Entertainment and events industry lights venues in ‘Red Alert’ for business hard hit by coronavirus

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SPRINGFIELD — Production companies and stagehands who normally put on shows and events will light up their venues in red Tuesday as a “red alert” meant to draw attention to the finical predicament they are in due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We were the first ones to shut down. We’ll be the last ones to get back to any sense of normalcy,” said Jim Powers, owner of CJC Lighting and Production in West Springfield. “We are just letting people know we’re still here.”

Venues will be lighted up red from 9 p.m. to midnight.

It’s the local manifestation of the national #WeMakeEvents movement, which aims to let the public know how the industry is suffering and push for the reinstatement of the additional $600-a-week unemployment benefit, which expired in July. Those associated with the movement plan to light up 1,500 venues across the county, including these in the Pioneer Valley:

  • Springfield Symphony Hall
  • Springfield City Hall
  • Springfield Campanile Clock Tower
  • One Financial Plaza, Springfield
  • The MassMutual Center, Springfield
  • Monarch Place, Springfield
  • Tower Square, Springfield
  • Chez Josef, Agawam
  • The Log Cabin, Holyoke
  • Memorial Hall, Shelburne Falls
  • Academy Of Music Theatre, Northampton
  • CJC Lighting and Events, West Springfield
  • Theatrix, Belchertown

In Worcester, the DCU Center and other venues will be lighted as well.

Powers said that, with an office in Boston as well as West Springfield, CJC normally puts together weddings and other events with 200 guests and $150,000 budgets.

Today, with the coronavirus restrictions, the company is scraping by using videoconferencing technology to do remote weddings and virtual corporate meetings.

Michael W. Zaskey, founder, president and owner of Zasco Productions in Chicopee, said 90% of his business is canceled. That’s 81 events where he and his company would do the lighting, video, audio and other presentation work. He’s laid off most of his staff of five full-time and 12 part-time workers.

Like Powers, he’s doing video work for remote learning. Instead of setting up big corporate meetings, it’s a video hookups requiring less work and fewer people.

Downtown Springfield

Architectural lights on Symphony Hall, the Campanile and City Hall on Court Street in downtown Springfield. (MARK M. MURRAY/THE REPUBLICAN)Staff-Shot

Zaskey knows that businesses are continuing to reopen. But the gradual loosening of restrictions won’t help the event and entertainment industries for a long time.

“Live events are planned months or years in advance,” Zaskey said. “We are still a year away from ramping back up to the sales levels where we were.”

He said it leaves a false impression when someone says an annual event is postponed. If it’s not happening this year, it’s not business for his company, and might never be business for him again.

“Fundamentally everything we do is about gathering people together in proximity. Until there is a vaccine — as the governor has said — we will be disallowed,” he said.

Brenda Shepard is the house lighting director at the Hanover Theatre in Worcester and part of the stagehands union. She said only one person is working out of the 45 members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 232 in Northampton and Amherst. The numbers are similar in Worcester and Springfield.

“All the theaters are dark. The touring companies are not out,” she said. “Events that used to draw hundreds are now down to drawing five people.”

Organizers said the unemployment benefit wouldn’t just help families make ends meet, it would keep people in the profession, and not in other jobs, so there is a workforce when the industry does come back.

“We want to go back to work,” Shepard said. “This is what we do, this is what we love.”

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