Labor Shortage

TimMc

Well-Known Member
Premium Member
Joined
Feb 15, 2017
“People are saying ‘I have health insurance, retirement,’”...

That was certainly a major factor in my career path choices.
Live entertainment and making movies are the most personnel-abusive industries I've worked in. It's all about getting something done right now, taking various safety and security risks, to primarily profit others. At least the major movie production is unionized and benefits, pensions, and working conditions are protected by contracts. In the live side only Yellow Card/Pink Contract touring attractions and theater comes close. Not in music tours, not in dirt events, not in most local crewing.

When filling a 16 worker call means sending dispatch notices to 100 workers to fill, and then 20% are no-show, it's a clear message that folks have moved on.

I blame this on a couple of things, but the biggest one is the FUBAR unemployment compensation system in the USA. There are people who lost their jobs a year ago still waiting for their benefits while others have inexplicably had their benefits halted (try calling/writing/emailing any state's unemployment office, let me know if you get through to a human). While some states are incredibly stingy, when combined with additional federal benefits many might have held out to return to production jobs. Lack of benefits meant "whatever job, right-freaking-now, thankyouverymuch." Those temp jobs became permanent months ago, with health insurance, 401K, maybe profit sharing. What do we get as a stage hand, tour person, or local shop employee? Rhetorically speaking.

The next is the duration of the pandemic caused by not only forgetting 1918 (and face it, most of us weren't around for that) but forgetting 2020 - every major holiday, every time a restriction was loosened - infection rates and hospitalizations would soar because *people* would then do exactly the opposite of what was needed. Virii cause pandemics but human behavior keeps them going. Faced with the 3rd wave I seriously questioned if, at my age, I should just take the financial hit of early retirement and give up on the industry and craft I've worked in for almost 40 years. Things would look good a couple of weeks and politicians and segments of the public would clamor to party like it was 2019 again, and then do so. See first sentence, above. The stubbornness of *just enough* of the public became -and remains - an existential threat to the arts, entertainment, and live sports industries. Personally, I'm over the uncertainty. I've seen the carrot on the stick and I know it's on a stick... but every time I become hopeful that "we" are on our way to a measured return to better times, that victory is snatched by the cynical, greedy, or uncaring, only for the cycle to then repeat. Others bailed 2 cycles back...

THIS is why we'll have a 4th wave that will primarily infect those who flaunt the masking/distancing lessons we should have learned from in the last 9 months - those between 19-44 years of age. It will happen to them because the most vulnerable and older populations have been vaccinated (or at least offered a vaccine). While it's likely there will be fewer fatalities, there will likely be more "long haul" patients who will bear the brunt of Covid-19 for decades. That's bad for staffing and crewing because that's a core demographic of our workers.

Now if anyone knows how to hook up an external antenna to my new Digital Crystal Ball...
 

MNicolai

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@TimMc I mean, yeah, there are going to be lots of contributing factors why people leave the industry and won't come back, but have you ever encountered an employer in this business who had a "Let's have fun and make lots of money together" target goal in mind?

The most successful people in this business are killing themselves with tons of work and travel, little or no benefits, little or no retirement plan, and doing it for pennies per hour worked. That was a problem long before COVID and will be a problem long after COVID.

Every tour needs the newest, biggest, baddest video wall and tech and many have a huge budget for pyro that gets set on fire, when the people actually putting the shows on aren't getting compensated anywhere near the amount they should be for destroying their bodies at a young age and having little or no semblance of a work/life balance.
 
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I've started checking in on my call list to see where people are. The thing is totally destroyed. I've lost my head carpenter. I've lost the second in line for that position too. Many people fired up side hustles that they have figured out work better then working at a half dozen venues doing gig work. I really wonder how many of the old retirement age road dogs will be doing this when work picks back up now they they have felt retirement. Will be interesting.
 

What Rigger?

I'm so fly....I Neverland.
Joined
Aug 24, 2006
Location
PPT.
Live entertainment and making movies are the most personnel-abusive industries I've worked in. It's all about getting something done right now, taking various safety and security risks, to primarily profit others. At least the major movie production is unionized and benefits, pensions, and working conditions are protected by contracts. In the live side only Yellow Card/Pink Contract touring attractions and theater comes close. Not in music tours, not in dirt events, not in most local crewing.

