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When the Show Can’t Go On: Live Event Companies Shift Gears to Help During COVID Crisis

FOH Staff • News • May 11, 2020
Health care workers take a moment to thank Upstaging, an event production company specializing in concert touring, who has been making protective face shields in its Sycamore, IL-based facilities.

Health care workers take a moment to thank Upstaging, an event production company specializing in concert touring, who has been making protective face shields in its Sycamore, IL-based facilities.

By Amanda Eberle Boyer, AVIXA

Companies that run live events are struggling, but they’re also finding new ways to do what they do best…

AVIXA understands the challenges facing live events companies during the COVID-19 pandemic and is inspired by the lengths to which many of those companies are going to support their employees and their communities. The Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association and its live events partners, including Freeman, have had their InfoComm tradeshow calendar upended by coronavirus, but take heart in how so many firms have stepped up to advocate for their industry and to apply their unique skills to this moment in time.

“This company, like every other in the events industry, is under siege by the pandemic,” wrote Freeman CEO Bob Priest-Heck. “Even though we have scaled back our operation until our customers can get back up and running, and our people are hurting, they have been incredibly supportive and gracious….Doing the right thing is standard operating procedure — not crisis control.”

Doing the Right Thing

Companies that support all types of live events — corporate meetings, concert tours, sporting events, Broadway productions, theme parks — have been doing the right thing. They’ve been fabricating supplies and erecting essential structures on harrowingly short notice in order to combat the pandemic and redeploy their people, resources and expertise to benefit their communities. They’ve been doing what they do best, but in a whole new context.

In better times, Torrance, California-based Choura Events would have been working the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival this April and basking in the afterglow of South By Southwest, for which it builds tents, facilities and staging. But in early March, the former was postponed, and the latter canceled outright. With concert and festival calendars effectively frozen, Choura Events began building temporary medical facilities for hospitals and local governments to help treat COVID-19 patients.

“We pivoted so fast to being a rapid-response disaster relief team,” company founder Ryan Choura told the Los Angeles Times. “If I didn’t know how to do Coachella, I couldn’t do this hospital.”

Similarly, companies like Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania-based Mountain Productions, which normally provides rigging and staging for a variety of events, from the Boston Calling Music Festival, to university commencements, to the NFL Draft, are offering to build temporary emergency relief structures. Mountain Productions has taken its existing expertise in logistics, fabrication, engineering, and field support to create modular hospital facilities, testing centers, temporary living spaces and more.

“We wanted to harness the unique capabilities of the entertainment industry,” said Mountain Productions Chief Executive Office Ricky Rose, describing how live events companies traditionally create structures and facilities under very tight time constraints. “You can retrofit something like the [New York City] Javits Center, but then you have rural communities without large public spaces that may not have a convention center. Our systems you can put in quickly, and they can be location-based right near existing medical centers.”

Manufacturing Needed Supplies

Mountain Productions is also manufacturing antimicrobial protective gowns at its facility in Dublin, Ireland, for healthcare systems around the world. As expert as they are at creating temporary structures, many live events companies are also adept at fabrication, with the production infrastructure in place to contribute in other ways.

Upstaging, an event production company specializing in concert touring, has been making protective face shields in its Sycamore, Illinois-based facilities.

 

Sensing the need, Upstaging switched gears to produce face masks.

        Sensing the need, Upstaging switched gears to produce protective face shields.

“Face shields are something we realized people would really need,” said Upstaging General Manager John Huddleston. “So we made a prototype, worked all weekend, and sent out info and samples to people who might want them — fire stations, police departments, and emergency response places, as well as the state of Illinois.”

In a matter of days, the company generated interest from groups in need and started taking orders.

“We have all kinds of capabilities for our rock and roll clients who call with crazy ideas, and we always have to move fast,” Huddleston said. “Nobody on the live events side has any lead time, so we started moving fast…. This is not a profit center for us; this is a survival center.”

Production Resource Group (PRG), which does live event, entertainment and scenic production, answered the call from New York State to help make personal protective equipment. PRG Scenic Technologies in New Windsor, New York, is working in partnership with NYU Langone Health to manufacture face shields and masks for health workers.

“If you have a functioning shop with basic capabilities you should be able to do this,” said Alexander Donnelly, Vice President of Corporate Development at PRG says. “It should only take a few days to set up.”

Being Available to the Community

The company also inventoried its production equipment to determine what could be best redeployed for emergency service operations, such as radios, speakers and headsets, power distribution and lighting, and more. PRG has made much of it available to local organizations through its 31 depots around the world.

“Our goal has been to shift focus from being dedicated to the live events space to supporting emergency responders and health departments,” Donnelly said.

It’s hard to imagine a future without live events, even as the present situation is quite clear. Regular surveys by AVIXA Market Intelligence indicate the cancellation of events and projects is seriously impacting the business of creating audiovisual experiences. Some 68 percent of AV companies, including live events firms, have seen their revenues decline — many significantly.

But eventually, the pandemic will pass. In the meantime, live events companies are doing everything in their power to position themselves for a more hopeful future, not only for themselves and their employees (“We’re doing all we can to keep our staff employed and on our payroll,” said Upstaging’s Huddleston), but also for the people who will eventually flock to their events again.

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Amanda Eberle Boyer is Senior Director of Membership Service at AVIXA, the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association. AVIXA represents the $247 billion global commercial AV and live events industries. For more information, visit www.avixa.org. David Johnson, a consultant for AVIXA, veteran of the live events industry, and Managing Director of the Live Experience Group, also contributed to this report.

To join the conversation with AVIXA, visit www.avixa.org/business-survival.

 

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