Seeking relief

Devastated financially by the pandemic, Reno’s entertainment workers plan a livestreamed event to help encourage a federal aid bill

Gary Guberman has been out of work for months. He’s spent more than 40 years behind the scenes in the entertainment industry, doing lighting design for local performing arts groups like Sierra Nevada Ballet. Until the pandemic decimated the industry in March, he was technical director at the Peppermill.

In a phone interview this week, Guberman started to tally up how many of his colleagues are also out of work: “At the Peppermill, 20 to 30. That’s just the stagehands. Also the techs, banquet staff, bartenders, chefs.” And that’s just from one casino. According to the Live Events Coalition—a national group formed during the pandemic to advocate and find resources for industry workers—nationwide, an estimated 77 percent of live-events employees have lost 100 percent of their income. For freelancers and contractors, the number who’ve seen their income drop to zero is even higher—97 percent.

Guberman is now a volunteer regional director for the Live Event Coalition. “That all started with a bunch of lighting designers around the country that were out of work,” he said. “I was happy to join them.”

On Sept. 1, the Pioneer Center was among many buildings and landmarks lit red, as part of a national effort to support out-of-work arts and entertainment industry workers and urge Congress to pass the RESTART Act. Photo: Courtesy Gary Guberman.

He was behind the Red Alert event on Sept. 1. That night, some of Reno’s creative landmarks—The Arch, the Pioneer Center, the Believe sculpture—were bathed in red stage lighting. The idea was to encourage people to urge Nevada’s congressional leaders to pass the RESTART Act, a federal relief package proposed to Congress in May that would aid small businesses, including many arts and entertainment businesses.

Red Alert events were also held in cities around the nation on Sept. 1. Guberman said that Canadian cities followed suit this week, and cities in Europe will soon. 

This Saturday, Sept. 26, Guberman and the Live Event Coalition will hold the Reno Live Events Empty Event. It’s shaping up to be part afternoon parade, part evening variety show, and part infomercial for Reno’s performing arts groups.

“My idea is I’m trying to get people from different sectors of the arts community,” Guberman said. Artown’s Beth McMillan is the host, Mayor Hillary Schieve is on the guest-speaker list, and arts groups are invited to submit videos that will be projected on screens.

Like everything in 2020, this event works a little differently than usual. It takes place outside of the Pioneer Center, where empty tables—each one representing 1.2 million unemployed entertainment workers—will face an empty stage. Given that the pandemic is still happening, Guberman hopes that most people don’t actually attend. Strict safety and security protocols will be in place for those who do, and he urged people to tune in on YouTube, where the livestream is slated to begin at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Also, “It’s not really a fundraiser,” said Guberman. “We’re not asking for money. I thought about that, then I decided against that.” He predicts that arts community members will make up the bulk of the audience. Since the arts are so strapped for funds this year, he said, “I just felt like it wasn’t the right thing to do, to ask for money.”

What he does want is for people to write their congress members, hashtag their hearts out, join the coalition, and otherwise get the word out about the RESTART Act.

This article was funded by a City of Reno CARES Act grant and produced by Double Scoop and the Sierra Nevada Ally. Together, these news outlets are working to increase the amount of quality local arts and culture journalism.

The Reno Live Events Empty Event takes place Saturday, Sept. 26. A parade begins at 3 p.m., and the main event begins at 4 p.m. Presenters will appear live and by video outside of the Pioneer Center in downtown Reno, but attendees are encouraged to attend virtually by livestreaming the event on YouTube. 

To sign a petition in support of the RESTART Act, and for more information about how to hashtag and how to help, visit the We Make Events page

If you’ve got it flaunt it

The Reno Live Events Empty Event is seeking parade participants.

“We are asking for people in the entertainment industry or business owners to decorate a vehicle to represent themselves and drive around the Pioneer Center representing themselves and the business they have lost,” said organizer Gary Guberman. The parade begins at 3 p.m. Sat., Sept. 26.


Kris Vagner is an arts and culture writer who’s earned awards for critical writing, entertainment writing, feature writing, and—somehow—sports writing. She’s also the editor of Double Scoop, Nevada’s visual arts news site. More at Support her work in The Ally.


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