When filling a 16 worker call means sending dispatch notices to 100 workers to fill, and then 20% are no-show, it's a clear message that folks have moved on.

I blame this on a couple of things, but the biggest one is the FUBAR unemployment compensation system in the USA. There are people who lost their jobs a year ago still waiting for their benefits while others have inexplicably had their benefits halted (try calling/writing/emailing any state's unemployment office, let me know if you get through to a human). While some states are incredibly stingy, when combined with additional federal benefits many might have held out to return to production jobs. Lack of benefits meant "whatever job, right-freaking-now, thankyouverymuch." Those temp jobs became permanent months ago, with health insurance, 401K, maybe profit sharing. What do we get as a stage hand, tour person, or local shop employee? Rhetorically speaking.

The next is the duration of the pandemic caused by not only forgetting 1918 (and face it, most of us weren't around for that) but forgetting 2020 - every major holiday, every time a restriction was loosened - infection rates and hospitalizations would soar because *people* would then do exactly the opposite of what was needed. Virii cause pandemics but human behavior keeps them going. Faced with the 3rd wave I seriously questioned if, at my age, I should just take the financial hit of early retirement and give up on the industry and craft I've worked in for almost 40 years. Things would look good a couple of weeks and politicians and segments of the public would clamor to party like it was 2019 again, and then do so. See first sentence, above. The stubbornness of *just enough* of the public became -and remains - an existential threat to the arts, entertainment, and live sports industries. Personally, I'm over the uncertainty. I've seen the carrot on the stick and I know it's on a stick... but every time I become hopeful that "we" are on our way to a measured return to better times, that victory is snatched by the cynical, greedy, or uncaring, only for the cycle to then repeat. Others bailed 2 cycles back...

THIS is why we'll have a 4th wave that will primarily infect those who flaunt the masking/distancing lessons we should have learned from in the last 9 months - those between 19-44 years of age. It will happen to them because the most vulnerable and older populations have been vaccinated (or at least offered a vaccine). While it's likely there will be fewer fatalities, there will likely be more "long haul" patients who will bear the brunt of Covid-19 for decades. That's bad for staffing and crewing because that's a core demographic of our workers.

Now if anyone knows how to hook up an external antenna to my new Digital Crystal Ball...
Louder for the people in the back, sir! Dead on!
 

What Rigger?

I'm so fly....I Neverland.
Joined
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Location
PPT.
I know the industry seems poised to roar back, and that demand could be huge. But I'm in no rush to go back to not being valued by my employer. I'm still looking for work outside the industry.
 
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Amiers

Renting to Corporate One Fixture at a Time.
Joined
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Location
Phoenix, Az
The ones that got in on their benifits early and it held up and didn’t squander it on fun spending are going to be the ones holding out to return to the jobs when they come back. Me personally saved as much as I could and am still holding out because we still have last years money propping us up plus what Abbey makes. While I know the stick is still most likely around til summer I feel confident that we will be back in the shops soon chugging away. Regardless of all that a lot of people in our industry just don’t translate to others. I know cause even after a year I have had less than a dozen interviews and one offer that after taxes netted little more than minimum wage/ UI is paying. Fingers crossed these vaccines push away the “4th wave” and bring us back to some sort of normalcy.
 

MNicolai

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Location
Sarasota, FL
The ones that got in on their benefits early and it held up and didn’t squander it on fun spending are going to be the ones holding out to return to the jobs when they come back.
This may be a contributing factor for people who have stuck it out long enough without moving on so they can return to their positions, but people have had a year cooped up for self-reflection and to reassess their priorities in life. Do they really want to return to living like nomads, delaying having having kids, being in a position where it may be extra difficult to parent kids they already have, working insane hours for little job security with no benefits?
 

