| The Tuscaloosa News
If you’re driving by The Drish House Tuesday night and witness a red glow, don’t call Ghostbusters. It’s not the phantom candle blaze from Sarah Drish’s unfulfilled last request, as chronicled in Kathryn Tucker Windham’s “13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey.” Probably.
The exterior light show will instead be part of a nationwide effort to draw attention to the plight of live entertainment venues, and their artists, administrators, technicians and other employees, all suffering dire economic distress under the pandemic. Tuscaloosa’s downtown Bama Theatre will also sport a cardinal hue, joining Red Alert Restart.
“The Bama is red inside and out for tomorrow evening in solidarity with others across the nation,” said Sandy Wolfe, executive director of The Arts and Humanities Council of Tuscaloosa, which operates and maintains the Bama.
The Bama marquee will also sport a message supporting WeMakeEvents’ Red Alert Restart. From 9 p.m. to midnight Tuesday, Sept. 1, more than 1,500 facilities around the U.S. will ignite to urge passage of the Restart Act (S. 3814/HR 7481) which has cleared the Senate, but is currently stalled in the House of Representatives.
If passed, the Restart Act would extend the Payroll Protection Program, establish a loan program for small businesses hit by COVID-19, and extend pandemic unemployment compensation to those not usually eligible for regular benefits, such as freelancers, independent contractors and self-employed workers.
“This act is meant to relieve the financial pressure that the entertainment industry has experienced. We will be all red tomorrow evening in support of not only the Bama Theatre, but all of our performing arts groups in West Alabama,” Wolfe said.
Most Tuscaloosa arts groups and performing organizations shut down in spring, and due to difficulties posed by distancing and other requirements, have yet to re-open. The Tuscaloosa Symphony Orchestra recently announced that the fall half of its 2020-2021 season would be virtual, online only. Theatre Tuscaloosa had to postpone its summer musical — one of the company’s annual box-office hits — “Mamma Mia!,” and thus far hasn’t announced plans for how it may proceed this fall.
A similar fate befell the University of Alabama Department of Theatre and Dance, which had to cancel its spring “Legally Blonde” and other works. The department is still cogitating on what to do, and how to do it, this fall. The Hollywood 16 multiplex parking lot has sprouted weeds, though corporate offices are said to be preparing for a restart with the release of Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” possibly as soon as this weekend.
At the Bama, typically active for either Arts Council-sponsored or rental events more than 300 nights a year, they’ve been removing seats, installing new sanitizing and distancing measures, and more, in preparation for a return to operations.
“We can’t wait to welcome people back to the theater,” Wolfe said.
Supporters are urged to photograph red-lit spots, then post and share them on social media, using #RedAlertRESTART. Those event-makers who’d like to join in, but don’t have the capabilities to manipulate lighting, are encouraged to use www.11lunapic.com/editor to created red-filtered photos of facilities.
Artists from Alice Cooper to Billy Bob Thornton to Jason Aldean have thrown weight behind the WeMakeEvents project. Birmingham’s venerable movie palace The Alabama Theatre will blush, as will venues in Huntsville, Muscle Shoals, Gulf Shores, Mobile, Orange Beach and Russellville, joining more than 1,500 locations across 35 states, Washington D.C., and Trinidad and Tobago.
WeMakeEvents is a coalition of unions, businesses, trade bodies, and live events workers. To learn more, see www.wemakeevents.org.
Some COVID-19 facts and figures shared by the coalition:
— Live events employ more than 12 million people in the U.S.
— Live events contribute more than $1 trillion annually to the nation’s economy.
— Ninety-five percent of live events have been cancelled due to pandemic restrictions.
— Ninety-six percent of event companies have been forced to cut staff or wages, or both.
— Seventy-seven percent of employees in the events industry have lost 100 percent of their income, including 97 percent of 1099 workers.