Having lived through a year like no other, lighting and event professionals look to 2021 with a mixture of hope, determination, trepidation, and (most important of all) courage. To learn more about how our industry is preparing for the challenges that lay ahead, we interviewed a cross section of lighting and staging professionals from across the world. Here is what they had to say:
“Many are better qualified than I to consider our business future post-pandemic. I do know one thing for sure: we miss the live audience. And the audience misses the opportunity to gather together. The potential elevation of the performer/audience connection is the rai·son d’ê·tre, the beating heart, of show business after all. Performers perform and audiences gather to enjoy themselves, to be transported – together. We technical craft types work in this business seeking that same elevation. When it is again feasible to assemble in numbers, I anticipate the emotional high will be epic.”
“I fear that 2021 will be another difficult year that will test the resilience and creativity of our industry. Personally, I feel that the only way for us is to diversify as much as possible including virtual performance but not limiting to streaming and XR. More research and R&D are required in VR from our side. The game industry is looking at the live performance as another avenue of income. If our industry doesn’t come up with solutions , we will be cut out of a potentially life-saving side stream income. I’m confident we will have a return to gigs in 2021 but the size and scope of these might be limited .”
“If we have learned anything from this pandemic, it is that it keeps us on our toes in terms of timeline. My ideas of timeline and when we will get back to work have shifted so much since this thing started that it makes me nervous to try to get behind the proverbial ’Magic 8 Ball’ to predict our return.
“This all to say, I do have very cautious optimism that we will see a slow return to live shows next year. I am hopeful that many of the festivals are able to come back in 2021, and with that some outdoor tours start to pop in there as well. With the excellent news of the vaccines, improvements in treatment, and increased efficiency in rapid testing, I feel like we could see outdoor shows happening in June and beyond next year.
“The thing that we have going in our favor is that people are starving for human-to-human connection, and the live experience. People are all so ‘virtualed-out’ at this point that they crave feeling the bass vibrating in their chest, tasting a cold beer beneath the night sky, and smelling the dude three rows over smoking some stinky winky. The live experience is bigger than just ‘great.’”
M&M Production Management
Sweden and USA
“I believe that there is a fair chance for our industry to come back in small steps during the latter half of 2021. I think the spring and summer tours and events are lost, but maybe the restrictions can lighten up a bit in the fall and we can get at least some audience into the shows.
However, I’m afraid we’ll never get back to what we refer to as ‘normal.’ There will be a new normal, with restrictions to live events that we’ve not had in the past. These restrictions will increase the costs of productions for sure.
The vaccine will absolutely have an impact if enough citizens agree to get the shots so we reach herd immunity. But it will take years for our industry to fully recover, if ever.
We also lost a lot of brilliant crew in 2020. Both to the pandemic, but also to other trades. When the business came to a complete halt, a lot of people stood without an income overnight, and were forced to find income elsewhere. Surely and hopefully, many of them will come back when things are starting to roll again, but some will not.
But regardless of what shape and form the industry will take, the people out there will be starving for live entertainment. Maybe more than ever before. I cannot wait for that day to happen!
“I guess it will take two years for the lighting industry to recover completely. Hopefully, we can see some measures opening up early next year. The vaccines will help. It will take a few months to see the results though. I am assuming the industry will recover in phases. Maybe starting 50-100 fans max events for phase 1, then slowly 100-300 max for phase 2. and so on. In Singapore, we are doing this type of phased in approach and opening up slowly. Overall, our industry will change as a result of the pandemic. There will always be more social distancing and more healthcare related paperwork. Hopefully we can get back to enjoy what we do best.”
John P. Marovich
“It’s challenging to think of all the ways our industry will be different post-pandemic. What I can speak to with certainty is the entertainment community’s ability to adapt and overcome change. We’ve all got our own reasons for having chosen this path, but it’s safe to say that none of us chose this career because it was easy. As we emerge from the “Dark Stages,” we have an opportunity to share our craft with culture-starved audiences who have a renewed appreciation for the fellowship and magic that takes place within the walls of a theatre. My wish for 2021 is that we’re able to leave the pain and division of this time behind us and reenter our venues with grace. Whatever challenges we face as the doors open will only add to the integrity of our work. Now is the time to share the visions that have been dancing in our heads.”
West Lake Village, CA
“Like most of us who are involved in live events; it’s been 10 months since I’ve been onsite at an “in person” festival. In addition to that, many of the design/build contracts that were queued up have been suspended or terminated.
