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Las Vegas turns red for entertainment community affected by COVID-19

Updated September 7, 2020 - 9:20 am

Smith Center for the Performing Arts President Myron Martin greeted Las Vegas jazz singer Michelle Johnson at Symphony Park on Tuesday night.

The two had not seen each other since long before the pandemic shutdown in March.

Martin said simply, “It’s going to be OK.”

Johnson’s response was to cry.

“I never thought I’d be in this position. I’ve never known anything but the arts.” said Johnson, known as Las Vegas’s First Lady of Jazz and a regular headliner at Myron’s Cabaret Jazz. “I won’t stop until we can get back to doing what we love.

The night was for entertainment pros across the country, as the national Red Alert campaign and the We Entertainment Community of Las Vegas (WE/EC Vegas) put on a show of support Tuesday night.

Martin led the way as members of the Vegas entertainment community staged a “case push” and temporary Truss Garden installation of open equipment cases along Symphony Park at The Smith Center.

The group walked two laps around the grassy park in front of Reynolds Hall and Boman Pavilion. Martin kept the pace, joking, “I can give up my gym membership now.” He added, “I am pushing to support.”

The event was be livestreamed as part of the We Make Events Red Alert nationwide campaign from 9 p.m.-midnight. That show of support, and a fireworks show and aerial performance at the Plaza, were part of the nationwide Red Alert event. The effort was organized to pressure Congress to pass the Restart Act, which would deliver financial assistance for millions of Americans who have lost income due the COVID-19 shutdown.

A total of 68 trusses were set up in the park, representing one truss for every 1,000 Vegas entertainment workers sidelined by COVID-19. That 68,000 figure was applied before MGM Resorts International laid of 18,000 employees, company-wide, in Las Vegas

Meg Leighton, a member of the Stagehands Local 720, led a 68-second moment of silence at the end of the walk.

“This is to show respect the 68,000 of us who are unemployed,” Leighton said. Her husband, technical director George Stingel, was also on hand. The two were also among the 1,100 who participated in the WE/EC Aug. 20 vehicle parade and walk on the Strip. Such veteran industry professionals as lighting director Vickie Claiborne and stage manager Erica Santucci helped organize the event at the Smith Center.

The event played beautifully, bathed in bright lights at the Smith Center, where the bell tower turned red. The sounds were compelling as well.

“Hearing the drop of the lift gate going up and down, getting cases out of the truck, people calling out ‘Clear!’ and the clicking of the wheels of the cases, the sounds you hear every day when you are working but don’t notice,” Santucci said. “When Myron started leading the case push, and hearing the wheels of those cases moving forward, brought tears to my eyes.”

Those who have been without work since March include such industry professionals as carpenters, stagehands, lighting techs, video designers and sound engineers who are the backbone of the Las Vegas live-entertainment community.

The Las Vegas live-entertainment community has been wiped out since shows were pulled from the stage in March. About 1,500 venues and businesses across the country — including dozens in Las Vegas — turned red Tuesday. Among locations that turned red in Las Vegas included Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas Ballpark, the Mob Museum, Tuscany Suites, Ahern Hotel, The Space, the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, Downtown Las Vegas Events Center, Area15, and Lake of Dreams at Wynn Las Vegas

The Thomas & Mack Center was lit up with 70 lasers. The school’s Artemus Ham Hall, Judy Bayley Theater and Flashlight installation were also lit up. The Plaza was illuminated with the event’s official logo, projected on the side of its building. Hotel owner Jonathan Jossel offered Core Arena for the fireworks show, and Show Talent Production’s aerial show, which performed from a crane on a fire truck and starring stunt artist Angelina Puzanova.

UNLV football coach Marcus Arroyo and Rebel players turned up at the Thomas & Mack Center. A small car parade on the Strip, too, was part of the show of support, with Laugh Factory at the Tropicana magician Murray Sawchuck, dancer Dani Elizabeth of “Crazy Girls” and “Sexxy” producer Jen Romas taking part.

Two workers who walked the walk at the Symphony Park, Thomas “Toe” Morris and Perry Harris, disassembled trusses long after the event ended. Morris had just been working on the Post Malone tour, whose sold-out show at MGM Grand was canceled in March. Harris works on setting up lighting and audio for live-entertainment shows and events in Vegas and across the country.

Neither have worked a paid gig in about six months.

“We were the first ones out,” Morris said, “and we’ll probably be the last ones back. Every show has about 14,000 people, and we’re doing two-three shows a week. We’re not close to being ready to return.”

The two then went back to work. As always, they would be among the last ones out.

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