THE local entertainment industry is still in a state of upheaval and uncertainty, despite the state government easing social distancing restrictions.
Crippled by four lockdowns and now playing to audiences with different post-COVID patronage habits, musicians, entertainers and venue operators say it’s not time to celebrate the easing of restrictions in regional Victoria.
Cancellations are becoming the norm across the Wellington Shire, as operators struggle to readjust to sudden changes in density limits.
Stratford musician Barry Hanley, from the well-respected jazz band Dixie Dazzlers, said Thursday’s easing of restrictions on regional venue numbers was welcomed, but the challenge remained to lock in performance dates with confidence.
“Look, it’s great that we can still play in regional Victoria for the time being, but I can’t really assume anything without the worry that things will suddenly change,” he said.
“For everyone in this industry, it’s been a very challenging time, and still is, and sadly that’s the case for so many.”
Dixie Dazzlers are set to play at Sale Greyhound Club on June 20, and Mr Hanley is crossing his fingers things stay that way.
“It’s a great afternoon of trad jazz and we have a good following, so here’s hoping nothing much changes between now and then,” he said.
Industry experts have estimated that the Australian music industry as a whole could have lost $100 million in wages across the live music industry during the federal government’s ban on non-essential gatherings last year alone.
Since then there have been state restrictions that have added to the industry’s financial loss, job insecurity and anxiety.
Organisers at the Bundy Hall are also trying to keep tabs on the Health Department’s directions.
As a result of the recent announcement on restrictions, last weekend’s Bob ‘Bongo’ Starkie Skyhooks Show and Vanessa Amorosi Shows at the Bundy Hall have been postponed, and any shows planned for the future are still in a “tentative” state, according to hall committee member Paul Versteden.
“Luckily we are not at risk as a not-for-profit, but the constant cancellations have a negative affect on your psyche, especially knowing the loss suffered by the artists who depend on these gigs,” he said.
“Some artists haven’t really worked in more than a year, so that’s taking its toll.
“And then there’s production staff, who are also affected.”
Mr Versteden said the industry was trying to focus on moving forward, but while everyone was staying calm above the water, it was collectively “paddling madly” below the surface.
“We know there will always be a way out, but it is hard — especially when you’ve lost a bit of momentum and you have to try to start again after lockdowns.”
Mr Versteden said last weekend would have been the first weekend the hall would have turned a profit after more than a year of restrictions, with three sold-out shows lined up before the state government announced on Thursday that numbers would be restricted to 75 at indoor venues.
“It’s not really worth it, and at that number we would likely not break even, so we decided to postpone,” he said.
“But as a community venue, nobody will lose money and we offer refunds if people can’t make it to the new dates.”
What next week looks like for the entertainment industry, nobody knows.
“We can allow 200 people in at full capacity, but really we are just hoping we can at least get back to 150 people inside, like it was before,” Mr Versteden said.
Live at the Bundy’s Bob Starkie Skyhooks Show has been postponed to a date to be announced, while the Vanessa Amorosi show has been scheduled for October 31.
Dozens of other creative artists and venues around the shire are also in limbo.
The Gippsland Art Gallery, which could not open until Friday, June 11, is one.
While the Gallery Shop and The Dock Espresso Bar remained open through the lockdown, the gallery section was closed.
Meanwhile, some of the state” leading entertainment, hospitality, arts and culture names are among 200 people to have signed a letter to Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton, calling for the government to “save” industries affected by restrictions.
The open letter asks for a clear and decisive plan out of lockdown settings.