“The unpredictable maelstrom that is Covid-19, has had a violent impact on our daily routine, both work and personal life. With that said, I am a stubborn man and won’t quit till I’m in the ground. I feel that my colleagues in this industry share this philosophy. We fight, we adapt, we survive. The saying “the show must go on” has taken new meaning and when we reach the end of this — and we will — the show will go on.
My perspective changes daily from the “eternal optimist” to the “harsh realist,” back and forth, but ultimately we will return — it’s inevitable. When that will happen? I can speculate with the best. I’m hopeful that we can back to it as quickly as possible, obviously. Vaccines are beginning to roll-out, and we are working on shows for Q2 2021. While that seems ambitious, considering what we are up against. We are preparing for a full-scale return – trying to keep the “engine warm” so to speak.
Our industry has been hit hard, but if you look past that – and look at the people that work in entertainment and live events – you already know that they are fighters, resilient and strong. And while we have all been getting our asses kicked the past 10 months and probably have a few more to go when shows come back, you will see the personnel come back with it all the men and women that comprise this amazing industry… a family of like-minded creatives. We will be ready. Stay strong – don’t give up the fight. See you at FOH.”
Ruurlo, The Netherlands
“The vaccines will have a positive impact. At a press conference by our minister-president and the minister of health-care, it was stated that the vaccine as the key to cancel some or all of the measures taken. They stated that we can expect that the most of the measures will be cancelled when enough people has taken the vaccine. The time-frame they stated was mid-2021. I hope that the immunity of us all will help in going back to normal:
“Yes, I expect at the second half of 2021 to have some concerts. It won’t be the very big ones, as they need to take at least a year of preparations. That’s why I expect that the event industries won’t come back at full force when the lock-down and social distancing measures are over: it will take at least one full year to have the industry of events and concerts fully rolling. Hotels, restaurants and cafés can be theoretically open only one day after all the measures are cancelled. In our industry the big events will take for at least take a year of preparations. The event-organizer can’t simply call AC/DC if they want to play at their festival the next day: that kind of preparations will take for at least a year.
“There will be quite a few changes. Firstly: in the Netherlands we do have lots of events and festivals, our industry is quite big comparing it to other countries. I’ll expect more small festivals, as I see many organizers did organize “terrace festivals” last summer. I expect that this concept will stay, as I heard many organizers that they liked it. Secondly: I expect that many employees and freelancers will leave the industry. That will be a problem, as a lot of knowledge will be lost. Already, I saw already many shortages on available crew in the summer of 2019, before the coronavirus. Sadly, I also expect that some bigger companies won’t make it through. It’s a sad thing to talk about this.”
I see a lot of people who used to work in the events industry have left it and moved into completely different industries. Some have moved over into similar roles, such as stage lighting design and commercial lighting design where there is an overlap and they’re willing to learn. With limited support and major uncertainty, for a non-essential service, one can totally see why. Some moves will be permanent.
“Question is, will techs, engineers, designer return? I believe not everyone will but for those that do, it will be relative to the rate in which the industry does actually recover. So, slowly and cautiously. Those that do return should return with perhaps honed skillsets (thanks to the imposed gift of time) which will of course, be of benefit to them and the industry. Who didn’t decide to brush up on their console skills or finally get around to overhauling their documentation?
“For live events, any recovery will also depend on what is allowed and of course. This will vary from country to country. I’m seeing some concerts starting to happen with the audience socially distanced. Fewer people mean less money for concert infrastructure. International artists may decide this won’t work for them and your average person may not be willing to spend more money to make up the shortfall of paying people. So, this might only work in the short term.
“This being said, I think corporate events will slowly move away from the virtual world and back into the normal because again, relatively less audience and more allocation of funding. I believe corporate events won’t stay online forever and the people who work on live events usually have background and experience in the corporate world
“The rebound of the live events industry will certainly take some time as we enter 2021. Of course, everyone’s earlier predictions leaned toward a much earlier spring back to some semblance of normality, but that was well before a heavier than expected second wave, social divisionism, political upheaval, and an unreasonable delay in a second round of pandemic relief for small businesses from the US government.
“Sadly, with the latter l being withheld for so long, many of the companies in our industry are in immediate jeopardy; some have already closed shop. With this effecting manufacturers, vendors, producers, and design firms alike, no one throughout the technical services chain has remain unscathed and the realistic outlook for our industry’s recovery remains a limited one. Gatherings clearly look to remain restricted well into Q2 of ’21, which means that broadcast and webcast entertainment will remain being the predominant sector.
