of dollars of equipment owned by the Live Entertainment Production firms has one function: To deliver large live events. There is no “pivot” that works. None. We all know that.
Thus, we are all in the same storm, but in very different boats. As we move forward, live entertainment production may be the only industry in this position. Hair salons, restaurants, bars, clubs, theatres, tattoo parlours, cruise lines, hotels and the wide variety of other leisure industries can and will slowly open with reduced numbers of people and social distancing. They will certainly struggle, but, eventually, they have a chance and a path to a full recovery. Live entertainment production companies and people are in an all or nothing situation. Until large crowds of 10,000 to 100,000 can gather, live entertainment production companies are sitting idle. These firms simply cannot create a version of themselves that supports the firm and the people to do shows for small crowds. Live Entertainment Production is a high dollar, high volume business. The firms have billions of dollars invested in equipment and training people. Imagine if Ford, Chevrolet, or any car company produced 5% of their output. They could not sustain the factory and the business. The auto businesses and the auto industry would collapse.
The live entertainment industry in the US is estimated to be a 35 billion dollar a year business. There are over ten million people that work in this industry. Most all of the live entertainment production people and companies are all out of work until large crowds are allowed to gather.
To quote someone I heard speak a few weeks ago: “They do not know we exist.”
It is imperative that we all do everything that we can to make our elected officials aware that live entertainment production exists as an industry, and that we will sit at zero income until such time as large crowds can and do gather. We are not advocating a plan or a guideline. We are simply making all of our elected leaders aware that we exist as an industry. No amount of saying “We are all in the together” or any other catchy phrase will solve our issue or our needs.
A final piece of our message concerns legal liability. In my opinion, until legislation is passed that removes all liability from any type of COVID 19 related lawsuits, there will be no live entertainment. No one could afford the risk of class action lawsuits.
I urge everyone to use the attached link, https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials, and contact your local, State and Federal elected officials. Send them this article, or, create a letter of your own. Whatever you do, let them know we exist and are in in a situation unlike any other industry. The full weight of millions of people contacting all of our elected officials is our best chance toward affecting awareness and change in a fashion to assure our industry is recognised and supported.
The message to communicate is simple: live entertainment production is an industry with ten million people, and it will sit at zero income until large crowds can assemble. The industry will not reopen until there is legislation removing any liability from COVID 19 lawsuits. The people and the companies cannot exist for an extended period with zero income.
This is but one step toward solving the situation that live entertainment production people and companies are facing. There are many endeavours and organisations working on this and other issues. We applaud everyone that is working on this. If everyone that reads this does two things, we will affect change. First, use the link and contact all of your local, state, and federal elected officials and share this article or a letter of your own. Second, forward this article to everyone you possibly can.
Yes, we are all in the same COVID 19 storm, but we are all in very different boats!
Michael T. Strickland
Bandit Lites, Inc.
14th May 2020
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