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‘I don’t want to be abandoned’: Live events workers march for extended unemployment assistance

Jacklyn Boyland was part of a group photo Friday as local stagehands called attention to the plight of 12 million workers nationwide in the live events industry who have been without work since March.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

People who work on live events marched through the Theatre District to raise awareness for the plight of 12 million ushers, stagehands, and technical crew workers unemployed nationwide.

More than 100 Boston-area theater employees turned out for the 3 p.m. march, from the Citizens Bank Opera House to the Boch Wang Center.

Many pushed black and orange equipment carts down sidewalks, each plastered with a letter that helped spell out, “12 million strong.” The long line of participants marching briefly interrupted traffic through bustling downtown intersections near the Boston Common.

Brian Willis, a Boston Lyric Opera carpenter who manned one of the carts, said the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the live events sector — and the future looks bleak.


Large performance venues are not allowed to open until Phase 4 of the Massachusetts reopening plan, which requires a vaccine or treatment for the virus be available.

“What are we fighting for?” asked Willis, a Scituate resident. “Survival. People lost their jobs this year, [but] we lost our careers.”

The workers demanded continued pandemic unemployment assistance for industry employees and advocated for the RESTART Act. Introduced in May, the act would extend the Paycheck Protection Program, a federal loan initiative that aids small businesses in the coronavirus era.

A member of the Boston stagehands union, IATSE 11, Jeanette Belmont said freelance workers and non-union employees in the industry are often slighted by the current unemployment process. She said she knows people making only $300 per week in benefits.

“I’m grateful that we’re in Massachusetts, where they at least try,” Belmont said. “I have friends in other states where [the unemployment program] is not nearly as helpful. But even here, there’s a lot of us who are barely able to make our bills if we are.”

Others said they attended to rally for the future of the theater industry and to ensure that people do not forgot about its workers.


“I don’t want to be abandoned,” said Gene Marley, an usher with 48 years experience. “We miss theater, and theater’s important. You can only watch so much TV. Here, the actors play off the audience and their emotions.”

The marchers eventually set up a small stage near the Boch Wang Center, where masked speakers roused socially distanced attendees with stories about how the pandemic affected them and their work.

One lighting freelancer, Aurelia Lyman, told the crowd that with every theater closure extension, she goes through the “five stages of grief.”

“I struggle every day not knowing if I can win,” she said. “I feel angry that we are forgotten.”

Errick Jersey, an entertainment rigger and speaker, called on government officials to do better.

“There are countries where they are taking care of their people,” Jersey said. “It’s not too much to ask for that to happen to us.”

US Representative Stephen Lynch, a Democratic from South Boston, made an appearance to vouch for the HEROES Act, a $2.2 trillion package that would send a second round of stimulus checks to Americans.

Friday’s event was the latest of several demonstrations the Massachusetts Live Events Coalition led this month.

Diti Kohli can be reached at diti.kohli@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ditikohli_.

Diti Kohli can be reached at diti.kohli@globe.com. Follow her @ditikohli_.