It's not often you see an offstage crew member wearing red. We tend to stick to black. Slip into the darkness of the wings or the tech box. Not to be caught dead in the limelight mid show unless there's a real issue (like when I had to run onstage in the middle of a drag show to lift a Queen off the runway after her heel had been caught in a lip where two bits of decking where joined...)
We hide ourselves so well that often you would have no idea just how many of us there are rushing around in the dark making sure the show goes off without a hitch. Imagine, you're sat in an auditorium watching a musical, or you are stood in an arena watching a gig - take a moment and have a guess at how many people it takes in a production team to create that show and make it happen every night. 30 seconds now to think... imagine someone is playing the countdown music.... did you write your guess down? Well I'll tell you. For that musical - on average there are: 3 sound technicians, one lighting operator, two follow spot operators, one stage manager, one deputy stage manager, two assistant stage managers, one automation technician, two stage crew, a production manager, a company stage manager, a lighting designer, a sound designer, a sound system designer, a set and costume designer, a head of wardrobe, wardrobe maintenance, a wigs and makeup technician, two dressers, props makers, set painters, fit up stage crew, casual lighting and sound technicians, a production sound technician, a production electrician, a rigger - this list goes on but I'll pause here.
That's a musical. If we were to venture into the arena the jobs remain mostly the same but the amount of people doing some of them increases significantly. It takes up to 500 people to technically pull off an arena event. You might only ever see the band. But quite quietly and not drawing much attention to ourselves there's 500 or more of us who have been working behind the scenes for months, or weeks, or days or hours for that two hour gig. We work in a specialised department of a specialised industry of a specialised sector. We Make Events. And we are being ignored.
72% of the people who work in live music, and 70% of the people who work in theatre are self employed freelancers. A large proportion of them (myself included) are PAYE Freelancers, which means they spend time being employed temporarily and paid through PAYE for a project or a tour or a show run, and then go back to being self employed and invoicing etc. This makes them ineligible, in most cases, for the self employed income support scheme (SEISS), and if they weren't lucky enough to have been working a contract when furlough was announced for a company willing to furlough them, then they can't get any support. They are falling right through the gaping holes in the government job protection schemes. There are also hundreds of small companies and suppliers and venues who will not be able to survive this crisis for very much longer. They can't financially function with social distancing and we have had no indication of when we will be able to return to work at full capacity.
We are on the brink of collapse.
We're very good at being invisible, but we can not be invisible any longer. #WeMakeEvents have issued a RED ALERT and on the 11th August up and down the country venues lit up in red to show support and solidarity to the forgotten and the invisible in our industry. This was also a stark warning.
Without sector specific targeted support from government our industry will collapse. The £1.57bn package just isn't going to cut it. It's a great start, but it won't touch so many important parts of the sector that is built like a house of cards, and if you don't save all the cards the house will fall down anyway. The demands are simple.
Myself and Becky went to the #WeMakeEvents protest at the Liverpool Docks, and stood with our colleagues and peers, and it was such a strange experience seeing so many people who are normally so well hidden making a sea of red (I don't own a red tshirt, so I wore the my edinburgh fringe crew shirt because that's where I should really be right now.) We need now more than ever to be loud and to be heard and there are ways that you can help us do that:
Be vocal and public with your support of the live arts
Because I can't wait to get back to standing in the dark again wearing all black, but if I have to buy a red tshirt to get there, I will do it.
- Liz Barker