Live theatre, opera and music performances face near-extinction without urgent help from the government, campaigners have warned.
But there are five simple steps officials can take to get live shows and events back up and running after the coronavirus pandemic forced their doors to close in March 2020.
The #WeMakeEvents campaign has canvassed those working in the sector and come up with the steps desperately needed to save thousands of jobs.
They include a dedicated insurance scheme, testing facilities at live events and specialised grants designed for those not eligible for the existing Arts Council support scheme.
It comes as the National Theatre in London reopens its doors tonight for its run of Death of England: Delroy, after suspending live performances for more than six months.
Michael Balogun in rehearsals: The National Theatre in London reopens its doors tonight for its run of Death of England: Delroy after suspending performances for more than six months
It has applied for a loan from the Culture Recovery Fund and is yet to hear back. But its freelancers – who make up 70 per cent of its workforce – have not been offered the same level of support.
It’s to keep these skilled people in work that the theatre has been so determined to reopen, said theatre directors.
Live performances today are open to far smaller audiences and bring in considerably less money.
A whole range of changes to ensure the safety of its customers and that it adheres to Covid-19 standards have been introduced by the National Theatre, including online booking only, pre-ordering refreshments and socially distanced one-way and queuing systems.
The Olivier theatre capacity has been reduced to 500 and physically distanced seating implemented while guests must arrive during an allocated timed slot.
Michael Balogun stars in tonight’s performance at the National Theatre
They must also wear face coverings at all times, including throughout the show, unless eating or drinking. There is currently no cloakroom available.
While theatres on the scale of the National are beginning to see signs of life again, there are still hundreds of thousands of jobs hanging in the balance, according to campaigners.
Plasa, a membership body for those who supply technologies and services to the event and entertainment industries and the founding team behind #WeMakeEvents, says one performance takes an average of 443 professionals to run it.
This includes planning, design, preparation, warehouse, venue staff and more. It estimates the sector delivers a staggering £100billion to the UK economy and employs around 600,000 people.
Live performances are floundering
Though small, socially distanced events such as comedy gigs with reduced audiences and restricted access have started to make a comeback, most live events are still stuck in limbo and are calling for urgent help from the government.
This goes beyond musicians, actors and dancers and impacts a wealth of workers, jobs and industries. Venues are facing permanent closure, staging and lighting companies are hemorrhaging money and thousands of freelancers haven’t seen an income since March.
Just one live performance involves staff from the design, transport, warehousing, catering, security sectors and much more.
A mock-up of how social distancing will work in the Olivier Theatre at tonight’s performance
#WeMakeEvents said many of the 72 per cent of freelancers working in the industry fell through the gaps of receiving any income support, due either to them working as limited company directors or because they only became self-employed after April 2019.
In its Impact Report released in June, Plasa found over half of its members expect to lose 70 to 100 per cent of their business for 2020, and seven out of 10 businesses had only two months of cash revenue left.
A five-pronged survival plan
Peter Heath, managing director of Plasa
‘The UK events industry and the people and companies who make it happen are regarded as number one,’ said Peter Heath, managing director of Plasa, the Professional Lighting and Sound Association, and founder of #WeMakeEvents.
‘Even at the biggest overseas events like the Olympics, you’ll find a majority of UK skills and equipment. This could all disappear.
‘Other European governments have come to the aid of their events industries. They are watching what is happening in the UK, and will be waiting to take over our industry if it does not receive government support to keep it working until we can attend mass events safely.
‘We are an incredibly hard-working industry, we are passionate about what we do, and what we want more than anything is to work with the government to find a safe way forward to enable us to put on the events that are so vital to the economy and the general well-being of the country.’
#WeMakeEvents is calling on the UK Government for the following five initiatives to help it to survive:
1. Government-backed Covid-19 Insurance Scheme
To ensure if local lockdowns happen, event organisers will recover costs and attendees will receive a refund.
2. Government support for widespread proactive Covid-19 testing for event attendees
To give confidence to attendees and organisers that the event is safe and Covid-19 Compliant.
3. Three-year extension of the reduced cultural VAT rate
This lower tax rate should apply to tickets in line with Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport recommendations. This would stimulate the return of a viable live entertainment sector.
