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(Updated) Testimonials From The Industry’s Frontline: Production Pros Discuss COVID-19

The world seems to have been totally unprepared for the devastating economic havoc COVID-19 would wreak as stocks continue to tumble and normal life in the U.S. has been essentially shut down.
 
Along with the travel and hospitality industries, the live event business must be listed as one of those most affected by the measures taken to control the spread of the disease.
 
At Pollstar we have tried to avoid being alarmist or inflammatory while covering this monumental disruption. At this stage, however, the ramifications of the economic shutdown for small business owners and independent contractors cannot be overstated. 
 
Below, we have decided to publish these testimonials, most of which were provided by the organizers of the “Covid-19 Federal Aid Package for Events Industry” petition on Change.org to convey the  real-time challenges industry professionals are facing. That petition, now with more than 300,000 signatures, resulted in the formation of the Live Events Coalition, which is lobbying congress and President Donald Trump for aid, along with Music Artists Coalition.
A list of resources for those affected by the COVID-19 shutdown can be found here.
Updated 3/24
Donnette Phillips, Stagehand at IATSE Local 30
We set up for almost all the live events, trade shows, meetings, conferences, etc., that come to Indianapolis. This is my only income. Obviously, with all the shutdowns due to this virus, there is no work for the thousands of us who depend on this income.
My savings has depleted rather fast since this has all started. I have myself and my two babies that depend on me to provide for them and I am now sitting here worrying how I will be able house us, much less feed them, and God forbid we need any medical attention.
I refuse to go anywhere not in fear of the virus but in fear of how I will get fuel for car and wear and tear. My whole life is at a standstill and the pressures of financial responsibility is caving in quickly. I personally beg for some type of aid so that myself and the thousands upon thousands other hard-working individuals are able to maintain our dignity pride, but most of all to keep our homes and to be able to provide for our families.
Ericka Reardin, Owner/ Videographer at Reardin Creative LLC
I finally started my own business in January after being a freelancer for several years. It’s peak season in my area until around May for both my incomes – video and audio.
I try to get ahead and save during these months for the slower months in the summer.
Unfortunately, that will not happen. Local businesses and nonprofits will not be doing much video production either, due to their losses and lack of funding.
This will take months if not years to recover from.
Sarah, Sr. Exhibit Designer at [Redacted]
My position was in the first round of layoffs. Trade shows took the hit first, I was laid off before everyone started panicking and states started putting these policies in place. It was March 6, and when I started calling around to agencies and filing for unemployment, I would mention I was laid off as a result of the coronavirus and it surprised them. I still had the waiting week for unemployment despite it now being gone from most states that required it.
I’m a single parent and sole-breadwinner. My medical insurance benefits will cease at the end of March. Meanwhile, we are in the midst of a global pandemic health crisis and I live in the area where COVID-19 came into the U.S.
I did not receive any severance and my final paycheck disqualifies me from collecting food stamps for the month of March, and I may not be able to collect them at all, despite now being food insecure with a young child at home.
Carol Galle, CEO of Special D Events
I co-founded and have led our national strategic events company for nearly 30 years.
In a matter of weeks, our revenue stream has taken an incredible hit. I’m not giving up, but we need aid.
A government bailout of hotels and airlines won’t save the people who actually book events and manage them. Planners are the engine that drive this industry.
Cari Byers, Talent and Costumes for Events and Trade Shows at Premier Showgirls
My business is at a standstill. We only have two events this month.
All events in April have canceled. No one is booking anything for May.
I have zero income coming in, nothing to even cover my overhead or operating costs.
Jessica Golich, Concert Photographer/Music Journalist/Influencer at Life Beyond The Music
As the last week has unfolded, it felt as though life as I knew it was progressively changing by the minute. As I prepared to spend the weekend in New Orleans photographing BUKU Music + Art Project, as well as a few Top 40 arena shows to follow, I had to accept that the current global health crisis overshadowed any opportunity that I had looked forward to. Staying home and being responsible is the contribution to society that I am choosing at this time.
We are all taking an economic hit. We are all shell shocked by an influx of breaking news.
We are all directly impacted through gig and job losses that would have been beneficial to our career growth, yet never in my lifetime has the saying “we’re in this together” spoken such volumes.
Right now is a beautiful time to dig in. Right now, there is no VIP pass, exclusive invite or behind the scenes glimpse into anyone’s life or artistry but your own. Thank you to all of the musicians and artists who continue to use their platforms to uplift the mental health state of our society; you are seen and heard.
As we endure this transitional time, as an artist and a human being, I am returning inward while I rest, recalibrate and recharge my body, mind and spirit. And for now, I shall reminisce on my experiences through the lens of “you don’t really know what you’ve got until it’s gone” as I look forward to getting back into the photo pit amongst my colleagues for more unforgettable shows and lifetime memories.
Original story 3/19
Bob King, Contract Video Engineering at Ready-1, LLC
In a matter of a week I saw my entire book of business evaporate. If nothing changes, my net income for the year will be approximately 26% of last year.
This episode will decimate my business, burn through my personal savings and force me to change to another career, if one is available. Because the work I do is so specialized, it is difficult to communicate my transferable skills to employers outside of the industry.
As it stands, this is an extinction level event for most in this industry.
My greatest fear is we, the OG gig workers, are forgotten in the rush to “keep employees on the payroll” and “extend benefits” to everyone.  Everything I am seeing now precludes the sole proprietor who has neither true employees nor a true employer, even though we are all working full time.  I, personally, work 70-85 hours each week during season.  For me, that’s 9-10 months each year.
I don’t know how this ends, but I can see a huge loss of talent for our industry.  Those left standing will either be the too-big-too-fail Mega-Corp or the very few individuals who were able to score enough plum gigs over the last 20 years to ride through on savings.  If this stretches out into the fall, we will see an exodus of senior talent like no other in our history.
A friend told me yesterday, “We are living in historic times.”  My hope is we wind up on the right side of history.
Elizabeth Ramos, Owner/Operator of ERPR Networking Meeting & Events
This week my five of my clients canceled their events. An auto show I work with is also cancelled – I have now lost $30,000 in contracts and have no idea how I will support myself until July2020.
In July I have another event and currently we are not clear if this will happen.
I haven’t worked for a corporation in three years, so unemployment is not an option. I’ve been in business those three years, and this was slated to by my most successful year thus far.
I am saddened and devastated. I already started applying for local jobs out of here … yet all event jobs are on hold until further notice.
Tyler Burge, Production Manager/Lighting Designer at Gulf South Productions
I’ve had two months of gigs cancelled and the overall value of my skillset and career deemed useless for the time being.
We live by the saying “The show must go on.” However, in this rare occurrence, it cannot. We as an industry understand the importance of containing this virus and were left no choice but to sacrifice our livelihood, passion, and commitment to better this dire situation. Here’s to hoping there will be companies left to answer the call on the other side of this.
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