“All New York City Public Schools are closed.” When I hear those words, it usually means there’s a significant snowfall in the area and elicits a reaction of joy among children anticipating a day or two without school. Snowmen, sleds and hot chocolate. Not this time. This time it’s about public health safety.
Barely six weeks ago, if you said “Corona,” everyone in our industry would react the same way, thinking about beer commercials with peaceful beach settings. I always look at those and think, “Yeah soon… I need that, ”meaning the never-taken vacation. In the coming weeks, a good portion of our industry will be on a mandatory vacation, but this time there won’t be any frolicking on the beach or zipping down mountain slopes. This time it’s isolation for the purpose of containing the coronavirus, which is making its way across the U.S.
Coronavirus spreads between people who are in close contact of each other (within about 6 feet) and through droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. If you’re sitting in a seat at your favorite venue, you’re already way too close to your neighbor. And don’t get me started on how many people don’t have enough sense to cover their mouth when they cough or sneeze. Given that information, gathering thousands of people in an arena is a really bad idea.
Here are only a few of the events that have either been suspended until a later date or simply been canceled: Musikmesse and ProLight + Sound, the 2020 NAB Show, Miami’s Ultra Music Festival, The Korea Times Music Festival at the Hollywood Bowl, Coachella, SXSW 2020, 55th Academy of Country Music Awards, and the NCAA 2020 basketball tournaments. The NBA, NHL and MLB have postponed their schedules until further notice. Casinos across the country are suspending operation. Broadway is dark.
Venue closings include the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Opera, Madison Square Garden, Barclays Center, Apollo and Beacon Theatres, Radio City Music Hall, The Chicago Theatre, and the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. The Ryman Auditorium has postponed all shows at least through April 4.
Wynn Resorts and MGM will close their Las Vegas properties for at least two weeks. Live Nation and AEG are recommending postponement of all large-scale events through the end of the month. In New York, gatherings of more than 500 people have been banned by Governor Cuomo, and (as of this writing), the Centers for Disease Control is recommending postponement or cancellation of events with 50 people or more. A couple of hours ago, the president suggested no gatherings of more than 10 people. Schools and universities across the U.S. are shut down.
The entertainment industry is going to take a huge hit, and a good portion of that blow is coming our way. Name one event that doesn’t require audio or video. You can’t. Some of it is obvious: tours will either have to issue refunds or reschedule. Some events will never be re-created, resulting in lost revenue for artists and production personnel. Audio and video techs, riggers, stage crew—all will suffer a tough go, but the fallout from these cancellations reaches far, far beyond the obvious. Catering folks, bus and truck drivers, ushers, pyro techs, vendors, repair techs, casino workers such as dealers, bartenders, cocktail waitresses, food and beverage personnel and maintenance staff will all be temporarily out of work.
Then there’s airline personnel (flight crew, food services and maintenance workers), airport workers, bus drivers and hotel employees, all of whom will be hurting. I have a friend who arranges travel for a national act that requires as many as 90 rooms per night. Gone. I’ve already heard from former students who have been laid off, or are concerned that work scheduled for the Olympics in Japan this summer will vaporize.
Is it scary? You bet. But what’s really scary is what happens if we don’t shut down. For the majority of the population, contracting COVID-19 is not a fatal condition, but if a large percentage of people come down with it, the stress on our health care system will be disastrous. People who really need medical care—the elderly, those with heart disease, diabetes, lung disease and respiratory issues—wouldn’t get proper treatment. I’m not worried about myself. I’m worried about the senior members of my family, and that’s a good enough reason for me to stay out of a crowd.
The financial implications of not working for two months suck, but they suck less than if coronavirus gets out of control and we’re out of work for eight months. Stay calm and cool. We’ll get through it—and some of those dates will come back to the calendar.