‘Panto parade’ highlights plight of arts venues

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The dames are worried about the future of the UK’s theatre industry

Dozens of pantomime dames are marching on Westminster, as part of a day of action highlighting the plight of the live events industry.

The socially-distanced parade was organised after the rise in coronavirus cases prompted the cancellation of this year’s panto season.

Organisers are calling for an extension to the government’s furlough scheme for theatre workers.

It coincides with a global campaign to reflect the issues facing live events.

Under the slogan “red alert”, the #WeMakeEvents campaign will see venues in 25 countries bathed in red light, to draw attention to the continued uncertainty over when concerts and shows can resume.

Pre-empting Wednesday’s day of action, hundreds of people who normally work at concerts, festivals and theatres gathered in Parliament Square on Tuesday to hold a 30 minute silent protest at the government’s handling of the situation.

While venues have been allowed to reopen with social distancing measures in place, there are scarcely any plays or concerts taking place compared with the start of 2020. Some bands have already started cancelling shows planned for 2021.

The #WeMakeEventscampaign is calling for the introduction of a government-backed insurance scheme, which would ensure that organisers can recover costs if concerts are cancelled due to a local lockdown.

Organisers also want government support for a Covid-19 testing scheme at venues; and a three-year extension on the reduced VAT rate on tickets.

In common with the “Panto Parade”, they are also calling for a job support scheme that is specifically tailored to the live events industry.

‘An industry in crisis’

The campaign has won the support of Glastonbury organiser Emily Eavis, who said “tens of thousands” of people who work in the industry were currently out of work, with many receiving no financial support.

“We are part of a UK creative industry which contributes over £100 billion to the economy each year and which puts this country on the map,” she wrote in a statement which was published on social media.

“But as it stands, there is no sign of the live events industry returning in the coming months. We are an industry in crisis.

“If we don’t speak up, many theatre companies, venues, promoters, artists and crew could struggle to such an extent that this industry is simply never able to return to the incredible force it was before this pandemic struck.”

Although the government announced a £1.57 billion rescue package for the arts in July, it is going principally to museums, galleries and venues, rather than individuals. Many of those who work in the sector have not been covered by either the self-employed initiative or the furlough scheme.

The government’s new job support scheme, which was announced last week, also appears to exclude arts organisations. Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the scheme would target “viable jobs which provide genuine security”.

The #WeMakeEvents campaign estimates that the live event industry is currently operating at between 1-5% of normal capacity, ruling it out of contention.

Last week, the Musicians’ Union said one third of its members were considering giving up their careers due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

A survey of 2,000 members found that 34% were “considering abandoning the industry completely”, because of the financial difficulties they faced, while almost half had already found work outside the industry.

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