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Vegas entertainment pros eager to help COVID vaccine effort

Updated January 28, 2021 - 7:30 pm

Las Vegas stagehands offer a simple message when tasked with planning a widespread COVID-19 vaccination effort:

Sign us up.

Stalled for nearly a year because of the pandemic, entertainment professionals who stage live entertainment, conventions and trade shows are ready to roll up their sleeves and get back to work. A concept to include stagehands, riggers, carpenters technicians and the like in a vaccination operation been brandied about on social media since before the holidays.

The effort has accelerated this week with a pair of public letters to President Joe Biden on behalf of several entertainment-industry heavyweights.

First was International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) President Matthew D. Loeb, who posted a letter on Instagram on behalf of his union on Monday. Loeb specified his membership’s work alongside the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA in disaster-response crises.

IATSE workers have helped convert arenas and convention centers into COVID relief hospitals.

“Together, we have a unique opportunity not only to help beat this virus an save lives, but also to get these skilled union technicians back to work,” Loeb posted.

And Tuesday, several live-entertainment organizations formally offered workers and venues to the COVID-19 effort. Among those signing the pledge were the IATSE, AEG, Live Nation, Broadway League, the International Association of Venue Managers, the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), National Independent Talent Organization (NITO), National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) and We Make Events.

In part, the collective letter read, “While we have been effectively shuttered by the pandemic, we have vast resources that, if fully utilized, could provide invaluable mechanisms in our country’s vaccine distribution. In fact because we are shuttered, we are able to offer the full weight of our industry to support vaccine distribution beginning immediately.”

Professionals in Vegas say they can meet this challenge. Sidelined Las Vegas stagehand and stage manager Meg Leighton said that if her colleagues were called upon, “We would be ready to jump in.”

“Coordinating all components of live events, that’s what we do,” said Leighton, who an exhibits and operations manager at the Licensing Expo, and has worked as a stagehand at such conventions as CES, ConExpo-Con/Agg and the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show. “You’re talking about needing facilities, cubicles, rigging, extra power distribution, cleaning and sanitation services, and how to manage thousands of people passing through a venue in a single day.”

Leighton compared the operation of staging a big Las Vegas entertainment festival.

“I’m thinking of something like Rock in Rio,” she said, referring to the two-weekend music event held on Las Vegas Festival Grounds in May 2015. “I’m really thinking off the top of my head, but that was a little city that was built and taken down for a specific event.”

Leighton’s husband, George Stingel, helped construct the staging for such a wide-scale Las Vegas event s the Microsoft Inspire 2019 Conference. The closing event was a Queen + Adam Lambert show for about 30,000 concertgoers at the Festival Grounds.

Stingel also worked the annual Coachella music festival in Indio, Calif. He says he can line up a mass of people waiting for vaccinations.

“What we’re looking at is a really short concert experience, and dealing with between 60,000-100,000 is not something we would shy away from,” Stingel said. “We are technical problem solvers. It’s inherent to the process of live events, conventions, trade shows. We could get a huge labor force spun up really quickly.”

Under this concept, workers would be specifically be asked to coordinate infrastructure. Front-line health workers would coordinate the appointments and (obviously) administer the vaccine shots.

“We need to know how much space we need, how many people we would need to move,” Leighton said. “We need to establish line control, social distancing, and getting people through the process with no issues.”

Veteran entertainment professional Marianne LeBlanc, who owns Magic Trunk Creative consulting company, worked the 2019 Arbonne International direct-marketing company convention.

The convention’s capping event was a launch of the company’s new product line, held for 16,000 attendees at MGM Grand Garden. Four-thousand attendees watched from satellite locations. Immediately following that presentation, 20,000 people moved from the Grand Garden and convention center to Marquee Ballroom, with a total capacity of 5,000.

Every person was eager to collect bags full of new Arbonne products.

“We had this massive layout of products, with thousands of people coming in and out of Marquee Ballroom,” LeBlanc said. “We had a 2 1/2-hour window to make it happen, and we did. If we can do that, we can absolutely distribute vaccinations in a safe time and manner.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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