Live events ban: ‘We can’t survive much longer’, warn SA artists

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South African artists. (PHOTO: Instagram)
South African artists. (PHOTO: Instagram)

It’s been five months since he’s been allowed to work and earn an income.

Choreographer Ryan Hignett, the director of Ryan Hignett Productions, is usually booked up  and busy but this year has been different.

When the national lockdown was declared back in March, one of the trades worst hit was the entertainment and live events industry.

But as restaurants cautiously open their doors to welcome patrons and the ban on leisure travel gradually lifts, the live events industry remains bound by tight restrictions.

Usually more than 10 000 events such as concerts and festivals take place every year in South Africa.

Many entertainment shows have turned digital in a bid to keep afloat, but this isn’t feasible in the long run, Ryan believes.

“Virtual performances and classes are a temporary solution,” he says.

At first there was a keen interest in his online classes, but this dwindled as the weeks rolled by. There have also been several technical difficulties that hindered the success of the virtual classes.

“Sound delays were a major hindrance,” Ryan explains. “Dance choreography is reliant on counts and hearing the music. Most students don’t have sufficient space or privacy at home to do proper choreography.”

Ryan is certain of one thing: the events and entertainment industry won’t survive unless the ban is lifted.

“We could lose everything we’ve worked for.”

Ryan isn’t the only one struggling to stay positive in uncertain times.

Last week office blocks and local iconic buildings were lit up in red as part of the Light SA Red initiative.

The campaign was launched to highlight the crisis the events world is facing because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The industry fears it may not survive the next 100 days.

“Almost all companies involved in entertainment have scaled down,” says Kevan Jones, executive director at the Southern African Communications Industries Association (SACIA).

Kevan, who is also involved in the Light SA Red campaign, says many companies have had to take drastic measures to stay afloat.

“We’ve seen widespread retrenchments. Full-time staff who remain on the payroll are working reduced hours and, in many instances, also working on a reduced pay-scale.”

He suggests government ensure support mechanisms are in place while the prohibition on mass gatherings remains.

Then, once the ban is lifted, strict measures should be implemented to curb the spread of the virus.

“It would be irresponsible to allow mass events without stringent measures in place. But it’s equally irresponsible not to support individuals and companies who are denied an opportunity to earn a living,” Kevan adds.

Finally, there needs to be a renewal plan that will allow the industry to re-establish itself once the pandemic has run its course.

The SACIA is working closely with the Department of Sports, Art & Culture on this proposed three-stage solution, he says.

Nadine Sisam, a performing artist from Cape Town, had earmarked 2020 the year she would return to the music industry after a two-year break.

She had a six-month contract in Ibiza, Spain, lined up and was looking forward to releasing original music.

Then the pandemic hit and Nadine had to put her plans on hold.

“The ban on live events didn’t just hit me financially, it was a blow to my mental health too,” Nadine, a former The Voice SA contestant, admits.

She’s been fortunate enough to rely on her family for financial and emotional support and says her heart goes out to artists who are “trying to survive this alone”.

Like many artists, Nadine has turned to virtual performances to entertain her fans and make money.

She teamed up with SA X-Factor winner Steven Lee Lewis to create The People’s Playlist, a live online event in which the public chooses the songs they perform.

Nadine says she understands that times are tough and that buying a ticket to a virtual performance is a luxury now more than ever.

But as difficult as it is to survive as an artist in the current climate, she refuses to lose heart.  

“We will keep creating,” she says. “Not because we have to, but because it’s who we are.”

For Lauren-Ashleigh Parks, an artist manager at Parkan Entertainment, seeing an industry she’s so passionate about on its knees is disheartening.

“We work hard behind the scenes for the love of music and entertainment,” Lauren-Ashleigh says.

“To feel this helpless and disregarded [by the government] is tragic.”

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With all her upcoming projects on hold indefinitely, Lauren-Ashleigh says this has an immediate effect on her income.

It’s especially stressful since she has family members who depend on her financially.

“We need the government to acknowledge our plea for help,” she says. “Proposals and guidelines have been drawn up, but the government needs to sit down with the relevant committees and start planning a way forward.”

Someone who has submitted a detailed proposal to the government is Tracy Branford, an award-winning wedding planner and event co-ordinator.

Tracy wrote an in-depth letter to the Ministers of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Trade, Industry and Competition and Tourism.

In the letter of demand, she detailed a proposal for a Covid-19 wedding model.

Some of Tracy’s suggestions include that guest numbers be limited to 50% of the venue’s capacity, mandatory registering and screening of all guests and replacing all buffet services with plated meals only.

Tracy Danford
Tracy Danford. (PHOTO: Supplied)

According to the Office of the State Attorney in Pretoria, which replied to her letter on behalf of the ministers, the growing pressure on health-care facilities to accommodate increasing Covid-19 cases has made it impossible to ease restrictions around gatherings.

It said the government would relax the restrictions on gatherings only “when circumstances permit” and when scientific evidence and guidance shows it will not “pose a risk to the lives of persons and the overwhelming and overburdening of the healthcare-system in the country”.

When YOU contacted Isaac Chowe from the State Attorney’s office, he said the matter was still an ongoing engagement between the parties involved. But he declined to comment further as he is “ethically restricted from discussing and responding to the issues arising from the matter”.

Kate Goliath, managing director for popular comedy brand Goliath and Goliath, isn’t surprised.

“It’s difficult to suggest things we think the government should do because most of the time they won’t do it,” she says. “I wish they would give a bit more thought to what we’re going through.”

Kate foresees a pared-down industry on the other side of the pandemic.

“I see us getting through to the other side, stronger but leaner,” she says.

Raees Moerat, a former PR executive for Goliath and Goliath, understands his retrenchment was inevitable but adds the state of the industry is heartbreaking.

“Many professionals built their businesses and brand for years and they literally got wiped out in the blink of an eye,” says Raees, who is now the managing director for The Fixer Company.

“Not every business or artist has the resources or the insight into how the digital space operates so it may take a lot longer for them to rebuild.”

Kate agrees and adds it’s a case of survival of the fittest.

“A lot of people have returned to normal jobs to sustain themselves,” she says. “I see those who have been able to evolve surviving.

“Once this is over people will need entertainment more than ever and I think we will hit a nice boom. Artists will be so fit and ready to do it. It will just be phenomenal.”

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