Amiers

Renting to Corporate One Fixture at a Time.
Joined
May 28, 2009
Location
Phoenix, Az
This may be a contributing factor for people who have stuck it out long enough without moving on so they can return to their positions, but people have had a year cooped up for self-reflection and to reassess their priorities in life. Do they really want to return to living like nomads, delaying having having kids, being in a position where it may be extra difficult to parent kids they already have, working insane hours for little job security with no benefits?
For me personally yes. I have hunkered down here. Buy the dips and cash in on the top. I started a life rose fast after leaving WI. I wouldn’t trade what I had will eventually have until I literally have to and as stated in the matrix we are willing to do things most wouldn’t to survive.
 
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chawalang

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Joined
Apr 10, 2012
Location
Texas
As a union member my hope is that as we come out of this unions across the board will stand their ground. A labor shortage is going to present a great opportunity for organizations to take advantage of the situation. Especially because all the kids today were never taught in school about the labor movement and their rights as workers.

I’m old enough to remember how bad this situation was in the recession, unions did not stand their ground, thus a race to the bottom was created, labor was exploited on stage and backstage. I can only imagine how much worse it will be this time around.

From people I have been talking to in my network it doesn’t look like this shortage will really affect technical management positions. Where it is going to hurt most is those who are on the metaphorical assembly lines in regional theatres, road houses, hotels, and convention centers.

It also wouldn’t surprise me to see certain touring companies try and ram rod some kids out of elite performing arts high schools as the crew on a tour.

Throw 3-4 heads/adults on the crew, they do all the actual work, what’s the rest of the crew really there for any way said the accountant.
 

What Rigger?

I'm so fly....I Neverland.
Joined
Aug 24, 2006
Location
PPT.
As a union member my hope is that as we come out of this unions across the board will stand their ground. A labor shortage is going to present a great opportunity for organizations to take advantage of the situation. Especially because all the kids today were never taught in school about the labor movement and their rights as workers.

I’m old enough to remember how bad this situation was in the recession, unions did not stand their ground, thus a race to the bottom was created, labor was exploited on stage and backstage. I can only imagine how much worse it will be this time around.

From people I have been talking to in my network it doesn’t look like this shortage will really affect technical management positions. Where it is going to hurt most is those who are on the metaphorical assembly lines in regional theatres, road houses, hotels, and convention centers.

It also wouldn’t surprise me to see certain touring companies try and ram rod some kids out of elite performing arts high schools as the crew on a tour.

Throw 3-4 heads/adults on the crew, they do all the actual work, what’s the rest of the crew really there for any way said the accountant.
To some degree, all of this came up at my Local's membership meeting tonight. I agree that this is definitely the time for Unions to hold fast and hold firm.
 

soundman

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Joined
Sep 4, 2003
Location
Nashville TN
I worry about the middle of the pack people. The top tier either made enough to ride out 2020 or were able to hustle up some gigs to get through and are waiting to get back to their old gigs. The entry level folks likely were making about the same at their temp jobs as they were working in the shop waiting for their chance to go out and gig, the draw of sex drugs and rock and roll will bring them back. But the folks in the middle the Audio systems engineers, 3rd electricians and assistant carp types. Hard working folks who are able to figure out the latest technology are in demand in other industries. Maybe they take a 10%-15% pay cut but trade the cash for a fixed schedule and benefits. That will be hard to leave, especially in the first round as the risk of a false start is high. Those are the people that will be hard to replace.

To paraphrase what the owner of an audio company told me when I asked about his crew " I've got plenty of engineers, and I've got plenty of people to fly PA. What I don't have are experinced people to teach the PA techs and give the engineers support"

Even in 2019 local labor was thin. We needed like 120 hands for our out on my arena tour. A markets were typically fine, but the B and C markets were typically short hands very short on experience. I can teach a couple locals a call to sling deck or pin truss together. When 8 of my 12 automation hands haven't been on a gig before that is going to slow down my day.
 

Allana

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Joined
Aug 19, 2015
Location
Minneapolis
Live entertainment and making movies are the most personnel-abusive industries I've worked in. It's all about getting something done right now, taking various safety and security risks, to primarily profit others. At least the major movie production is unionized and benefits, pensions, and working conditions are protected by contracts. In the live side only Yellow Card/Pink Contract touring attractions and theater comes close. Not in music tours, not in dirt events, not in most local crewing.

