The Show Must Go On: Entertainment Careers Through COVID

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(Photo by Dmitriy Protsenko | Courtesy Flickr)

By Luke Jackson, Arts Writer

 

It’s hard to believe that we are coming up on two years since COVID-19 disrupted our lives. In case you haven’t noticed, things have been a little bit different since then.

Even though, as of Thursday, Dec. 23, Salt Lake City is still averaging about 363 new COVID-19 cases a day, we are essentially open for business. For the past several months, you could catch a movie, see a play or rock out with Harry Styles. After all, that’s why we crave forms of live entertainment, right? They provide a much-needed escape that was sorely missed in the throes of the pandemic.

Behind the Curtain

But what about the people behind the scenes? Those who work tirelessly to build us a Gotham City for Robert Pattinson to brood in. Or those who make sure Harry has the instruments he needs to pluck our heart strings. Hundreds upon hundreds of dedicated people work almost non-stop to give us this escape; but you’ll never hear their story.

Well, I suppose you’ll hear a couple of their stories right now, but that was close.

Chris Saul, a live sound engineer, has been in the industry for almost a decade. Regardless of their talent or connections, their job essentially disappeared over night. For almost exactly a year, there was nothing. Saul, and everyone else in the live music industry, had to ask themselves: now what?

Many artists took to the world wide web in an attempt to continue to entertain; but this wasn’t really an option for Saul. They loved their work, but there was quite literally nothing for them to do. Saul shared with me the almost universal gut-wrenching feeling felt by those in their industry. “Where were you when it happened?” became a question almost everyone could answer.

Then, shows started coming back. Not only were concerts and festivals happening, but they were also all seemingly happening at once. “It was unexpected,” Saul said. “Jobs reappeared almost just as quickly as they disappeared.” Saul explained that the intensity in which shows started to come back created a sort of whiplash. While it spoke to just how much people yearned live music, it was overwhelming to say the least.

Coping With Precautions

Obviously, having work again was nice, but the reality of the situation is that COVID-19 is still breathing down our necks, as Broadway theaters have begun shutting down due to positive tests from cast and crew. So, how do you account for the very real danger while simultaneously providing a much-needed entertainment industry?

Saul touched on this as well. They expressed that the precautions they are required to take is extremely dependent on the touring group. As someone with colleagues and friends around the globe, he repeatedly noted the levity in America comparatively. “Generally, we try and follow the CDC guidelines here, but it’s not the extent [to] which my friends in different countries are doing so,” they said.

To gain some perspective, I spoke with Valerie Siu who has worked in the sound department for many movies and television series in Canada. She explained to me the extensive precautions they have taken on set to keep each other safe. “We’ve installed an entire team just to deal with new COVID related protocol,” Siu said. “I myself test three times a week and am requited to wear PPE at all times.”

Doing Our Part

While this is merely just the experience of two people in the industry, its surprising how much they differed. Saul expressed his frustration by likening the situation to a group project in school where not everyone is pulling their weight. “I’m trying my best to stay safe, but not everyone is taking the same precautions I am,” Saul said. The nature of the job Saul has is that they are surrounded by thousands of people every day, people who they have no control over. Industry workers are getting sick because of the demand for live music.

Yet there is another side: taking extensive precautions can be tiresome. On these measure, Siu said, “Honestly, it does make the job kind of exhausting and less enjoyable. I understand it’s an insurance to make sure we’re all healthy and working but wearing a mask for twelve hours wears on you. Feeling safer at work is nice, but it comes at a cost.”

What both workers expressed to me was the shared frustration at the politicization of these issues. For them it has less to do about political affiliation and everything to do with their livelihoods.

We would be lost without the services these two individuals and their collogues provide for us. The unfortunate truth is they don’t get the recognition they deserve. As we enjoy the products of their hard work, the least we can do is try and keep them safe in the process.

 

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@__lukejackson