Guest Post: Bringing Back Live Together – There’s Too Much At Stake

 Orpheum Theatre
Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG
– Orpheum Theatre
A man wearing a mask walks past the Orpheum Theatre where the marque sign says Gone Fishing along Broadway during the Coronavirus Pandemic in Los Angeles on April 3, 2020.

As part of Pollstar‘s “The Comeback: Phase One” issue, we offer a guest posts from Jim Digby, the co-founder of Event Safety Alliance, principal of Show Makers, Inc., and the production manager for Linkin Park and Bill Silva Entertainment.  

Pollstar welcomes a diversity of opinions from across the live business. Guest posts solely represent the views of the writer and not necessarily the publication. Please send all submissions and comments to the editor at [email protected].

There’s little doubt that our industry is clamoring to get back to work. Beyond the obvious financial hardships the current pandemic has created, our instinctive need for community and creative expression makes most of us ill-suited for downtime and isolation. While we’ve managed to get by through Zoom calls and live streams, there’s nothing like LIVE to scratch our specific itches.

However, when we are finally given permission to begin again, the operational landscape will be profoundly different than it was just a few short months ago. Producing live events in a manner that minimizes the risks to our patrons and to an already fragile and beleaguered industry will arguably be the greatest professional challenge we have ever faced. With the onus of mitigation being placed on state and local jurisdictions, we will likely be looking at a patchwork of rules governing capacity, distancing, sanitation, health screening, and more. Our ability to operate in this new environment will require us to be creative in our approaches and proactive within our communities and legislatures. Comrades and competitors alike will need to show solidarity if we are to survive and thrive in the future.
Logic tells us that small, less intensive gatherings such as meetings, small clubs, weddings, and markets will be cleared to resume well before large entertainment events and venues. Ensuring that these sectors succeed without many of the financial and operational resources larger organizations take for granted will be necessary to build trust and comfort among the public and government decision-makers, and reduce as much as possible the potential for setting our industry further back.

The Event Safety Alliance (ESA) believes that our industry is well-positioned to define what “safe reopening” looks like for large and small events alike. 
In early March, ESA assembled a cross-sector working group of more than 200 entertainment, public sector, and medical professionals to begin compiling unified, vetted, reasonable, and scientifically- guided protocols for reducing potential exposure to coronavirus at live events. This initial guidance is targeted towards the smaller activations that will likely be opening first and contains considerations and recommendations for all phases of the event lifecycle and scale. Issues addressed include policy development, use of personal protective equipment, hygiene procedures and how to respond to potential exposure. Guidance will be applicable to operations in front of house, back of house, artists, vendor teams, and touring professionals.
Presently the guidance is in the first round of development, and will soon be entering a second, larger group peer review. Once complete, we will distribute the document to a much larger cross-section of the industry for a final round of public review. While this phased approach is similar to the normal standards development process, it is highly accelerated to ensure we can make the material accessible to those in areas that are already contemplating re-opening.
It is our hope that by providing this guidance to the industry, operators will have a clear framework for developing policies that suit their events and are consistent with others around the country. In areas where the reopening requirements are still being developed at the local and state level, ESA will be performing outreach to encourage officials to consider this guidance in their policy setting, and will be offering our assistance in helping them do so.
While crafting this guidance is important in helping to get our industry re-started, ESA believes that it’s never been more imperative to proceed with caution. Being “cleared” to restart events does not necessarily mean that doing so immediately is a prudent decision. We must balance our business needs with trusted advice from the medical community, and resist the urge to allow financial considerations to override sound health and safety practices. A COVID cluster that can be traced back to a live event could be damning to the entire industry, especially if appropriate prevention measures were not taken.
There’s simply too much at stake.