When filling a 16 worker call means sending dispatch notices to 100 workers to fill, and then 20% are no-show, it's a clear message that folks have moved on
Clearly, you've never worked as a farm laborer, meat packer, or personal care attendant.

Just because you offered work to 100 people and few wanted it does NOT mean that folks have moved on. Correlation is not causation, my friend.
Here are some more theories that I have about why you didn't find workers:
-they don't feel safe on the job yet
-they don't feel safe on the job working for you/that employer
-they wouldn't be classified as employees (which makes not feeling safe a whole lot scarier)
-they are intimidated my workplace covid policies
-they didn't know enough in advance that this one gig was going to be available for them to rotate their schedule around it
-they don't think its worth leaving their temporary but *paying FT/PT job to take your one gig when it'll be who knows how long before another one comes along
-their body isn't ready for that type of work right now

But also, to your point, a Prudential Financial just reported (March 2021) that "a significant number of respondents said they switched jobs during the pandemic (20%) or plan to look for a new job when the threat of the pandemic decreases (26%)." That's a lot compared to normal numbers but also fairly common when citizens go through a major economic change (like post-recession). What I mean to say is that even if lots of workers have left the industry permanently, thats sort of par for the course when we live through an economic crisis and one that has hit our industry particularly hard.

One final thing about the pipeline. If anyone was going to school for this stuff, they've been distance-learning for a year (+) and will behind in getting the hands-on skills (and building the muscles) that they'll need to do the job. Also, high schools and colleges are often set up where one generation does a lot of teaching to the next. The fact that this year's students lack the necessary skills means that next year's students will ALSO lack the necessary skills (or at least be slow to pick them up).

The best solution I see is to estimate MORE TIME to do the work. Build in more time for on the job training and for recovering (physically, mentally) between gigs or long days.
 

TimMc

Well-Known Member
Premium Member
Joined
Feb 15, 2017
Clearly, you've never worked as a farm laborer, meat packer, or personal care attendant.

Just because you offered work to 100 people and few wanted it does NOT mean that folks have moved on. Correlation is not causation, my friend.
Here are some more theories that I have about why you didn't find workers:
-they don't feel safe on the job yet
-they don't feel safe on the job working for you/that employer
-they wouldn't be classified as employees (which makes not feeling safe a whole lot scarier)
-they are intimidated my workplace covid policies
-they didn't know enough in advance that this one gig was going to be available for them to rotate their schedule around it
-they don't think its worth leaving their temporary but *paying FT/PT job to take your one gig when it'll be who knows how long before another one comes along
-their body isn't ready for that type of work right now

But also, to your point, a Prudential Financial just reported (March 2021) that "a significant number of respondents said they switched jobs during the pandemic (20%) or plan to look for a new job when the threat of the pandemic decreases (26%)." That's a lot compared to normal numbers but also fairly common when citizens go through a major economic change (like post-recession). What I mean to say is that even if lots of workers have left the industry permanently, thats sort of par for the course when we live through an economic crisis and one that has hit our industry particularly hard.

One final thing about the pipeline. If anyone was going to school for this stuff, they've been distance-learning for a year (+) and will behind in getting the hands-on skills (and building the muscles) that they'll need to do the job. Also, high schools and colleges are often set up where one generation does a lot of teaching to the next. The fact that this year's students lack the necessary skills means that next year's students will ALSO lack the necessary skills (or at least be slow to pick them up).

The best solution I see is to estimate MORE TIME to do the work. Build in more time for on the job training and for recovering (physically, mentally) between gigs or long days.
Clearly you do not know me. I've done 2 of those 3.

