Image via Shutterstock
Image via Shutterstock

When people speak about their love of Nashville or Austin, their toes tap to music pouring out of open windows and rattling basement walls. New York’s lack of sleep is fueled by Broadway’s lights. Theatre and concert tours throw sparks throughout the country, dancing amidst the glow of local artists’ bonfires.  

And it’s all at risk of disappearing.  

Broadway is officially dark until at least 2021. Venues and companies throughout the country are collapsing; 12,000 arts institutions are not confident they will survive. Ninety percent of independent music venues fear their closing will be permanent by October. Music festivals were optimistically postponed, then cancelled. Concert tours aren’t expected to return until potentially 2022. Weddings, galas, expos, fashion shows, and parties are impossible. Television and movie production has mostly halted. Late-night shows and the news have begun to return, but most of their crew watches from home. 

While some of the largest celebrities and executives may not be feeling the hit, nearly everyone else has a hand poised over the panic button, in the longest standby of our lives.

Our goal is always magic, but when the lights fade up, we are just people. And there are a lot of us. The performers you see, yes, but there are also creative teams, crew, management, rental staff, venue staff—millions of people in millions of jobs, working behind the scenes who’ve lost 100% of their income. 

We are mostly middle-class workers, and many of us are typically ineligible for regular unemployment benefits because we qualify as self-employed freelancers. That changed to some degree with the creation of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, but still poses problems for those who earn their income from both W2 and 1099 sources.

RELATED: Unemployed Americans Set to Lose $600 Weekly Benefit as GOP Focuses on Cutting Business Taxes

With the FPUC $600 weekly supplement, many industry professionals and families who receive the maximum unemployment payment are still only receiving half of their usual income. If Congress does not extend the FPUC—which is slated to expire July 25—UI will be closer to 20% of expected income for some and nothing at all for others, considering how difficult claiming UI is for independent contractors in some states. 

Meanwhile, bills (rent, health insurance, utilities) are still due in full.  

Some people haven’t seen unemployment insurance at all because the systems are wrapped in red tape that was likely pulled from a VHS in the ’90s.

Health insurance coverage is tenuous. Union members are worried about whether their union will run out of money. Those without the union have to count their cents into the hands of insurance providers or worry about the lack thereof during a global pandemic that has already stolen their friends. 

People from every corner of the industry whisper sweet “see ya laters” to their city of dreams, assuring themselves that the exodus is temporary. They blow out the marquees as they go. 

Image via Shutterstock

The question of “if we have to find another career because we can’t wait for this one indefinitely” is a constant tapping on our shoulders. We realize how deep the depths really are in an industry in which our jobs aren’t just jobs; they are our passions, our friendships, our homes where we spend 14-hour days. Our hearts are burnt out from missing burnout.

And now the $600/week supplement that is keeping so many afloat is ending. The tempo increases.

We know the history of arts funding in America. We know we have to demand it or it will not come. We have to write our senators—we can’t wait for the form letter that turns our name into a number that won’t be called. We have to take bigger action while office aides on the hill sort jammed inboxes.

Fortunately, entertainment is already in the business of showing others mirrors and doorways. Of shining light. Of creating change. 

We have people who are talented in front of and behind the camera. We throw killer galas. We have followers and access, and we know how to network. We can pack an off-Broadway theatre with a $15 budget. We can turn a football field into a major concert in six minutes. We are responsible for more than five million jobs, fueling a sector responsible for $877.8 billion in value and 4.5% of U.S. gross domestic product. We are a powerhouse of an industry full of powerhouse people.  

Entertainment folks and their allies have to be the leaders in this movement—not only for arts relief, but also for the extension and expansion of pandemic unemployment coverage for all. Everyone else is busy fighting a system that already didn’t work for them. So we have to step up and plan e-townhalls and take center stage when we might have previously stood in the wings.

People from every corner of the industry whisper sweet “see ya laters” to their city of dreams, assuring themselves that the exodus is temporary. They blow out the marquees as they go.

Millions of other people are in danger too. In industries without donors, without followers, and without access. People without an audience. People who’ve never even held the microphone we have sitting at our feet.

Over 25 million people are collecting unemployment in this country; 25 million people are about to have $600 less per week in their bank accounts. Some of them will never have even successfully collected the $600 before it expires. Even more never qualified for UI at all. 

Among them are people who aren’t worried about losing their health insurance or depleting their savings accounts because they left the starting line without them. Thirty-two percent of all households did not make housing payments in July.  Evictions are restarting. And because of our deep history of systemic racial injustice, the people most affected are disproportionately Black, people who are notoriously excluded from an industry currently in a reckoning with exclusivity and privilege. 

RELATED: This Woman’s Unemployment Will Go From $725 to $125 if Congress Doesn’t Extend Benefits. She’s Not Alone. 

And this list doesn’t even scrape the surface.

Members of the Senate are spinning a story about lazy Americans and the economy collapsing when the facts do not support that assertion and the numbers actually support extending the FPUC. They are making straits so dire for each of us that we cannot think about how big “us” really is. Fortunately, nobody can correct a narrative like we can.  

If the effort we put into salvation is meme-sized, we can’t possibly expect results the size of legislation and federal checksFind out what you can do at ExtendPUA.org , a resource made by unemployed entertainment professionals who are relying on PUA and FPUC to make it through the pandemic.