Layoffs Sweep Through Live Entertainment Industry

Empty Seats
Daniel Schultze/EyeEm
– Empty Seats

Talent agencies and venues, among the first and hardest hit by work stoppages because of the coronavirus outbreak, have begun scaling back both through layoffs and by top-to-bottom salary reductions for those still with jobs.

Particularly for agencies, as a largely commission-dependent industry, its stands to reason they would feel the pain simultaneously with concert promoters who proactively cancelled shows and entire tours almost immediately once it became clear the viral outbreak was exploding worldwide, particularly in North America.

But that doesn’t make the pain less palpable.

Paradigm Talent Agency was among the first to institute layoffs, with word leaking beyond the company’s walls that chairman and CEO Sam Gores had conducted a videoconference March 20 to inform all staff that temporary pink slips were imminent. By the end of the day, it was reported that more than 100 of a staff of more than 700 had lost their jobs.

By the following Monday, that number was being reported as closer to 250, though no one at Paradigm is confirming that information, nor that of as much as 50% pay reductions for those remaining.

The company issued a statement the following week addressing the layoffs.

“The COVID-19 crisis has brought much of the entertainment industry to a virtual standstill, and Paradigm, like many companies, has had to take immediate steps to ensure continuity of our operations,” the statement reads. “Last week, we made the extraordinarily difficult decision to temporarily lay off many colleagues and to enact salary cuts across the company.

“It is our hope and plan to bring these colleagues back as quickly as possible, and today, we have already begun to do so. While it is impossible to know the depth and duration of this crisis, we remain proud of the determination and resilience of our Paradigm team to weather the storm and do our job representing artists.”

United Talent Agency has thus far avoided layoffs but has announced that its senior partners and many others will see pay reduced.

“In addition to aggressive cost-cutting measures, this includes asking our colleagues at every level to take pay reductions, structured so our most senior colleagues make the largest financial sacrifice,” a UTA spokesman said in a statement to Variety.

“The understanding and support we’ve received from our colleagues has been incredibly gratifying, as is their recognition that these difficult steps are intended to ensure the long-term strength and viability of our company. While we do not know what the future holds, we are committed to being candid and transparent about where things stand as we navigate these uncharted waters together.”

UTA CEO Jeremy Zimmer and co-Presidents Jay Sures and David Kramer are reported to be foregoing salaries entirely for the rest of the year and the remainder of staff salary cuts are to be proportional to income levels across the board.

At Endeavor, the parent company of WME, the Los Angeles Times reports that the layoffs of more than 250 began March 25 and would continue through April.

Co-CEOs Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell are to forego salaries for the remainder of the year.

“As we all focus inward to protect our personal health and safeguard our families, every company around the world is simultaneously faced with safeguarding the health and future of its business. We are no different,” Emanuel wrote in his note to his staff and reported by the Times. “All parts of our company are feeling the effects.”

Agencies, of course, weren’t the only sector of the industry to take major hits from the coronavirus crisis.

City Winery Relief Fund
– City Winery Relief Fund

City Winery has reportedly laid off some 1,500 staff at its eight locations, and owner Michael Dorf described the period after show cancellations began as “the most painful I’ve ever experienced in my 35 years of … being a professional promoter” in an interview with ABC Radio

He calls the live events shutdown as “much more difficult than … during 9/11, when I was running the Knitting Factory (in New York) and we were close to the [World] Trade [Center] Towers … all our venues have been through tornadoes and earthquakes and floods … but this takes it to another level.”

He says that whether City Winery survives will depend on the duration of the closures and the industry’s ability to bounce back from the abyss. Trying to find a silver lining, Dorf told ABC that potential bright spot would be if City Winery reopens “as a more intimate concert venue [that showcases] big names and great acts in a smaller … space is probably going to come back before  … giant festivals, where [the spread of the virus is] harder to control.”

In the meantime, City Winery has started a relief fund to assist those impacted employees via a GoFundMe campaign

And, of course, the artists are hurting, too. Cirque du Soleil Entertainment announced March 19 that it, too, was forced to temporarily lay off 95% of its employees, numbering 4,679, effective immediately.

“This was an incredibly difficult decision for the Group, but a necessary measure to stabilize the company for the future,” Cirque du Soleil said in a statement.

Cirque operates a number of shows in now-shuttered Las Vegas resort venues and in touring troupes, for 44 separate productions.

“It is the most difficult day in Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group history. We’re deeply saddened by the dramatic measures taken today, as the temporary layoff includes many hardworking, dedicated people. Unfortunately, this decision is our only option as we are forced to position ourselves to weather this storm and prepare for eventual re-openings,” says Daniel Lamarre, President and CEO Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group.

The company says it plans to provide employee support including paid vacation time, insurance maintenance and access to the Group’s employee support program.

“These strategic actions will position Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group to continue operations and rebuild once the global crisis subsides. A core support team will continue working in the company to maintain basic operations, continue tour planning and ticket sales for our shows later this year and in 2021, and prepare for rehiring as soon as productions are allowed to resume.

 “As one of the most trusted brands and successful live entertainment organizations, we are confident that when the day comes when we can reopen our shows, we will be ready to welcome the millions of fans who come to our shows worldwide,” Lamarre concluded.