-Don't feel safe? Maybe. We're not seeing that, though, in my IATSE Local.
-My employees DO feel safe working for me (I manage a regional audio/LX shop, I'm also an officer in my IA Local). We've worked on protocols and training since June of last year, many of which will be moot in 12 months, and some already are.
-They ARE employees, covered by collective bargaining agreements and the County currently requires permits for events in venues with a capacity of >1000.
-We have not heard of "intimidated" but we have some who do not think PPE is necessary or is the place of the employer to require. Those workers will be removed from the job site and they're informed of this at the time the work is offered.
-Schedules? Yes, these are issues but again, *you* have no idea what is done here or when. We start crew dispatch 14 days out because we know some folks need time to make various arrangements, and workers are not penalized if they cannot do so.
-They don't want to leave their current, if temporary job... absolutely, and that's at the heart of most issues regarding workers coming back - they simply can't justifty the uncertainty and lack of typical benefits they now enjoy, even if their current work pays less.
-Bodies not ready? Absolutely. The most likely thing to fail on a gig is ME. It's gonna take some time and exercise, but right now shows are not using the "git 'er done in 4 hours" model that we've used for decades. As the pandemic wanes I expect that to change simply based on the cost of segregating work, departments, and staggered crewing.

The lack of skilled and experienced workers is at the very heart of the problem. We'll be teaching "stagehand 101" for 6 months, I'm sure, before we can get into specific crafts and skills.
 

josh88

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The lack of skilled and experienced workers is at the very heart of the problem. We'll be teaching "stagehand 101" for 6 months, I'm sure, before we can get into specific crafts and skills.
We're seeing just about the same where I am. Our local had a hard time filling big calls with competent people pre pandemic and its looking so far like we've seen a similar decrease by about 20%. The local is VERY eager to work, but some people have just moved on and either moved or found other work entirely. We're staying closed till the fall most likely but the city has other venues that have already opened and is expecting to large september concerts in conjunction with and golf tournament that is expecting 80k people. I know we will have a hard time filling calls for awhile.


The remaining members on the roll at the local are eager to work, the others have either left entirely or can't take the work because they've got other jobs that they won't be leaving. They've already been asking us when we're going to start booking and reopen and thus far don't seem to give a damn about safety or what's in place, they all just want the work. All of the people we bring in are employees and also are covered by the union contract. We always give the local weeks of advance notice, whereas we often get to the day of a gig and don't have a list of who the local has assigned to the call (despite our contract requiring those details at least 24 hours in advance). It's well known that when a large show like WWE comes through town the local will be pulling people off the streets (literally) to fill calls. I'm not looking forward to this year in that sense because we too will need to be doing some retraining and are already looking at ways to avoid large calls. There absolutely was an exodus after people realized this shutdown was going to last more than a couple months. I personally know a dozen people who decided they were tired of the burnout and took the chance to move over into IT or realty. It's a conversation we've been having with the other union venues in town because they had the same concerns.
 

Dsmagnussen

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Feb 25, 2009
Location
McKendree University
Live entertainment and making movies are the most personnel-abusive industries I've worked in. It's all about getting something done right now, taking various safety and security risks, to primarily profit others. At least the major movie production is unionized and benefits, pensions, and working conditions are protected by contracts. In the live side only Yellow Card/Pink Contract touring attractions and theater comes close. Not in music tours, not in dirt events, not in most local crewing.

When filling a 16 worker call means sending dispatch notices to 100 workers to fill, and then 20% are no-show, it's a clear message that folks have moved on.

I blame this on a couple of things, but the biggest one is the FUBAR unemployment compensation system in the USA. There are people who lost their jobs a year ago still waiting for their benefits while others have inexplicably had their benefits halted (try calling/writing/emailing any state's unemployment office, let me know if you get through to a human). While some states are incredibly stingy, when combined with additional federal benefits many might have held out to return to production jobs. Lack of benefits meant "whatever job, right-freaking-now, thankyouverymuch." Those temp jobs became permanent months ago, with health insurance, 401K, maybe profit sharing. What do we get as a stage hand, tour person, or local shop employee? Rhetorically speaking.

