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On March 13, 2020, live entertainment workers were instantly put out of work.
In Chicago alone, that means tens of thousands—through no fault of their own—became unemployed due to the pandemic shutdown. Across the country, more than 150,000 stage employees—stagehands, wardrobe, hair and make-up artists, script writers, editors, ticket sellers and treasurers, scenic artists, cinematographers, studio mechanics, projectionists and more, faced one of the darkest periods of their lifetimes. We work alongside musicians, ushers, theater managers, directors, stage managers, trade-show carpenter, electricians, Teamsters, riggers, and more, who found themselves facing the same peril.
Some behind-the-scenes workers were able to find jobs over the summer once the vaccines were in place, but for more than 16 months, these tradespeople endured 100% unemployment.
It’s show business, but these are not celebrities or rock stars. These workers are middle-class people. Many are parents raising families. All are dedicated to our craft, extraordinarily involved in the cultural fabric of our communities, while creating innovative and engaging events for the world to enjoy. Our work helped establish Chicago as one of the cultural capitols of the world.
And we don’t just create art, we contribute significantly to the economy. Our employers, large and small—cultural institutions, theaters, corporate producers, festivals, concert stadiums, television and film producers, convention centers, and music halls—all partner with live entertainment workers, to create an $877 billion economic engine that makes our industry a major contributor to the United States GDP.
Our forefathers in the labor movement instilled in us the belief that there is dignity in hard work, that hard work brings honor and commands respect, and that hard work should be acknowledged by all, and rewarded with safe working conditions, fair wages, and meaningful benefits for everyone, regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual identity.
Photo courtesy of Chernise Taylor, Foxhole Creative
A standard of excellence in our craft is when an audience enjoys a spectacular performance and does not even know that we’re there or what our creative and technical contributions were. That standard actually hurt us during the shutdown. Too few knew that so many live-entertainment workers were suffering life-changing hardship.
The pandemic has been brutal. Almost 700,000 in the United States have died. Beyond the tragic loss of life and ongoing illness, the devastating financial impact to live entertainment workers remains a crisis. Even when U.S. unemployment peaked and slowly fell to 10%, live entertainment workers remained almost 100% unemployed.
Live entertainment workers were the first to lose their jobs and the last to return to work. Many are now buried in debt, too many lost their homes, and more still lost health insurance. Some, despite food distributions, state and federal help, wellness calls and outreach, just didn’t survive. I’m saddened to report that suicide has become an issue in our industry.
Chicago LIVE Again! is much more than a weekend of top-rate entertainment. It’s a meaningful declaration that the darkness ends now.
We’re blessed to live in a state that respects and protects workers. We appreciate our political and labor leaders—friends that always have our back—and our employers that continue to enlist us to present world class live entertainment. Because of our work together… that economic engine starts again now. That’s what Chicago LIVE Again! means.
On behalf of my colleagues, I thank Mayor Lightfoot and Governor Pritzker for making the tough, and sometimes unpopular decisions, to keep us as safe as possible during the pandemic. We thank Navy Pier President and CEO Marilynn Gardner and her team, Broadway in Chicago impresario Lou Raizin, and all the cultural institutions that made Chicago LIVE Again! happen. Together, we proclaim, WE’RE BACK.
Catch Chicago LIVE Again! Friday, September 24 and Saturday, September 25 at Navy Pier.