4. Grants – not loans – made available to businesses in the events supply chain
To give companies the flexibility to allocate financial resources where they need it most, and to keep their business afloat and enable them to keep employees, adding value to the UK economy and culture in the future.
5. Job support scheme for the live events supply chain
To allow employers to retain highly skilled people in preparation for a return to work.
To support the freelance community, including single director companies and all those excluded by the current government eligibility criteria.
This will help us to be ready to kick-start the industry and hence the UK economy.
Heath said: ‘The events sector has suffered enormously due to the worldwide shut-down of live events caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
‘Even with social distancing rules, many events won’t be able to fully return until spring next year, which will put a tremendous financial strain on companies and professionals working in the industry.’
‘The economy needs live events’
White Light’s Bryan Raven said the company’s income will be halved this financial year
Bryan Raven, managing director of White Light, which supplies lighting, audio, video, and rigging to live projects across the world, expects this year’s income to halve due to Covid-19.
‘Luckily, we expect lighting installations and broadcast work to achieve half our budget but the other half of the business that supplies technical services to theatres, conferences and all types of live events is now at less than 5 per cent of its target with no sign of a return until Spring,’ he said.
‘Similarly, pre-Covid, we employed 270 full-time staff and used a pool of 450 freelancers – by the end of October we will be down to 160 staff and we are only using 10 to 20 freelancers for particular roles.’
Bryan was fortunate to have used the job retention and furlough schemes, but he has also had to make almost 100 people redundant.
Meanwhile, the majority of remaining staff are working reduced hours or reduced pay to ensure the company survives.
He said the government needs to offer the same support given to other industries such as coronavirus-related insurance, allowing widespread proactive testing and VAT reduction.
He added: ‘Until we can go back to work, we need more help for freelancers and micro-businesses that have no means of working.
‘The government could offer business rates relief for all affected companies and grants to ensure the industry still exists when the work returns.
‘As well as the cultural gap in our lives with no live music, theatre, or festivals, the wider economy needs the live events industry to help it recover.’
A clear roadmap for return
Ella McWilliam and Megan Morass are co-founders of Full Fat, a communications agency specialising in festivals and live events.
Almost instantly, the firm saw its revenue drop by 70 per cent as its active clients fell by half.
Ella told This is Money: ‘Those initial first weeks were spent guiding our clients through closures and cancellations, supporting the Association Of Independent Festivals on best practice for those who did not have PR representation and re-strategising each campaign as audiences moved from the real-life experience to at-home and online.
Megan Morass (left) and Ella McWilliam run Full Fat, an agency specialising in live events
‘We knew we needed to be agile and were fortunate enough to be able to take advantage of the government furlough and part-time furlough schemes and the Bounce Back Loan scheme.
‘But for most of our festivals and live event clients and the artists and performers they book, this simply was not possible.’
Full Fat managed to help migrate audiences online for festival series’ by Defected and Glitterbox, as well as support a new drive-in film experience called @TheDriveIn, which saw 60,000 visitors to their first show during the summer.
However, both Ella and Megan feel the pandemic has decimated the live events industry with no clear roadmap for return.
Megan added: ‘The lack of government support means an entire supply chain is at risk of collapse and the cultural make-up of our country has changed for the foreseeable.
The #WeMakeEvents campaign saw hundreds of live events buildings ‘light up’ in red on 30 September to raise awareness for its cause. Pictured: iconic London venue Electric Brixton
‘Without this much-needed government support, we risk seeing mass closure of venues, pubs and restaurants across the UK, the festivals and live events we all love to go to, disappearing and clubs closing their doors for good.
‘For an industry that brings billions into our economy every year, and supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs, this alone should warrant direct and immediate action from the government.’
The businesswomen said spring 2021 is too late for some businesses to return and Government intervention is needed soon.
They said: ‘We need to see investment into test trials and government subsidies for essential equipment needed to operate safe festivals and events from rapid testing to cleaning equipment.
‘Exploring “A Get Out To Help Out” concept that promotes going out to see the arts would be a welcome move once safe to do so.’
Plasa, the membership body for those who supply technologies and services to the event and entertainment industries, highlight the sectors impacted by the suspension of live events