The next is the duration of the pandemic caused by not only forgetting 1918 (and face it, most of us weren't around for that) but forgetting 2020 - every major holiday, every time a restriction was loosened - infection rates and hospitalizations would soar because *people* would then do exactly the opposite of what was needed. Virii cause pandemics but human behavior keeps them going. Faced with the 3rd wave I seriously questioned if, at my age, I should just take the financial hit of early retirement and give up on the industry and craft I've worked in for almost 40 years. Things would look good a couple of weeks and politicians and segments of the public would clamor to party like it was 2019 again, and then do so. See first sentence, above. The stubbornness of *just enough* of the public became -and remains - an existential threat to the arts, entertainment, and live sports industries. Personally, I'm over the uncertainty. I've seen the carrot on the stick and I know it's on a stick... but every time I become hopeful that "we" are on our way to a measured return to better times, that victory is snatched by the cynical, greedy, or uncaring, only for the cycle to then repeat. Others bailed 2 cycles back...

THIS is why we'll have a 4th wave that will primarily infect those who flaunt the masking/distancing lessons we should have learned from in the last 9 months - those between 19-44 years of age. It will happen to them because the most vulnerable and older populations have been vaccinated (or at least offered a vaccine). While it's likely there will be fewer fatalities, there will likely be more "long haul" patients who will bear the brunt of Covid-19 for decades. That's bad for staffing and crewing because that's a core demographic of our workers.

Now if anyone knows how to hook up an external antenna to my new Digital Crystal Ball...
Add to all of this the number of Colleges and Universities that are cutting theatre programs, and the negative population growth curve we are facing, and we will be seeing a lack of labor across the board for a decade.
 

chawalang

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 10, 2012
Location
Texas
I have to disagree.

When the recession happened that’s when a lot of people were rethinking the role of college in their life or rethinking going into the entertainment industry.

After we “came out” of the recession, I’m very much not an economist but I feel that is very debatable, there were a lot of young people clamoring for work. I saw this with various organizations I worked for including I.A.T.S.E. I can remember seeing a lot of kids at LDI and USITT hustling and getting jobs. We’re they getting taken advantage of, in many cases yeah.

Young people who are already in school and lost this year are just going to stick it out and finish it up. Those who did not see it worth the debt and lost time, they are also likely reassessing the role of a degree in their life due to COVID, they will find another way in. The youngstas who want to be in this industry, will find another way to do it, however there will be those who give up and do something else. I don’t think changing a career like not going to college, stops the cream from rising to the top.

I know this next part is going to ruffle some feathers but I know it’s the giant pink elephant in the room that I’ve known for a long time. A lot of these academic theatre programs who are going under due to COVID, they need to go under. I’m welcome to hear why they shouldn’t but I feel this is an inevitability that got a fast forward due to the pandemic. If you have an academic programs that has not been sustainable due to lack of students, lack of long term buisness development, lack of financial donation, if you just have profs collecting a check but not creating a sustainable academic program, then it should go under. Especially when I hear soooooooo many kids today tell me how their “teachers” told them it was ok for them to work for free since they were just starting out.

Work for free?! Come on!

My hope is that this time period will show young people that the ”go to college or you can’t do anything in life” model was never based in reality or sustainable. I really hope when we come out the other side of this we will have a more informed group of young people eager to take in the challenges of our industry.

We will go through a 2-3 year lul on labor, 10 years, no way!

Though to be fair, in 10 years we will be going through our next financial crisis at this rate.
 

cbrandt

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 7, 2011
Location
Michigan
I know this next part is going to ruffle some feathers but I know it’s the giant pink elephant in the room that I’ve known for a long time. A lot of these academic theatre programs who are going under due to COVID, they need to go under.
You've got a very good point here. We've all worked with the kid who came out of college, but still didn't know how to plug in a cable, "because that's not what designers do". There are too many programs out there that don't recognize the value in teaching and learning all levels of this business, and who completely ignore the fact that it is a business. I definitely had some serious blind spots when I came out of college, but at least I came out equipped to learn it, and with experience actually putting shows together.

I'd love to see more of the major programs offering associates degrees focused on technology and stagecraft. The engineering college I went to was going through a very similar process with engineering, and refocusing all the programs to have "technology" associate's degrees focused on the physical work of engineering. It was even a huge breath of fresh air for the engineering side, as those students got a lot more experience seeing how things were actually done, instead of just on paper/in CAD.
 

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