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2020:  We’re Built for This

2020: We’re Built for This

Rehearsals, paper techs, walkthroughs… these are things that most of us are quite familiar with.  Why do we rehearse ad nauseam before a show?  We do it to make sure that we are as prepared as possible in the event that something goes wrong (as things sometimes do).  It is the very nature of live events to prepare for the unexpected.  We pride ourselves on being ‘cool under pressure’ and yearn for the opportunity to ‘sit in the hot seat’.

On top of that, we are not a monolith.  We’re a diverse bunch.  The live events industry is comprised of people of all ages, from all backgrounds, and all walks of life.  But, whether you’re new to the industry or an O.G. from the analog days, I truly believe that we are all cut from the same cloth, in a way.  We don’t falter and backdown when a graphics machine goes down, when a mic stops working for no reason at all, or when a projector decides it’s time to kick the bucket… we rise to the occasion and make it happen.

We’re built for this.

Like many of you, my year was off to a great start.  January and February were slammed with shows, and the entire year was filling up nicely with gigs for clients, both new and old.  But during the first week of March, on a show in Orlando, the virus that we had all been hearing about and had naively been hoping would stay overseas began to become very real.

It was on the second day of show that I received word of a cancelation for a gig that I had booked in April.  That was tough to swallow, as all cancelations are, but I was ready to adjust and move on to the next one.  Most of the crew remained pretty optimistic about the virus avoiding the U.S. entirely or being nothing more than a small blip on the radar.

However, on the third day of show, the cancelations began to flood my inbox like a bad dream.  It seemed like every time I received an email notification, it was for a future show that was being canceled due to concerns about COVID-19.  My friends and colleagues on the crew felt it too.  First it was one show, then two, then three…  By the end of the event, I had received a total of 8 show cancelations, and the next two months were now completely bare.

What we faced then, we continue to face now.  I had never had that much time off in my entire career in live events.  On top of that, there was no certainty about anything.  What do I do now?  Is it even safe to go out to try and find work?  How long will this go on?  How am I going to pay my bills?  How am I going to feed my family?  The live events industry has been hit about as hard as any industry, and this period of time has tested all of us like nothing ever has before.

But then I remember:  We’re built for this.

If there was ever a resilient crew who knew how to adapt in the face of adversity and unexpected change, it’s this crew.  It’s each and every one of us.  We know how to handle stress, and we know how to come up with solutions.  I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am of the people that make up this industry.  So many of you have inspired me with your refusal to be stalled; for your insistence on growing and on developing new skills.  From colleagues who dove into the online space and embraced streaming meetings, to friends pushing the envelope of what is possible with mixed and virtual reality, to those who have had to take other jobs just to make ends meet – I am proud of every one of you.  I’m proud just to be associated with you.

And just to be real, the past 6 months haven’t been easy.  It’s not easy to watch your industry disappear overnight and to see your friends and colleagues suffer.  It’s not easy to see companies and peers who have become friends and family close up and shut their doors.  This has been a terrible period of time with a great deal of suffering, even for those of us who have avoided the health impacts of COVID.  Many of us have dealt with depression and a lack of hope.  While I have done my best to stay productive and to continue learning while not working, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have my fair share of down days.

But, that’s normal.  And you know what?  It’s okay, too.  We may work with some of the most amazing pieces of gear and technology around, but we’re still human.  We still face fears and doubts about life and the future, especially in the midst of this pandemic.  It has been during this time that I have leaned on my relationships and friendships to help me get by.  We are here for each other.  Like a good crew, we’ve got each other’s backs.  And, like the people we are, we will find a way to make it through this unprecedented year of change.

For me, aside from sharpening my skills on disguise and teaching myself all, there is to know about vMix and Zoom, I’ve been working at a restaurant for the past 4 months to stay busy and to help make ends meet.  I’m not ashamed of it in the slightest because it’s what I’ve had to do to get by and to keep a level head.

This time in our lives will be memorable for so many reasons.  I, for one, am trying to make this chapter of my life into a success story.  I want to look back on this year and talk about it in terms of overcoming adversity and finding opportunity and creativity in unexpected places.

The fact is, we probably won’t have major live events again until sometime in the middle of 2021.  Our clients still have needs, and a great deal of meetings have transitioned over to video conferencing platforms.  While these online meetings might get the job done, they don’t quite capture the experience and the magic of live events.

As I begin to take on more and more work in this new realm, it’s cathartic and exciting because it feels like things are coming back.  ‘Normal’ feels like it’s but an arm’s length away.  But deep down, I know that ‘normal’ isn’t coming back.  The industry has forever changed as a result of this pandemic.  Yes, we will have in-person events again, but they will probably be a little bit different.  No matter what, video conferencing will be a staple of meetings and live events moving forward.  Changes and unforeseen avenues will be the new norm for a while.

But what I’ve come to learn and know over my 10 years in the live events industry is that, if anyone can handle it, it’s us.  We are talented, we are driven, we are diverse, we are resilient.  2020 has been a real gut punch to us all, but we will get through this.  We will overcome this year with poise, creativity, professionalism, and good old-fashioned grit.  We know no other way.

We’re built for this.

To those of you who have suffered the loss of loved ones as a result of this pandemic – my heartfelt thoughts, prayers, and condolences.