As Ireland seems to almost fully emerge from yet another lockdown, and the level system of easing restrictions is left in summer’s dust, many industries have been able to return as close to normal as possible. However, other industries have been left feeling neglected, and this is evident in their absence from many of the government’s guideline changes. The live entertainment sector has been closed for almost the entirety of the pandemic, reaching over five hundred days, but seemed not to be prioritized in reopening discussions. After countless campaigns to reopen the sector, and various organisations lobbying ministers, the sector has finally been addressed and plans have been put in place for restrictions to be eased, but is it enough to save a sector that has been dormant for so long?
“Ireland’s live entertainment industry comprises over 11,000 jobs, and contributes €3.8bn to the economy each year, but during the start of the pandemic, it was impossible for this sector to continue.”
Ireland’s live entertainment industry comprises over 11,000 jobs, and contributes €3.8bn to the economy each year, but during the start of the pandemic, it was impossible for this sector to continue. Expectedly, the entire industry came to a standstill, with gigs, live events, or festivals being abandoned, cancelled, or rescheduled. This left many entertainers with no source of income, and entertainment companies at a loss as they had to refund customers for what seemed like a domino effect of cancelled gigs. Some artists optimistically postponed gigs to when they were predicted to return, but this led to another bout of cancellations when another lockdown was implemented.
Speaking to Trinity News, Gemma Cox, musician and Chair of Trinity Music Society, explained the impact of the pandemic on her as a young performer. Music provided a source of income for her when face to face performances were feasible: “before, I busked on Grafton Street during the summertime and at Christmas, and performed the circuit around town, doing open mics or anywhere I could play a gig… I also have a part time job teaching piano, and this would also be part of my income.”
“A lot of artists feed off experiences, and we weren’t getting very many, so people found it very hard, as they were very uninspired.”
The pandemic forced Cox to transition to online, performing for free on live streams for Hot Press, and even one from the Bord Gais: “the lockdown was good for opportunities that wouldn’t have happened anyway.”
Cox also continued to play and write music from home, but felt her creativity was also quite strained. “Over lockdown, it was more of a creative process in terms of songwriting… but a lot of artists feed off experiences, and we weren’t getting very many, so people found it very hard, as they were very uninspired.”
When the gradual reopening of the country began during Summer 2021, the live entertainment sector was unprioritised, as it was seemingly not feasible for events with such a high risk factor to take place. There was little communication between the government and the sector, and very little effort made by the government to create guidelines that allowed for any type of live events to take place. This inevitably indicated a slow reopening of the sector, far behind the opening of restaurants and pubs, those which had seemed to be prioritised.
This neglect spiralled into the creation of multiple campaigns to recognise and reopen the live entertainment industry. Bodies such as the Entertainment Industry Alliance (EIA) and the National Campaign for the Arts (NCFA) lobbied directly to the government, campaigning for clarity and a roadmap to reopening. In a statement made on August 3, the NCFA pleaded with the government: “We are now in danger of an entire sector’s future being irrevocably damaged: artists, arts workers and arts audiences are being left behind […] The publication of a roadmap with specific criteria for reopening the sector is now essential to allow us to begin the recovery, reconnect with our audiences, and ensure the continued success of our world-renowned artists.”
However, some government ministers were committed to the reopening of live events as early as possible, namely Minister for Culture Catherine Martin. She proposed measures that would allow for gigs to take place, and commented that “I am acutely aware of the devastating impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the live entertainment sector. The things we love and dearly miss like live concerts, plays, festivals etc. involve congregation and unfortunately COVID-19 thrives in that environment… Darkened theatres, silent venues, crews and artists out of work is something I hope to bring to an end and is my number one priority.”
Martin also ensured that those affected by the closure of live events would not suffer too harshly, ensuring that the Live Performance Support Scheme (LPSS) would extend until gigs could take place once again. This scheme provided grants totalling €25m to “commercial venues, promoters and producers to employ artists and musicians of all genres, performers, technicians and other support staff in the live performance sector.” Martin initiated a new Music and Entertainment Business Assistance Scheme (MEBAS) for businesses affected by the closure, covering business costs for those whose turnovers had been drastically reduced by the pandemic.
“As a response to the weeks of campaigning, a roadmap led by Minister Catherine Martin, was released detailing when and how the entertainment sector can open, as well as a €61.5m allocation to the industry in 2021’s budget.”
Criticisms of the slow reopening of live gigs increased in volume in August 2021, when the All-Ireland football final was held in Croke Park, where attendance was at half capacity with forty thousand. Many pointed out the hypocrisy of such an event taking place, when the live entertainment sector was still completely dormant. This match also coincided with the cancellation of 2021’s Electric Picnic, due to difficulties with Laois County Council. Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien explained this decision by saying “it would arguably be difficult to justify amending the regulations and to vary the current timeline provisions for the purpose of one specific event”. This is the second year the gig has had to be postponed
As a response to the weeks of campaigning, a roadmap led by Martin, was released detailing when and how the entertainment sector can open, as well as a €61.5m allocation to the industry in 2021’s budget. From September, indoor events can open at 60% capacity, while outdoor events contain a 75% capacity. From October 22, venues such as nightclubs will be opening, with certain limitations. This means that the industry can finally begin to revitalise itself, and gigs can resume. Gemma Cox’s first live gig after lockdown was a TrinityEnts event for Senior Freshers Week, where she performed in front square. “It was insane. It was really cool, and a nice one to start with.”
While it seems as though it was left neglected and forgotten until the last moment, the entertainment industry is finally beginning to receive the allowances that many other industries had been granted long before. Perhaps the wait for gigs will make them all the more electric as we return to them once again.
Make sure to check out Gemma Cox on Spotify, and her socials at @gemmacoxhere