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Lighting designer Rob Halliday: Will we be able to work in the EU on March 30? Nobody knows…

Photo: Northallertonman/Shutterstock.com
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Can we just think for a minute about a friend of mine, who has a gig on March 30 – in Europe. On that day, in that place, will he actually be allowed to do it?

Yes, sorry, Brexit has invaded even the backstage column of this newspaper. Hard to avoid when it’s supposed to happen at the end of next month.

I suspect all of us here have a love of organisation in common. It tends to be what backstage people do well: figuring things out in advance to make the best possible use of precious time in the venue: having a plan.

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But with seven weeks to go, there appears to be none of that when it comes to Brexit. The rhetoric of millions of pounds for the NHS has dissolved into a country apparently moving itself to a war footing, panicked stockpiling of food and drugs and soldiers on standby.

Try to find answers to the most obvious questions – “Will I be able to work in Europe without a visa after March 29?”, say, and you’ll find none. “We will provide updates as and when information becomes available” is the best the UK government website can manage.

Free movement of people has been a major factor in the Brexit discussions, of course, but it constantly seems to be overlooked that this applies both ways. Some of the directors, designers, performers and technicians who have successfully plied their trade across Europe already report fewer enquiries for their services. One suspects a new generation of (non-British) Europeans are ready to step into those roles.

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And not just people, also goods. A lighting hire quote I’ve just had back for a show in Europe in the summer is careful to point out that “any sizeable delays on travel or the need to produce a carnet would incur extra cost”. We haven’t had to worry about requiring documents to move equipment around Europe for years. But that won’t matter if we can’t move the lights (or set) through gridlocked ports, or can’t get a flight there, or are not actually allowed to work there at all.

What is clear: there is a system in place governing all of this that has worked pretty well for a long time. Step out of it and we’re on our own, a very small fish in a big, scary world.

The only really definitive statement I’ve heard lately is the one that said we can cancel the process of leaving at any time. Given government paralysis, public confusion, and no clear idea at all of what we’ll wake up to on March 30, why would you not just say stop? Even if only to sit back, take stock and think about things clearly without the pressure of a very rapidly approaching deadline.

Oh, and about my friend: don’t worry about him. It turns out he has an Irish passport.

Rob Halliday is a lighting designer and programmer. Read more of his columns at: thestage.co.uk/author/Rob-Halliday

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