Why Your Favorite Venues Will be Lit in Red Tonight

The Greek Theatre in Berkeley is one of many Bay Area venues lit red to draw attention to the plight of the live events industry under COVID-19. (Joe Pierce)

Tonight from 9pm through midnight, the facades of more than 100 venues across the Bay Area, like Moscone Center and Z Space in San Francisco, Oakland City Hall, Berkeley’s Greek Theater and San Jose Civic, will be lit up in red.

The light show is part of a national push dubbed #RedAlertRestart aimed at drawing public attention to the dire challenges facing the live events industry during the COVID-19 shutdown.

“This is a red alert to the nation,” says Bay Area stagehand and regional event organizer Maria Mendoza. “We contribute to the economy and we are in trouble.”

The live events industry contributed roughly $230 billion to the California economy in 2017, according to the latest available data from the U.S. Department of Commerce. The California Events Coalition estimates the industry will lose up to 80 percent in revenue, and tens of thousands of jobs have been lost to industry workers like stage managers, ticket-takers and valets in the Bay Area since March.

“Many of the people affected are the ones that are always dressed in black, that people don’t see,” Mendoza says. “But we are the spine of the industry.”

The organizers are also hoping tonight’s light display will urge Congress to pass the Restart Act to provide economic relief to live events producers and unemployed workers.

“The Restart bill would do a number of things,” says Brad Erickson, executive director of the regional performing arts support organization, Theatre Bay Area. “It would put more money into the PPP forgivable loans that came out through the Small Business Administration, and revive the $600 a week unemployment insurance that goes to many workers who have been thrown out of their jobs because of the pandemic in the performing arts, entertainment and live event industry.”

Some policymakers would like to see the Restart Act pass.

“Live music and performances are a key part of our district’s tourism economy,” says North Bay Congressman Mike Thompson, who co-sponsored the Restart Act. “This bill would give venues the capital they need now and the flexibility they need as they recover, and ensure they stay in business and keep us entertained for years to come.”

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Others, like Florida Senator Marco Rubio, are all for the extension of PPP loans, but say the Restart Act is too costly and could be unwieldy to administrate. “We have tried to incorporate a version of that bill scaled down,” Rubio said in a recent article for CNBC.

#RedAlertRestart has its roots in similar recent actions in the U.K. and South America. Mendoza says the British organizers reached out to producers in the U.S. about expanding the reach of the action globally. Participating cities in this country include Washington, D.C., Denver, Orlando, Chicago, New Orleans, Boston, Baltimore, Las Vegas, New York City, Philadelphia, Seattle, Phoenix, and Louisville, among others.

Bay Area lighting designer Krissy Kenny, who’s helping to coordinate the effort locally, says it took just 10 days for the Bay Area event to come together. The grassroots effort involves donations of equipment from lighting companies. Venue staff, stage technicians and other industry workers came on board to put it all together without pay.

“It’s a monumental undertaking,” Kenny says. “Volunteers keep showing up and saying, ‘What can I do to help?’”

Kenny says members of the public can show their solidarity with the live events industry by sharing the event on social media using the hashtags #RedAlertRestart, #WeMakeEvents and #ExtendPUA.

She says they can also participate in the light show themselves.

“If you’ve got some red Christmas lights, if you can find a red light bulb at a store, you can screw that in and show your support.”