The performing arts industry is hurting.
Unable to operate anywhere close to normal since mid-March, music venues, theaters and other spaces across the country have scraped by financially and gotten creative with digital offerings as they wait for COVID-19 metrics to improve and restrictions to be lifted.
To help drive home the urgency of their perilous situation, multiple Asheville-area arts businesses participated in #RedAlertRESTART on Sept. 1, bathing the exteriors of their respective buildings with red light. The show of solidarity was part of a nationwide effort to raise awareness and encourage Congress to pass the RESTART Act (S.3814) — which would provide economic relief to the live-events industry — as quickly as possible. Tied in with these efforts is support for ExtendPUA.org as it works toward the continuation and extension of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance to offer aid to industry workers who’ve been without work during the pandemic.
“All parts of the music industry are connected in one way or another, and we want to show our support for our friends and colleagues in live events,” says Jessica Tomasin, studio manager at Echo Mountain Recording, one of the #RedAlertRESTART participants. “So many people have been affected by the loss of the live industries — our clients at Echo, some of our employees who work in live production and myself as an independent event producer. It’s going to be a long time before we can all get back to working together again.”
Chelsey Lee Gaddy, managing artistic director for Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre in Mars Hill, first heard about #RedAlertRESTART and its associated movement from her mentor Jerome Davis, founder of Burning Coal Theatre Company in Raleigh. SART’s entire 2020 season was canceled because of the pandemic, and the company went from a summer staff of about 30 actors and technicians to one employee managing all facets of the nonprofit — at an 80% reduced salary. While virtual programming and profit splits with performers have helped, Gaddy says there’s no substitute for the paychecks that company members have been missing.
“We’ve heard multiple stories about our out-of-work actors and technicians having continual trouble filing for unemployment and other types of assistance because, unfortunately, many facets of our government do not understand the way that artists are paid,” she says. “Ironically, the food pantry that SART collected donations for during [our] Christmas show was one of the only ways I was able to feed my son and me, because signing up for food stamps took over a month for approval. Without the help of our donor community and board of directors, we would have been forced to shut down our nonprofit entirely.”