In the last few months, gigs and theatre have very slowly, very cautiously returned. It’s been a mixed experience. Socially distanced gigs – bit weird, though still magic to have access to live music again. Streamed gigs – no one is in a huge hurry to watch their live music digitally, and from a lighting point of view it means everything has to be 20% brighter because cameras don’t have nothing on eyes – but still, significantly better than nothing. Whole days are spent wearing masks – absolutely fine, though my goodness it’s been incredibly mixed across the scene who are and aren’t choosing to protect others at work. And occassionally, just occassionally, wonderful stonking gigs in which the audience is on their feet and everyone is having an amazing time and you remember just what it is about live music that takes your breath away.
That’s all shutting down now, of course, courtesy of Omicron. And it’s correct and good that gigs are being cancelled as this new variant races through the country – it is the responsible choice. But just like in March 2020, the industry is faced with a massive stinker of a problem. The responsible thing is to cancel events. But until the government says that events must be cancelled, there is no compensation for loses. No insurance. No nothing. Once again venues that barely survived, barely managed to open their doors, are shutting down again. I know one venue where they were forced to make nearly all of their events team redunant when furlough wound down. Three weeks ago they made their first new hire back onto the team in the expectation of events resuming. Two days ago every single event they had booked for January was cancelled. What’s worse is that the profits from this venue go to supporting the local homeless community, and as their funding has been destroyed demand has never been higher – a tragedy that is hitting organisations across the country. The see-saw chaos of it is exhausting, draining, and once again hammering the arts. Freelancers are just as screwed now as they were back in 2020, and the furlough scheme back then that was already skewed against freelancers and shows no sign of returning.
Cancelling events is the correct thing to do, until we know what Omicron is and as much of the country as possible has been as vaccinated as possible. (I’m going in for my booster on Monday, and have already cancelled Christmas with the family on the basis none of us want to a) be vectors or b) spend ten days locked in isolation with each other being ill, however much we love each other.) But once again cancelling events without government support is incredibly destructive. This government has been incompetent, corrupt, lied, cheated, blagged and bluffed and always, always acted too late. Now Omicron is ripping through the country and I genuinely don’t know what the answer is. Hospitalisations and deaths are sorta holding for now (again, thank you science!) but we just don’t know what happens in a world where there are hundreds of thousands of infections a day – and that’s where we’re heading.
This is not a blog post with solutions. This is just once again a reminder that just like March 2020, the arts need help, freelancers are getting screwed and what we really, really need more than anything is leadership from a government that values the people it’s meant to serve. If you can help in any way at all, Freelancers Make Theatre Work has resources for freelancers, campaigns and petitions for anyone interested in helping out or learning more.
Meanwhile, to everyone reading this – stay safe, stay well, and if you have access and are able to, please go get jabbed! Thank you!