TPi Editor Stew Hume was ‘On the Sofa’ with Wob Roberts, chairman of the Tour Production Group, as part of the RISE Spotlight on live events. He discussed the ongoing and future state of the live events industry and crew workforce, following the effects of COVID-19.
During these uncertain times, the live events industry has taken a considerable beating. As production manager at The Invisible Solution, Wob was used to managing between 60 to 100 people at a time and working with some of the biggest acts in the music industry – until the work suddenly dried up. To address the devastating impact of the pandemic, Wob created an informal gathering of Production Mangers, now known as the Tour Production Group; building on its members’ years of experience, the group has produced a guide to working in a COVID world. This has been published on the Production Services Association website and has been developed into a Compliance Course manual by First Option Ltd.
“Until the UK government says we can actually go out and do shows, we’re sort of in a holding pattern,” explained Wob. “Our guidance is as we like, but until it gets put into practice there’s not a lot we can do. It’s being tested out on streaming events, but in terms of touring there’s a myriad of other problems we’ve got to face before we actually get back to the way it used to be.
Watch the full session here
“Personally, I don’t think we’re going to get back to anything like what we were doing until probably 2022. Later this year I think we’ll see shows, but for anything like [the scale of what] we were doing before, you’ve got to get round… the financial implication of going into a country and sitting there for 10 days before you’re allowed to even do any unloading. That in itself is financially damaging to everything.”
As a substitute, livestreaming is currently at the forefront and looks as though it’s here to stay, even after the virus has gone. But although this is a greener option, it could potentially damage the viability of physical touring, he argued: “One of things I’m very aware of is spending a fortune putting a production together that you want to take round the world and then you stream it – it’s out there, it’s been watched. You’re taking away the need for it to be taken around the planet. Putting on the sustainability hat, it’s not a bad thing but there are people out there who depend on live touring for their livelihood and we’ve got to try to cater for them as well as everything else.”
Looking to the future, Wob believes live events will come back with a bang, but noted that the industry will be “tripping over its own feet” when they do: “The desire to go back will be massive. There will be a lot of [touring acts] that’ll want to go out the moment the gates are opened… But none of that is taking into account ‘match fitness’. A lot of people will have done nothing for 18 months and we are now expecting riggers to be going into the sky and pulling two-tonne motors on a daily basis. There are people who are just not physically able to do this, because what we did was very strenuous.”
The Tour Production Group meets regularly to discuss the impending future of touring, as well as its sustainability, diversity and welfare concerns – not only from the aftermath of COVID-19, but also from the recent Brexit deal, which has thrown up obstacles for UK acts looking to tour in Europe.