“One thing that seems to be unanimously agreed upon is that broadcast/webcast elements will continue to be a part of the live events sector as mass gatherings are allowed to resume. When live events begin to start up again, we will absolutely see these elements integrated into them, particularly those within the corporate theater markets. These elements are here to stay mainly because producers have had it made clear to them through experience in 2020 that they can reach a larger audience and attain extended remote attendance through broadcast and webcast technologies. This allows corporations to broaden the delivery of their message as well as allow for-profit events to broaden their ticket sales possibilities.
“One thing is for sure. We have a lot of professionals who are eagerly awaiting their opportunity to return to the work that they love.”
“With COVID-19’s long-awaited end in sight, many questions arise of what live theatre will be like once it returns more than a year after going dark. I think there are several things that will affect the industry as it returns to life. I believe, at first, we will see smaller audiences, as either people are still a bit nervous about gathering in large numbers or maybe they cannot afford a ticket (plus a meal out, a babysitter, etc.) due to the economic hardships resulting from the pandemic.
“We may see ourselves designing smaller shows or more co-productions in an effort to save money as the theatres resume operations in the current economic climate. But also, I think audiences are going to want happier, uplifting productions, shows that bring us back to what theatre is so good at: escapism from the struggles of everyday life and particularly from the monotony of quarantine. As reflected in the Federal Arts Project of his 1930s New Deal, FDR knew that people need entertainment to just forget about life for a moment.
“Another and more important impact as we return to the theatre is this year’s social reckoning with racial injustice, which, combined with the COVID-19 shutdown, has laid the groundwork for a reimagining of the industry at a unique moment where there is space for reflection and an opportunity to pivot toward greater inclusivity and a diversity of voices in our work.
“I am hopeful that we not only see this reflected in upcoming seasons’ programming but also, and just as important, in the rejuvenation of education and outreach programs of every regional theatre. I think it is our duty to introduce theatre in schools and to students who have traditionally been excluded or underrepresented in the theatre community and who have not always seen themselves reflected onstage. We must do better than we have in the past. We have an obligation to show everyone the power of the arts at the youngest age and help their imagination and talent blossom.
I think the 2021-2022 theatre season will be a year of transitions, comprised both of shows held over from Spring/Summer 2020 and a sprinkling of smaller-scale shows as theatre companies get back up and running. Once we get into 2022, I think the new, more inclusive world of theatre will start to be more fully realized. I am optimistic it is full of BIPOC artists and shows that are more inclusive in all ways—from casting to creative teams—representing all cultures, race, gender, and backgrounds. I truly believe that in Fall 2022, we will not only be back up and running but in a stronger, better fashion than we were in February 2020. It will not be easy, but with the work of talented leaders and community members, we can make it a reality.”
Lighting Designer/Lighting Director at Billie Eilish
“As Yoda said, ‘Hard to see, the future is.’ I have the greatest hopes that things will start to begin to resume, but we must temper our expectations. Shows cannot all resume right away, so try to think of it like a relay race. We are all own the track waiting for that baton to get passed to us to start running. As the vaccine is distributed and statistics begin to improve that theoretical baton will be passed and more can resume shows.
“I do believe the vaccine will have a positive impact, but it won’t make Covid-19 just go away. It isn’t a cure, but it will keep us safer and help us fight the virus and resume living a little closer to normal. There definitely will be permanent changes to the industry because of this pandemic. When we get our chance to return there will be guidelines we must follow and there will be COVID-19 agents onsite making sure we follow the new guidelines that include wearing a mask, temperature checks, testing every couple of days, etc.
“We will see some familiar faces return on crews, but we will also see some new ones. Budgets will be tighter and we will more than likely start with a tighter number of tour staff. However, we will eventually work our way back up to full staff but, that will take time. The same goes for indoor shows. We will see more outdoor shows first, then eventually make our way back to bigger attendance for indoor shows. It’s all pretty scary but we must persevere, and persevere we will.”
House LD, The Birchmere
“The year 2020 has been a tough for the entire world, but especially our industry. I’ve been lucky that our venue has been able to partly reopen and stay alive. We’re not doing great but we’re still here. I do think that we’ll all recover, at least those that it’s not too late for. The audiences will be less afraid to go to a show once the vaccines are out in force and I believe that will be soon. Once the audiences return the business in general will come back strong I’m sure. We’ll probably continue with disinfecting and mask wearing and I think we should. People should be used to wearing masks by now and it will help keep any illness not just COVID-19 from spreading, good for the world in general.
