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Grand Theatre to glow red for national event raising awareness for pandemic-hit live event industry

The Grand Theatre in London, Ont.
The Grand Theatre in London, Ont. Sawyer Bogdan/980 CFPL

The Grand Theatre will be awash in a red glow Tuesday night to raise awareness of the impact the novel coronavirus has had on the live event industry, and to show support for those whose livelihoods were, and continue to be, disrupted by the pandemic.

The London landmark is among hundreds of businesses, concert halls, convention centres, performing arts centres, government buildings, theatres, and others across the country taking part in Day of Visibility for the Live Event Community.

The event is being spearheaded by Live Event Community, a Toronto-based organization formed to advocate for live event workers whose jobs remain impacted more than six months after the pandemic began, darkening performing arts spaces across the country.

As part of Day of Visibility, also known as #LightUpLive on social media, the Grand and more than 600 other structures nationwide will be lit in red starting at 8:30 p.m.

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“(It’s) to remind people of the importance of the entertainment industry and how much we rely on it, how much of an economic driver it is, and the importance of making sure that we’re here when COVID is over and we’re able to open back up,” said Deb Harvey, the Grand Theatre’s executive director.

As of August, as many as 40,000 workers in performing arts, spectator sports, and related industries across the county have lost their jobs since the pandemic began, down nearly 27 per cent from August 2019, according to the Canadian Association for the Performing Arts.

More than 6,500 jobs in the industry were lost in August alone, negating any job gains made since April.

“While the Canadian economy begins its rebound, the live performance sector is still observing alarmingly high rates of unemployment,” the association said earlier this month.

“Theatres and arts venues across the country have been doors closed for over five months due to social distancing restrictions and many organizations estimate they will be unable to resume semi-regular activities until 2021.”

Live Event Community is calling on the federal government to recognize the impacts the novel coronavirus has had on the live event industry, and is seeking ongoing financial support for workers until things return to normal and people get back to work.

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The Grand knows the impacts of the pandemic all too well. In June, the theatre postponed its 2020/21 season, set to begin next month, until the fall of 2021, and also put on pause a major cross-country tour of Cabaret.

“There is some wait and see, for sure, in terms of when we’re able to reopen in full capacity, but lots of organizations across the country are trying to do their bit in terms of trying to do some kind of programming,” Harvey said, noting digital initiatives and smaller backyard events some venues have put on.

“But large organizations like ours with 800 seats, we’re a long way from putting 800 people in a house.”

When the theatre closed in March, it was in the midst of preparations for the North American premiere of Room, a play based on the novel by Emma Donoghue, that was set to run that month.

The set, already built and ready for actors, stood on the main stage of the theatre for more than four months before it was dismantled and put in storage in the Grand’s scene shop, the hope being that the production could someday be held.

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The pandemic also brought to a grinding halt the theatre’s ambitious $8 million renovation project. Work ramped up again over the summer, and isn’t expected to impact Tuesday night’s lighting.

“We are a little bit lucky in that we have a renovation taking place, which takes us through to mid-March,” Harvey said.

“We’re using the time to do that, so we do have a project, we do have a focus, we do have a purpose. But we’re missing the artists that would usually be in our building.”

The Grand says it’s appreciative of the work done by the province and federal government when it comes to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, and various arts and heritage grants, but says the issue is far from over.

In London, the Grand will be joined by city hall, Budweiser Gardens, Fanshawe College, Palasad Socialbowl and Horizon Solutions in turning red.

Elsewhere, Stratford Festival is also expected to be lit in red Tuesday night, along with Stratford’s city hall, Stratford Public Library, and Stratford Summer Music.

More information on the Day of Visibility for the Live Event Community can be found here.

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How coronavirus-related cancellations are rocking the event-planning industry