Freelancers, technicians in arts and entertainment industry still uncertain about future

Freelancers, technicians in arts and entertainment industry still uncertain about future

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The extra $600 on unemployment checks from the federal government will be cut off at the end of July unless the government extends it, and people who still aren’t back to work are re-evaluating what to do.

Summer would normally be the middle of the busy season for the arts and entertainment industry, but after months of cancelled events, it’s unclear when things like concerts, plays and similar events will return.

Gareth Jones has had to change his tune this year. He’s used to working dozens of events from the spring into the summer, anything from concerts to trade shows to conventions. He usually has a lot of jobs lined up in different areas, including working as a stage manager, back-line technician and an audio engineer.

“It’s sort of the lifestyle,” Jones said. “This is a larger gap between gigs that I’ve ever had. I’ve had gaps between gigs and I know work is coming, it’s just tough to say.”

Jones hasn’t worked an event since early March. After more than 20 years in performance and music, Jones says he’s ready to work, but he’s finding ways to fill his time until then.

“I just finishing this now this little bench here, which has been a fun project,” Jones told WAVE 3 News. “It’s taken about a week to put together, but it’s occupied some time.”

He said he has a job lined up for a few weeks in September, but he’s still waiting to hear whether he will be working at the Kentucky State Fair.

Brittney Tassin, a member stagehands union IATSE Local 17, is normally the head of lighting at the Brown Theatre, in addition to other freelancing jobs at other venues throughout the city.

“Within the span of like 48 hours to five days, I watched the rug get pulled out from our entire industry nationwide,” Tassin said. “We’re also very resilient and we will pull through one way or the other, but I do fear the industry will lose a lot of talented people because we have to feed our families and we can only ride this out for so long.”

Tassin, who has been collecting unemployment, is starting to think about what to do when the extra $600 of federal money ends.

“I’ll be honest I started dusting off my resume yesterday because there is so much uncertainty,” Tassin said. “It’s very frustrating for those of us who have dedicated our lives to the industry.”

Tassin’s father was a sound engineer and she remembers growing up running around stages

“It’s not just a career for us. We’re really passionate and really dedicated to this art form and what we do. It’s not just about punching a clock every day and collecting a paycheck.”

She said some of the things she looks most forward to are the operas and the ballets every season.

“At this point, it’s looking like the industry probably won’t come back in a meaningful maybe before next summer or fall,” Tassin said. “I don’t know many people who can just sit on their couches for a year or year and a half even with state unemployment, let alone with the feds do. This is not minimum wage jobs we’re talking about here. The majority of them are highly-skilled, technical positions.”

Tassin said there are some local companies who have paid out IATSE Local 17 members for cancelled events.

Corie Caudill, a painter and theatre set designer, has gone from working to not working two times in the last four months. A PPP loan at Stage One Louisville allowed her to come back to work this summer for a few weeks, but she was laid off this week. Caudill refiled for unemployment this week while she waits to figure out what to do next.

“At this point, I’m trying to decide if I wait out what to do or if I completely restructure everything,” Caudill said. “Come up with a new career path, go work for something I don’t enjoy, which sounds terrible. I’m not cut out for doing jobs I don’t like.”

She said events and plays started getting cancelled in early March and then things kept getting pushed back.

“Just one after the other just cleared my calendar,” Caudill said. “I was working like 60 hour weeks and then 0 hour weeks all of a sudden.”

With backstage areas tight, Caudill and Tassin said it’s hard to social distance, and they are both unsure of when things will be able to come back.

“For every six-person band you see on stage, there is a small army of people behind the scenes that are making that happen,” Tassin said. “We’re used to not clapping and being the quiet invisible people in the back so it’s really uncomfortable for us to come speak out this way and start advocating for ourselves but this is our livelihoods and our industry on the line right now.”

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