Entertainment Industry Workers Stare Down an Uncertain Future Amid Coronavirus Pandemic (Column)

Hi Way Drive In Theater New York Closed Coronavirus
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This week’s compelling cover story by Brent Lang and Gene Maddaus puts an emotional human face on the catastrophic impact that the pandemic and resulting economic cataclysm is having on hundreds of thousands of workers who’ve lost their jobs or been furloughed without pay.

These are the people who make up the backbone of the film, television, music and live theater industries. They are not the A-listers earning tens of millions of dollars a year, but the workaday actors, camera operators, makeup artists, theme park ride operators, stagehands, crew members and others who work in physical production. Those who live paycheck to paycheck are struggling to pay their rent and wrestling to get unemployment benefits. They are facing an unknown future, petrified about how long it will be before they can get back to work.

Production across the globe has been shut down for more than a month now, with still no clarity about when cameras will start rolling or when most cinemas will reopen and Broadway, Off Broadway and London’s West End stages will go live again. Some companies are drawing up back-to-work plans for what sets might look like with social distancing measures in place.

And the governors of some states, including Georgia and Texas, have allowed theaters to reopen, though the major circuits are refusing to turn the lights on until at least July, when they hope to have new studio releases to show.

But even when entertainment venues reopen, who knows how long it will take for people to feel comfortable enough to frequent them and risk being exposed to the virus?

Again, the worst thing for those who have lost their livelihoods in this crisis is not knowing when the business will come back.

Choreographer Alistair David, an unemployed worker quoted in our cover story, was in rehearsals for a U.K. production of “Sister Act” and scheduled to work on a music version of “My Best Friend’s Wedding” in the West End when everything came to a screeching halt.

He speaks for so many when he says, “It’s not knowing the end of this that’s unbearable. There’s no timeline for when things go back to normal. I’m just staring into the abyss of the unknown.”