Entertainment industry not satisfied with new live performance directive

The last time the paying public was allowed to attend live shows was back in June.

SHAUL MIZRAHI, owner of the Barby Club, protests outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem in June.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
SHAUL MIZRAHI, owner of the Barby Club, protests outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem in June.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
The stop-start governmental handling of the pandemic situation took another twist on Sunday when the new Purple Ribbon guidelines for holding concerts and other shows were issued. According to the new regulations, artists can perform in the open air, to controlled “capsule” audience batches of up to 20 people.
The latest directive was greeted by across-the-board surprise and disappointment throughout the entertainment industry, and only served to fuel an already toxic situation as the culture and arts sector continues to, at best, stumble its way through an unclear present toward an uncertain future.
The last time the paying public was allowed to attend live shows was back in June when the government opened up what proved to be a short-lived window of just 11 days before that option, too, dissipated.
The Culture & Arts Institutions Forum in Israel, the umbrella organization that incorporates hundreds of culture and entertainment outfits across the country, responded by announcing it was going to hold a demonstration Tuesday night near the prime minister’s Balfour Street residence in Jerusalem “to cry out against the predicament in which the cultural sector finds itself in the wake of the corona crisis.” The forum’s spokesperson said that “thousands of unemployed workers from cultural institutions, from all over Israel, will travel to Jerusalem in order to protest against the incompetence that is leading to the collapse of the cultural institutions, employees and artists in Israel’s culture industry, and who are calling for the immediate opening of the world of culture in Israel.”
Shaul Mizrahi, owner of the Barby club in Tel Aviv, one of the country’s leading music venues, says he is mystified at the situation, particularly when Prof. Ronni Gamzu, the head of Israel’s coronavirus task force, has said that holding events in closed auditoria – naturally, in accordance with Ministry of Health requirements – “does not represent a source of infection.” “I think it is disgusting that theaters have still not reopened,” says Mizrahi. “Why, for example, doesn’t The Mann Auditorium, with 2,400 seats, or places with a 1,500 seating capacity, which can be arranged so that people can watch shows and maintain social distancing, reopen? It is a disgrace.”
Like many of his co-professionals, Mizrahi cites various other commercial facilities which have been allowed to resume operations. “You have all sorts of closed places, like supermarkets at the start of the crisis, and IKEA, and then it evolved into open air places. The [government] rulings are so extreme. I ask a simple question: if you can gather for shows in the open air, because it is much safer, how can they allow people to board planes? I haven’t yet seen a plane with a sunroof,” he smiles wryly.
Mizrahi says he has no plans to reopen his club in the foreseeable future, because it simply isn’t practicable. “How can I open up, for example, if I can only admit 20% or a quarter of the club’s capacity? I can’t make a living like that.” State support would be nice. “I’d be happy to stay closed for a year, and get a government living allowance, until it’s safe and certain to reopen.”
Ethnopop, rock, jazz musician Yakir Sasoon is similarly bewildered by the way things have been panning out for the entertainment industry. He will be among the expected thousands thronging the upper reaches of Azza Road in Jerusalem this evening. “It’s really absurd, this business of what is allowed and what is not allowed, away from cultural events. There will be so many people in Jerusalem, together, even with masks. It’s really crazy.”
Sasoon, a member of the afrobeat-jazz band Quarter to Africa, which has just released its sophomore album, Falafel Pop, feels the governmental zigzagging is the result of incompetence rather than a malicious attempt to bring the industry to its knees. “They just don’t know what to do,” he states. “I don’t think anyone intentionally wants to hurt the entertainment sector. But, in covering their rear ends they don’t mind sacrificing the people that they feel won’t make too much of a fuss. Unfortunately that’s us.”
Eyal Sher, general director of the Israel Festival, says he is looking for more, much more, from the government. He feels the latest guideline represents “the first buds of something positive, but it is far from a solution to the situation.” He would like to see a return to an earlier plan of action. “If we could go back to the outline arrangement of three or four weeks ago, whereby you could admit audiences of up to 250, with up to 75% capacity of auditoria. That, at least, is financially viable.”
Sher, along with artistic director Itzik Jolie, is currently preparing for this year’s deferred Israel Festival which is due to take place September 3-12, in tandem with the Jerusalem Jazz Festival, which normally happens in December. There is still some hope that at least some of the shows will be performed to actual corporeal audiences but, in any event, they will all be made available online.
Meanwhile, Culture & Arts Institutions Forum in Israel head Danny Weiss, who also serves as CEO of the Mediatheque arts and culture complex in Holon, takes a more strident approach to the state’s response to the coronavirus crisis. “All culture professionals – artists, creators, producers and workers – are being held captive by a government which refuses to accept the recommendations of its own professionals.” Weiss says the entertainment industry should be allowed to get back to work in the near future. “Senior Health Ministry officials with whom we met have said that, for their part, there is nothing to prevent the gradual reopening of culture auditoria from the second half of August. Thus far their recommendation has not even been discussed. We call on the government, and its head, to move past irrelevant considerations, to listen to the recommendations of the professionals, to opening cultural institutions gradually and securely, to allow the tens of thousands of unemployed people to get back to making a living, and to revive the world of culture.”