PSA’s 2021 retrospective

Production Services Association Chair, Dave Keighley rounds up the past year from a PSA perspective and gives a stark warning for 2022.

It’s been quite a year at the Production Services Association (PSA). Our General Manager of 17 years – a familiar face to TPi readers – Andy Lenthall has moved on to head up the UK Festival Awards. I’d like to thank him for his fantastic work over the years and wish him well with his next project.

Stagehand, the PSA’s Benevolent Fund Charity, has continued to award grants to many who have experienced financial hardship throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns. I’d like to thank Mike Lowe and the rest of the Stagehand trustees for the amazing work they have done in helping so many people this year and last, and I’d also like to thank the very generous people and companies that support Stagehand.

There is no question that 2020 and most of 2021 have been devastating for the live event industry. Despite things opening up in the summer and a busy autumn with lots of conferences taking place and shows back on the road, there is one question that still remains; what does 2022 have in store for us?

With promoters and agents keen to get their clients back out on tour, you’d think that 2022 will be a record-breaking year – or, will it? To put it into perspective, if you want a stage, lighting, video, an audio system, trucks or tour busses for any show past early May next year, I would advise that you book it, confirm it, and pay a deposit sooner rather than later. For the first time in my career, I believe that the word ‘no’ will be heard by an ever-growing number of people who have never heard it before. It looks like there will be shortages of equipment next summer but more devastating will be the lack of qualified crew and technicians.

Without these essential workers, it doesn’t matter how many tickets you sell, if production companies can’t get crew then there could be shows that will not happen. Our industry has always been proud of never failing to deliver, no matter what hurdles were put in our way. This could change in 2022.

With so many workers having left our industry in the past 18 months, do we really expect them all to come back? Many technicians have either left the industry completely or have moved over into the television, broadcast and film sectors.

These sectors generally work shorter hours and have better rates of pay compared to concert touring. Expecting these people to return to the torturous hours of concert touring is a tough ask and one many will not accept. We have been working hard to get more apprenticeship schemes up and running, but this will not help in the next two to three years.

What also doesn’t help is the lack of components for all types of equipment, from moving lights to video screens to audio consoles. I don’t wish to be a harbinger of doom, but these problems are real and I’m worried. Our creative industry needs to think quickly about how we can avoid disappointing our clients and really getting back to where we were in 2019. For once, I really hope I’m wrong, but better to plan now than be disappointed when next summer rolls around.

This article originally appeared in issue #266 of TPi, which you can read here.