The human cost of the pandemic on entertainment

“I’ve lost people and the industry has lost people because they don’t have the mental or financial support that they so desperately need.”

Jai mcdowall

These are the harrowing words of a successful entertainer who has witnessed first-hand the industry shut down caused by the pandemic. Performers banned from the West End’s bright showbiz lights, now confined to unaffordable flats at London’s inflated prices. From performing in front of crowds of faces, to auditions on zoom to an unfriendly blank screen. Even after a year, the situation is so uncertain that performers are being left in a constant state of limbo. It’s clear the entertainment industry has gone through the most damaging time in its history. But there’s one thing that hasn’t been talked about.  

Ten years after winning Britain’s Got Talent, Jai McDowall explains the distressing impact of the pandemic on the entertainment industry.

He said:

“It got to a point where I started to witness so much injustice, towards our sector and towards the people I loved and cared about.

I’ve lost people and the industry has lost people because they don’t have the mental or financial support that they so desperately need.

There are many people that simply aren’t here anymore because they couldn’t handle it, and those are the people that the government have failed.”

However, it’s not only mental health that has impacted the performers’ community. Lockdowns have resulted in many people losing jobs they had lined up, pushing them into financial difficulty. With £1.57 billion of culture recovery funding by the UK government, the Arts Council were able to distribute vital finance to keep cultural organisations afloat. However, some people say this hasn’t been enough to protect individuals who are also not entitled to the self-employment grant.

Speaking of the financial effects of the industry, Russell Hawkins, musical theatre agent at Chris Davis Management, said:

“Lockdown and coronavirus have caused absolute havoc. The industry as a whole is pretty much on its knees, particularly live theatre and concerts.”

“A lot of my clients have had to turn to doing all sorts of other work, working in supermarkets and working for the NHS, just to supplement their incomes.”

Rachael Chomer, musical theatre performer, had two shows cancelled when the pandemic hit. When the stay-at-home announcement was announced, the cast were in dress rehearsals preparing for the opening night when the performance was brought to a dramatic halt. She explains the impact of the virus and having to transfer her skills.

She said:

“Financially it’s been really tough because there have not really been any performing jobs, here or abroad, to fall back on.

Teaching in performing arts in person has stopped, so it’s been hard to transfer everything online.”

Photo by Lucas Law on Unsplash

Even when there was a glimmer of hope with the opening of pantomimes, an increase of cases and the spread of the new variant of coronavirus paused live shows once more.

Olivia Bailey, musical theatre performer, said:

“My career’s really been impacted by COVID from things such as having auditions being cancelled because of the uncertainty of whether shows can go ahead.

“All of this alongside having to fight for the self-employed grant to cover a decent amount of our income.

“It just felt like the arts, and theatre especially has been forgotten during this time.”

The question is, will the nation-wide vaccine delivery rebuild the industry that’s so reliant on tourism? Will this be the beginning of the end, in the year that live entertainment locked its doors? But more importantly, when will performers get the mental health support they actually need?

Russell Hawkins said:

“It’s just a case of trying to stay positive and focused as we definitely have a light at the end of the tunnel now with the vaccine rollout.

“We’ve just got to get over that rocky path to the horizon and get back to some sense of normality within the industry.”

Its sentiment is echoed by Jai who remains hopeful towards the industry recovery. He said:

“More needs to be done, and hopefully it’s not too late”

(Feature image by Photo by Kyle Head on Unsplash)

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