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Event promoters feel COVID pinch with end to shutdown elusive

Entertainment industry players are lost in a quandary, desperately trying to eke out a living with COVID-19 wreaking havoc on their economic wellbeing.

It is nearly one year since the sector has been corked shut by the government and, as the island undergoes an unprecedented spike in coronavirus cases, many believe that it will be some time before the industry reopens.

Among those affected are event promoters, who have had to either cancel annual events or move them online. Some discreetly scale down the activities, in contravention of the Disaster Risk Management Act, to avoid attention from the police.

The dilemma of overcoming the adversity is affecting both large and small promoters, ranging from events such as Reggae Sumfest and Dream Weekend with a worldwide following, to the weekly round robin that can cater to patrons that at times go up in the hundreds.

According to promoters interviewed by Loop News, the situation needs to be looked at carefully, as the total lockdown of events has resulted in a financial conundrum with far reaching impact on a wide range of people who earn from the industry.

“My business, Dream Entertainment, which owns and operates Dream Weekend and Xodus Carnival has not been able to host any of its festivals since 2019. We are now in 2021 and our industry is still shut down.

“All of the businesses that operate in the sector need a lifeline for survival. Currently, 700,000 people who operate in the entertainment industry are either out of work completely or having limited opportunities to earn because of the curfew times imposed,” Kamal Bankay, chairman of Dream Entertainment, told Loop News.

It is the same feeling of despair for Josef (Joe) Bogdanovich, CEO of Downsounds Records, organisers of Reggae Sumfest; Kirk Chevannes, a party promoter of Grants Pen, St Andrew; and Milesha Miller who organises a weekly round robin in the Spanish Town and Portmore areas of St Catherine.

Bogdanovich moved Sumfest online last year and he said that while lessons in television and online production from the virtual show were appreciated, the economic gains and the atmosphere from the in-person event cannot be reached.

“When it comes to the virtual show that we did in 2020, that’s a whole other ballgame and something rather exciting when we look at television production or streaming production, being able to keep the band changes out of the way and keeping it really compact and powerful.

“But nothing can replace being there. You can’t duplicate it with technology. To me, we can’t make any money online, because it’s free and the sponsors don’t pay for everything. So we do it for the music, we do it for the country,” Bogdanovich said.

According to Chevannes, whose SKKY Team promotes parties to offset philanthropic work in Grants Pen, the entertainment lockdown has resulted in the four members of the team having to dig into their pockets to continue their giving.

He said that many plans had to be aborted because of the government’s guidelines, with the philanthropy being restricted to door-to-door operations instead of the usual fanfare, in which children would pick up their goodies at particular events. Their work also extends to the elderly in the community.

“So really and truly, it hit the pocket hard, in terms of not being able to earn from that based on the fact that we are a promotion (company) that has been around for approximately 10 years and there are events that we keep on an annual basis.

“People look forward to them. Whenever certain dates come around, we would earn from those dates, however, based on the COVID restrictions and so on, we have not had the chance to go ahead with these promotions, we have to be holding back,” he said.

According to Miller, the COVID-19 restrictions have caused major worries for her and the 25 individuals who are a part of the round robin, which is slated to end in July.

She said among the challenges encountered are individuals blaming COVID-19 for missing their weekly payments, police ending events well inside the curfew hours because of gathering and reduced income earned at the bar for each person weekly.

Meanwhile, the promoters argue that the earning spread from each activity is wide as there are a lot of individuals who work on different aspects of the production before, during and after the events, who are unable to make a living now.

“It is not just the promoters who are affected, but also people who feed off the events, so for example, a man might be, throughout the party, selling Wrigley’s and stuff like that and we naw lef out the weed (sellers).

“It affects everyone, for example a man who would look forward to decorating as his means of earning revenue - that would have been a sore point for him as well because he wouldn’t have gotten many parties to decorate and so on and so forth. Persons who would rent tables, persons who would probably rent the jerk pans for cookouts and stuff like that,” Chevannes said.

Bogdanovich and Miller have basically resigned themselves to the perils brought on by the pandemic or making adjustments. Miller believes that with the recent spike in COVID-19 positive results, the government will not release the COVID-19 shackles anytime soon, so she will just have to take it one day at a time.

For Bogdanovich, he is willing to embrace technology to have television productions of the quality of the Grammy Awards in the United States with a serious analysis done to market these events.

Bankay and Chevannes differ somewhat. They believe that the sector can be reopened with strict guidelines that would keep members of the public attending events safe.

“I have sent proposals for reopening of small events with stringent entry, sanitisation and operational protocols, coupled with safety monitors and large events within a temporary bubble (rapid testing to entry) to government, but have not received any feedback or response,” Bankay said.

Chevannes agrees: “I think the government can open it on a controlled basis in the sense that if the promoter exhibits the proper guidelines and adhere to the protocols of COVID in terms of distancing, proper sanitisation and so on, we could still keep parties within a time frame.

“I think it still could work, rather than just look at it as a no-no, knowing that persons really look forward to earning from that niche,” Chevannes opined.

Chevannes also stated that promoters should unite and face the government, which he said has not provided a comprehensive COVID-19 reopening plan for the entertainment industry.

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