Australia’s Helpmann Awards 2020 Canceled, Promoters Call For Aid For Smaller Companies

Rhonda Burchmore
– Rhonda Burchmore
performing at the Helpmann Awards

Live Performance Australia (LPA) announced today that its flagship event, the Helpmann Awards, will not go ahead in 2020, citing the COVID-19 virus.

At the same time, the three biggest tour promoters – Live Nation, Frontier Touring and TEG – have jointly asked the Australian government to help small- to medium-sized companies in the live sector during the virus shut-down.
The latest figures from the industry’s “I Lost My Gig” website showed that as of March 27, the industry has lost A$316 million ($194.1 million) worth of work.
LPA chief executive Evelyn Richardson said “due to restrictions on public gatherings, it was simply not feasible to proceed with our planning (for the awards).
 “While we are deeply disappointed to make this decision, we have a wider responsibility to prioritise the health and welfare of our staff, industry and the Australian community to help stop the spread of COVID-19.”
The Helpmanns, which were set up in 2001 and are televised on cable TV, cover contemporary music, musicals, comedy, opera and classical music, theatre, ballet, dance and physical theatre, presentation for children and young people, regional touring and cabaret.
Last year’s contemporary music winners included David Byrne and Frontier Touring for best international contemporary concert, Tim Minchin and Live Nation Australia for best Australian contemporary concert, and the experimental Mona Foma for best contemporary music festival.
The Helpmann decision comes on the heels of the axing of the New Zealand Gold Guitar Awards, and the New Zealand Country Music Awards.
Peak songwriters awards, the APRA awards, to be held April 28 at the International Convention Centre in Sydney, has abandoned its traditional live format for 2020. Instead it will be streamed online May 26.
Richardson added that not having to organize the Helpmanns would allow the LPA, along with other major music industry associations, to lobby for immediate survival and recovery funding from the Australian government.
“Our number one priority right now is to secure more government support for the hundreds of thousands of people across our industry who have lost income and work as a result of the shutdowns,” she said.
“We also want to make sure our industry is in the best position it can be to recover once the public health crisis passes, and bring back to millions of Australians the pleasure of live theatre and music presented by some of the world’s best creative talent.”
As reported in Pollstar, arts minister Paul Fletcher has expressed sympathy for the industry’s plight in meetings through March. But so far, no stimulus package for music and the arts has been announced.
The open letter by Live Nation Australasia’s CEO Roger Field, TEG CEO Geoff Jones, and Dion Brant and Susan Heymann, COO and MD, respectively, of Frontier Touring/Chugg Entertainment emphasized that the promoters were not asking for funds for themselves  (although “overnight, we lost all revenue for at least the next six months”)  “but for the people and businesses that we are unable to support during this time.”
They are urging a A$650 million ($399.3 million) industry package that will “provide the certainty required by the countless small companies, freelance operators, and specialised staff –  sound, lighting, rigging, drivers, venue, security, trucking and catering companies –  on whom our industry relies”.
Collectively, the companies employ over 1,000 full-time staff and contract up to 600 small businesses with 1,000 staff per night on larger tours.
The letter points out: “Our events underpin related businesses, such as venues, catering and security companies, which employ thousands more staff in order to serve the 10 million fans that attend our events each year.”
In separate interviews with newspapers, Michael Chugg of Chugg Entertainment commented that he expected Australian acts to start touring by late spring but it would take another 12 months before international tours began to visit.