Philly arts venues to go red for live events workers

The Wilma Theater in Philadelphia lit up red for industry professionals out of work due to the pandemic. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The Wilma Theater in Philadelphia lit up red for industry professionals out of work due to the pandemic. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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South Broad Street in Philadelphia became a red-light district Tuesday night.

The labor union that represents stagehands coordinated theaters along the Avenue of Arts to light their buildings red, along with icons like the LOVE sculpture and the Rocky statue, in order to raise awareness of the plight of out-of-work stage crews.

It’s called Red Alert, and it’s not just Philadelphia. People who work in theaters, convention centers, and live events around the world have been out of work for nearly six months due to the coronavirus. Red Alert is an international effort to push for awareness and legislation to help millions of people not able to earn a paycheck.

“It’s not Philly-centric. It’s worldwide,” said Michael Barnes, president of the local Philadelphia chapter of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). “I’ve seen demos as far as Russia, Germany, France, England.”

IATSE partnered with the new Live Events Coalition (LEC) to coordinate with the city and with businesses along South Broad to light up the evening. LEC was formed during the pandemic as a way to support people not able to work live events during the economic shutdown.

The Suzanne Roberts theater in Philadelphia supported out-of-work stagehands with a projection and red lights. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The national effort to light cultural sites and downtown corridors red, as a way to sound an economic alarm for the struggling industry, was originally supposed to happen August 27, but organizers did not want to overlap with the Republican National Convention and risk having the red color misinterpreted as a Republican movement.

“Lighting up cities red on the last day of the RNC was not a wise idea, as we are completely bipartisan and want to remain so,” said Ronnie Anderson, president of the LEC.

The illuminating demonstration was not only theatrical — after all, these people know something about lighting — it was meant to attract the attention of members of Congress. There are two bills being considered in Washington: the HEROES Act (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions) meant to extend much of the CARES Act which expired July 31; and the RESTART Act (Reviving the Economy Sustainably Towards A Recovery in Twenty-twenty) which would extend the Paycheck Protection Program.

Barnes said the live events industry, including everything from sporting events to weddings to concerts to conferences, was the first to shut down when the pandemic began. He says it has been hit the hardest and likely will be the last to recover.

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Anderson says it will likely be the spring of 2021 before people can get back to work.

“By then, if we do not get assistance, they are looking at unbelievable losses in this industry, with more than half of the businesses closing forever,” said Anderson. “We’re already seeing major businesses falling.”

The Red Alert illumination included a very brief lighting of Boathouse Row along the Schuylkill River and pop-up lighting of the Rocky and LOVE sculptures, and a prolonged lighting of South Broad from 9 p.m. to midnight.

Many buildings are also recognizing National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month right now by lighting themselves in teal. The evening skyline tonight could color an interior designer’s dream.

Broke in Philly WHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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