For the last 25 years, I have worked in media and entertainment. I have stood at meet-and-greets with people as they cry when they meet their favourite artists. They share stories of how the music they created got them through a tough time in their life. How one of their songs was played at a wedding or a funeral. How the show they went to back in 1992 was the best night of their lives. I have watched from side-of-stage as musical theatre brings thousands of people to their feet as they sing the show stopper. I have watched as plays made the audience laugh, cry and think about the subject matter differently.
I have seen pure joy and happiness brought to you by the creative mind, the talented soul and last month I watched their collective hearts break into a million little pieces as they were told they were disposable. As the horrible reality of the virus began to take its toll, festival after festival and show after show has been cancelled. I saw people who had planned to attend talking online about how disappointed they were and when they would get a refund. My mind went straight to the artists, the sound techs, the road crew, the publicists, the lighting guys the stage crew, the event staff and the food vans. Unlike a regular 9 to 5 job, you can spend months promoting a gig, paying for marketing and none of those people gets paid until the gig happens. What do you do when months-worth of work now amounts to nothing? What do you do when every gig you have booked for the next six months goes away?
No one is complaining. Everyone is keen to do what they can for the collective good of the nation. It’s worth mentioning, however, that even before this crisis hit, this industry already had the following statistics...
The Australian entertainment industry:
15% of workers have moderate to severe depression (5 times the national average).
44% of workers have moderate to severe anxiety symptoms.
65% of workers live below the average wage and there are five suicide attempts every week and we have all been to way too many funerals.
The creative mind that can deliver a performance with such passion can also feel the lows very profoundly. The unpredictability of a paycheck and the rejection. Pouring everything you have into an album and people don’t buy it or a stage performance and people don’t buy tickets to see it. That can be soul-destroying and that’s a regular day for those who create the art you love.
It’s the time you would normally get together with friends to comfort each other and create something beautiful from the pain and the uncertainty, but we are unable to do that. Thousands of people all suspended in time, waiting for the moment when their skill becomes useful again. When the thing they do that others can’t can once again, pay the bill.
With my social feed filled with messages from friends in the industry full of heartbreak and desperation, it would be easy to be enveloped by the darkness. I will instead reach out to friends I think are in trouble. I will fill my social channels full of music and promotion of shows that have already rescheduled dates into the future.
There is a joke that Aaron Sorkin once included in the dialogue on the West Wing…
"This guy's walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can't get out.
"A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, 'Hey you. Can you help me out?' The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
"Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up, 'Father, I'm down in this hole can you help me out?' The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
"Then a friend walks by, 'Hey, Joe, it's me, can you help me out?' And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, 'Are you stupid? Now we're both down here.' The friend says, 'Yeah, but I've been down here before and I know the way out.'"
None of us have been down this particular hole, but we are all down here and we’ll find our way out together.