Events Industry, part of the world after COVID-19?

Photography from the Plasa website: https://www.plasa.org/press/releases/uk-events-industry-throw-us-a-line/

I thought to make a short post related to the current situation we are now facing in the events, entertainment and theatre industry in the UK. I am writing the below based on the UK’s cultural landscape, specifically related to the events and theatre work — however I do believe this is something that has hit the industry worldwide and not just in the UK.

As you know the entertainment industry in the UK and beyond is on the edge of total collapse. Just over a week ago there was a campaign called #WeMakeEvents which intended to raise awareness and had a call to action so that the government provides additional support to more than 1m professionals whose jobs are at risk and most of them work on a freelance basis. The entertainment industry depends almost entirely on more than 600,000 professionals who are fully independent and work as freelancers. From the National Theatre to a local wedding, all projects have an an extensive network of curated independent skilled people who work with each other to achieve the desired outcome. It is never the work of one person only, but actually the community of professionals who makes each and every single production unique and successful.

I think it is important to mention that we are talking about a HUGE industry in terms of revenue and financial movement in the UK — this industry is worth over £100bn providing more than one million jobs in all aspects of productions and events.

Yes, some of us who work in this “bubble” have been able to slowly adapt or transition to some kind of “hybrid creative hub” where we can somehow keep up part of our work, but the vast majority of the industry have been completely left out with little to no work for almost half a year, and no clear vision of when we’ll be back to some kind of “normality” again.

Let’s put it like this:

To prepare your own pizza, you need to follow a recipe and need a certain amount of ingredients in specific quantities to achieve the desired meal. (You cannot cook pizza as you want without all of the ingredients in the recipe and without following a certain procedure, or you will end up with a different style of pizza or with no pizza at all.)

In the events and entertainment industry this is exactly the same: you cannot produce a show, create a theatre production, a wedding or corporate event without EVERY single piece of the puzzle:

  • You need the producers — to raise the money, take the decisions and put it all together;
  • You need the technical managers and production managers — to follow the technical procedures, to make sure there are no technical issues and to make sure it all works within the proposed budget;
  • You need every type of designer that is required based on the project, otherwise you end up with a completely misunderstandable “product” that not only you wouldn’t enjoy, but it would make no sense at all with the “lack of magic” as a production. Let’s be honest, the beauty of watching a show or being part of an event is the memory we keep once the curtain goes down…
  • We then move on to the “invisible” part of the team — the stage managers, company managers, special effects staff, riggers, technicians and more (these people make sure the production runs properly, every element is in the right place before, during and after the show, they “cue” the different stages of the production and take care of everyone who is visible so that they can do their job properly and the audience can enjoy it.)
  • Finally, we have our beloved performers — actors, dancers, musicians, acrobats, circus artists, and mimes, just to mention a few, who in the end of the day, use their body, mind and soul to provide an enjoyable experience for everyone else watching.

I am sure I have forgotten many others in the events and entertainment industry as the list goes on and on. But the above gives us a small snapshot of what the actual reality is for almost a million people who today are completely left out in the current situation.

I think we have come so far in this industry, we have achieved such high standards which are valued worldwide making the British Entertainment Industry one of the best in the whole world. I say this as someone who enjoys both the on and off stage work and also as a spectator.

Some experts have said that it took more than 10 years to build their network of jobs, which in less than 8 weeks has been completely broken; and if I am honest with you, we have no real vision of when it will go back to normality.

This means that not just us, as the workforce in this industry, but also every single audience member might not be able to enjoy the quality and valuable work we were able to do in the same way, for the next 10-year generation…

We are very lucky to be in a country where the arts and culture are funded not only on a commercial level but also on a “non-profit” level through state funding and other organisations. This is a huge achievement and should not be underestimated. During World War II, Churchill was asked to cut his funding for the arts in order to support the war efforts. His answer was very sharp and clear: “Then what would we be fighting for?” You can like or dislike Churchill as a leader, but I believe this answer makes it very clear on how we can take care of the present while not forgetting our future vision, where we are going and what we are working for.

I hope this small writing made us all a little bit more aware of the real situation that we are facing. It is not just a recession we are in now, we will not be able to go back to the way things were and have different options for productions or events to be part of. We are talking about a future where the arts is not there, we are going back to baby steps, where those beloved buildings, halls, theatres and “cultural engines” are converted into other purpose buildings or even some darker, less meaningful “empty walls”.

I must say that the heartbeat, the creatives, the workforce, the performers and everyone else from this industry has been left out and forgotten. The time to act is now, tomorrow could be too late…

I would love for us all to make the following exercise before you continue with your day:

Imagine walking into your favourite theatre, museum, or arena. Imagine waiting for that very special event you’ve planned and invested so much for, or that show you’ve booked months in advance to enjoy in real life. Now close youre eyes, and listen… Listen to the sound of silence. The darkness, the emptiness and the lack of energy as that very space or event you’ve imagined is not there or is closed — until further notice! I have to say, this sound of silence can be sometimes stronger and more painful than any loud noise.

The campaign of #WeMakeEvents has been picked up by the media and many celebrities, but I truly believe that saving these jobs and the arts industry is something that affects not just the “small” 1m+ people involved in it (whose jobs are at risk), but essentially the whole country as a wider human and cultural community.

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.

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Award Winning Creative Producer, Choreographer & Master of Ceremonies / Founder & Director at Upstage Creative Ltd. Argentine living in London

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Ilai Szpiezak

Ilai Szpiezak

Award Winning Creative Producer, Choreographer & Master of Ceremonies / Founder & Director at Upstage Creative Ltd. Argentine living in London

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