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Supporting those behind the scenes

Stage lights being serviced in the Yukon Arts Centre theatre. Photo by Mike Thomas.

By Amy Kenny

This fall, Light Up Live wants to train the spotlight, not on the stage, but on the people behind the scenes of all your favourite concerts, plays and performances.

“We want to show how large we actually are,” says Christian Zeretzke, an Edmonton-based freelancer who works in scenic carpentry and stage rigging. “People see the performers and don’t realize how many others are involved in live events—management, technicians, logistics, florists, hotels, tourism, taxis, restaurants, caterers, there’s so many.”

Zeretzke says all those workers were among the first to feel the effects of the COVID-19 shutdowns in March, which is why he wanted to organize a day of visibility for his colleagues across the country. He based the idea on similar shows of support in Germany and the UK.

The result is Light Up Live. On September 22, more than 300 Canadian venues will light their buildings red in solidarity with the live events community, which has largely been put on hold, or reduced in its capacity, the last few months. It’s not a protest, he says, but a reminder of the number of production professionals ready to return to work when the danger has passed.

Locally, some of those professionals will be represented at the Yukon Arts Centre.

The fly tower at YAC will be lit a day early, on September 21, to coincide with the Available Light Film Festival screening of Radioactive, a biopic of French physicist and chemist, Marie Curie.

“The main thought behind all of it is advocacy and awareness,” says Josh Jansen, director of production at YAC. “The Yukon is in a better position (than the south) … we are limited in our capacity, but we are lucky to be back up and operational and we can talk to the (chief medical officer of health) and talk about cases and plead cases and submit operational plans. Other jurisdictions are just flat-out told no.”

Zeretzke can confirm this. In Edmonton, he says, restrictions started lifting in June. Even then, musicals have been difficult, because singing isn’t allowed and theatre has been tough because props need to be sanitized every time they’re touched.

Jansen says the approach of winter means many organizations that were able to move productions outside over the summer months will be forced back indoors. There, aligning with COVID restrictions means reduced seat sales, which, in some cases, means projects and performances won’t be economically viable.

Combine the financial loss with the loss of identity felt by many in the entertainment industry, and Jansen says it could be an even darker winter than usual.

Zeretzke agrees. Working in production is a job, but it’s one he chose because he loves it. Seeing shutdowns is heartbreaking, Zeretzke says, though he sounds optimistic as he talks about his industry’s preparedness to take on upcoming challenges.   

In his mind, live events are uniquely positioned to adapt to re-opening because crowd management has always been built into the industry.

“We are trained professionals in bringing people together, so unlike school, flights, big box stores, we are the ones that are going to know how to bring people together, control people, manage people in the best and safest way possible,” he says. “That is what we specialize in doing.”

For more information, as well as a map of Canadian institutions and organizations taking part in the initiative, visit