Live arts on verge of collapse

Industry players asking govt to allow live events to resume with strict compliance to SOPs and guidelines in order to keep the sector alive

by AZALEA AZUAR / pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

UP TO 90% of live art event organisers would not be able survive this current lockdown even if they switch to virtual events, industry players said.

They are asking the government to allow live events to proceed, with strict compliance to standard operating procedures (SOPs), as well as proper health and ventilation guidelines, to keep the industry alive.

With no glimpse of when the industry would be able to resume, some have changed their careers and ventured into other businesses.

The Arts, Live Events and Festivals Association (ALIFE) president Rizal Kamal does not know how long businesses in this industry can sustain since the Covid-19 resurgence, which sees new daily cases rise to more than 10,000 lately.

“I would say 90% of the people in the industry are not doing things related to live events anymore. Not even virtual shows, they’re all in different kinds of businesses,” he told The Malaysian Reserve.

“With no improvement, there is no point in staying in the industry,” he added.

In fact, Rizal said a few of the event organisers had to move into digital marketing.

Even though they can still produce content from home, the quality would not be as great as shooting in a proper studio.

“Even for people who are focused on virtual shows, it’s very difficult for them as well, because without the ability to shoot, to be able to be present in a studio, there is no income. It’s very, very difficult to make money purely through a digital show at home.”

Rizal is also the founder and CEO of LOL Asia Sdn Bhd, which has been unable to stage any physical shows since February last year.

With the current situation, it is difficult to create a physical show even when most sectors were allowed to reopen, since organising events takes many months of preparation.

“At minimum, you’ll take like, two, three months. In order for us to launch a show, for example, you need to book the venue, you need to book the artist and the artist needs to be heard. And then you need to market the show, which takes at least a month for even a small show,” he explained.

Last year dozens of LOL’s shows were cancelled and those that were scheduled to be held this year had to be postponed.

Rizal currently has the option to conduct virtual shows but even that is not enough to sustain the company.

“So, we just want to tighten our belts and just run a few virtual shows. For us right now at LOL, what we do is we make people laugh. So no, we will spread happiness. So, one of the projects that I’m doing is to share good news. Try to find a little bit of good news here and then put it together in a show, so that’s what I’m currently doing.”

Rizal has also applied for grants, which is a temporary solution to sustain them in the short term. However, it is still difficult for him to use these grants to execute a live show, since they are unable to shoot at the moment.

“The only thing that we can do right now is to shoot solo shows where everyone works from home, so that’s what we’re working on.”

He urged the government to change its lockdown strategies since the number of cases is still rising.

“So, the government has to adjust the strategy to make it right and allow businesses to resume safely as soon as possible. The only thing that we are looking forward to is having vaccinated people at shows. So, whether it’s a video recording of a live performance, or an event or a live show, to allow vaccinated people to come and attend,” Rizal said.

Locking down others while only allowing some to operate is not the solution and ALIFE has already presented strict SOPs which were approved by the National Security Council.

These include using advanced ticket purchase and tracking systems, implementation of contract tracing systems as well as strict capacity, physical distancing and touchless technology for ticket scanning and payments at the event.

According to ALIFE chairman and PR Worldwide MD Para R, there have been no Covid-19 clusters based on the three live events that were conducted between September last year and April this year with a 250-capacity audience during each two-hour stage performance.

“Commercial live events are conducted by professionals in the industry, people who, even before the pandemic, put their duty of care first in creating a safe environment for everyone.”

He said a separate and specific plan is needed for each economic sector and the industry should be given a chance to lead the reopening and recovery plans.

Recently, KL Performing Arts Centre (KLPac) co-founder and executive producer Datuk Dr Faridah Merican said in an open letter that they have been struggling to raise enough funds each month since the pandemic began.

“Fifteen months of this. After clearing out our cheques this month, we will be left with RM5,000 or so in our bank account. Our staff has been kept informed each step of the way. Already their pay cut was increased to 40% and 60% when the third Movement Control Order (started).”

It is very likely that KLPac’s staff would be switched to contract soon, though they are trying their best not to retrench them.

“50% of our loss from venue rental, which we cannot make up as long as our venues are closed. Venue rental dipped 80% in 2020 compared to 2019,” she said.

What they earned in terms of ticket sales via a month of online shows (a total of four) was less than half of what they could earn from a live performance.

Hence, Faridah hopes the government can fast-track its vaccination efforts for artistes and art workers.

To date, about 60% of KLPac workers have had their first dose, while the rest have yet to receive their appointments.

“Ensure our immediate survival by allowing us to record performances and programmes at least. The scale of our recording is small, our cast and crew are minimal. It can be less than 10 pax,” she added.

Faridah also hopes that the government can subsidise venues, so that artistes and arts groups can record shows again to kickstart the industry.

“Venues need help with operational costs — that takes priority over programming for now. Waive the deposit for an entertainment licence, especially in Kuala Lumpur (KL).”

KLPac and The Actors Studio are on the brink of closing down since they are only allowed to fully reopen in Phase 4, according to the National Recovery Plan.

In order to sustain, they are asking for donations which can be made through their official website.