Relentless Entertainment Design
“In my opinion 2021, will be a slow start in the entertainment industry. I have said since Day One of the announced pandemic that our industry will be following in the footsteps of the NFL; we would see how they cleared the hurdles regarding crowds and players, and we would modify accordingly.
“At this point, the NFL is encountering some crushing difficulties that would have devastated the live music industry; talent being stricken by the disease, coaches and staff –their tour managers and crews — ignoring protocols and ultimately being saddled with huge fines.
“There needs to be a comprehensive and consistent standard that the touring and live entertainment industry will have to abide by, with the rules being defined by the professional industry itself, and not just the government and medical fields issuing rulings.
Once a true game plan is established and understood by those working in our field, we can start to implement the protocols and determine when we can start putting shows on again.
“I have confidence that those in our industry have the ability to adapt and overcome, but as we are discussing everything from EDM festivals to club tours, its critically important to get all the players to agree to a single base protocol needs to be choreographed sooner rather than later.”
LD Longborough Town Hall
“I believe the event industry, and specifically the technical sector will make a recovery to pre-Covid levels, but I feel this will be sometime yet. My job calendar is looking incredibly empty with only one ‘possible’ event currently scheduled for 2020, compare that to a year ago when I was in a fortunate position to be looking at a full calendar and believing 2020 was the year for me. I think it will take a long time for some of this to rebuild, as our clients will become increasingly cash strapped and unable to invest as heavily in what they may see as ‘luxury extras’.
“I am however incredibly optimistic of the impact the numerous vaccines will have, as I cannot see any other way in which this pandemic will draw to an end. The roll out of the first of these vaccinations appears to be going well, and work is well underway to develop many buildings into vaccination centres. I believe this is critical as the statistics in the UK show that any level of restriction other than tier-three are ineffective in controlling the spread of the virus.
“I am not expecting to do any shows in a socially distanced format, as I feel the uncertainty around changing government rulings makes them unviable. The council venue I work for has announced closure until the start of March, taking us to a full year of closure.
I feel some of the behaviours we have all learned during this pandemic will take a while to fade, but ultimately we will revert to the old ways we all know. It will be a strange site to see a full auditorium again, and to be huddled together with arms around each other for the obligatory cast and crew photographs.
“Whilst I believe a lot of the changes will be long lasting, I do not believe they will be permanent. The financial and behavioural challenges will remain for some time, but we are an industry of highly passionate people who love their jobs. The corporate world may also take a temporary hit, as conferencing may remain online for slightly longer, however I genuinely do not believe this will ever be a replacement for in person meetings and conferences.
“I think we can all agree Zoom and Teams meetings just aren’t as engaging as real-life gatherings, which is hardly surprising as humans are a social race, and we thrive off of interacting with each other. Working at a supermarket has taught me how lucky we all are to have jobs we value and cherish, and to work with some truly amazing people. As an industry, we are also incredibly fortunate to have a strong and loyal audience. Whether that be those who love theatre, or people who just love to see and hear live music, I am certain of one thing, they will be back and we will once again, make events.”
“Buckle up! 2021 may be around the corner but the end to the pandemic is not. I typically play the role of the optimist but there is a stark reality that this pandemic has been turned into a political chess piece rather than a rallying cry to unite and defeat an invisible enemy.
However, I do see a silver lining. We are all inside, separate yet together. I hope we channel our frustrations and energy into something creative. We could foster a new generation of great artists as this is the first true hardship my generation will face. ”
“The year 2021 definitely looks positive. Things may not roll out quickly but hopefully once the vaccine is out I look forward to things opening up shortly thereafter. Surely life is not going to be the same as before. It will definitely be mellow. We have to make sure everyone from the industry survives and makes up for their losses in 2020 with a super 2021.”
“As vaccines slowly start to impact on the pandemic, I think the key issue in the first half of 2021 is confidence. The confidence of producers and investors to work towards a reopening of the industry when those efforts can grind to a halt at a moment’s notice (as witnessed in London before Christmas), and also the confidence of audiences to congregate in the numbers required to make the industry viable again.”
“In this time, we are clear that we are not going back to the massive shows and stages filled with people.
I wish the lighting design community will then offer extend knowledge and experience through the digital platforms, to help those that want to continue learning and exploring!”