Once upon a time, we enjoyed a night out at the theatre, a live music gig in a crowded venue, experienced the anticipation as the lights went down and the curtains drew back. The show must go on, those in the profession have always said. Except now, when someone tells you to stop.
Despite the Executive's financial support, promised in July, with £29m finally announced on Thursday, it's too late to put Christmas back on the cards.
As a child, I remember the trip to the big city with my parents to the Christmas pantomime at the Grand Opera House. It didn't matter what or who was on the stage, but I'm sure May McFettridge was there.
May always came out in December. The packet of wine gums, the hush of the crowd, the laughs and giggles, the moans and groans.
One year, I left the Grand Opera House, holding hands with my parents and a covering of undisturbed snow had painted the footpaths white. For a child, that was magical, but we will all be starved of memories like those this year.
There'll be no porridge on the table for Goldilocks, with the annual pantomime, which draws so many families out into the city on pre-Christmas evenings, already cancelled. Other big productions, including the ever-popular Mamma Mia! and the Scottish Ballet's production of The Nutcracker, have also fallen by the wayside. And there, in the space of a few words, you can see the diversity appeal the arts sector provides: families, connoisseurs, music lovers, those in need of a laugh to keep spirits up.
With a staff of around 100, more than half at the Grand Opera House have been on unpaid leave. But there is now a chink of brightness peeking through the curtains. And while it may yet be some time before they're treading the boards again, there is at least a life jacket to cling to.
Margaret Henry, a member of the Arts Collaboration Network which supports organisations across the wide spectrum of creative arts, said the financial aid pledged by the Executive earlier this week will at least give the sector a fighting chance of survival.
"While we have not been allocated the entirety of that sum promised in July (£33m), we do acknowledge the work from Communities Minister Caral Ni Chuilin in bringing forward this package.
"The arts and culture sector is mired in uncertainty as a result of the actions we have been asked to take in dealing with the pandemic. The doors of venues across the region closed over six months ago; festivals have been cancelled and our stages and galleries have been silent and empty."
She added: "Freelancers who rely on shows, festivals and events lost their livelihoods overnight and we still do not have a date or plan for when theatres, music venues and community arts spaces across Northern Ireland will all be able to reopen.
"Without financial support for our sector, the arts here has faced oblivion. This welcome announcement has the capacity to offer a temporary reprieve for a sector that has been on the point of collapse for months."
Anne McReynolds is chief executive at the MAC in Belfast, which has tentatively opened its doors as it tries to do its bit to bring Belfast back to life. "We're happy that there will now be financial support," she said, "but concerns remain. It will give the sector an opportunity to relieve the enormous pressure we'd all been under.
"The future was looking very bleak, but we now need urgent discussions with the Department and the Arts Council to get this money fast-tracked to the people who need it - the artists who have rents to pay, families to feed. It needs to be treated as an emergency fund. At the MAC, we will continue to do all we can to help the city centre stay active, always with health and safety in mind. What money has been made available so far has been for projects, not for individuals to live on."
Six months with little in the way of financial support coming over the rainbow have taken a hard toll. Many of those in the sector are self-employed and have been falling through the Government's safety net.
Twice in the past week, the sector came together to appeal to the Executive release a promised £33m in Government support. Just like a pantomime, as the crowd shouts "He's behind you!", the warning continued to fall on deaf ears. Finally, on Thursday, after two months of fret, worry and financial uncertainty, they were heard.
At the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, Christmas had already been cancelled.
"I waited as long as I could to give it a chance. I couldn't wait any longer," said executive producer Jimmy Fay. "We have to keep banging the drum as we try to march forward. Any package will be useful, though there won't be any time to re-do Christmas.
"At the Lyric, we employ a lot of freelancers to create work and even before lockdown, what we were being able to do was diminishing as the arts was always the first sector to face cuts. This year, we have lost over £2m in box office revenue alone.
"We're an industry that brings people out of their homes, into venues, into towns and cities. Just likes the restaurants, the bars, the farming community, the big business community we employ, we provide a service. We need the same respect. Any more blows and we'll be handing back the keys."
But the arts sector is about much more than venues and performers. Michelle McTernan, manager and promoter of some of the top names in the business, relies on venues being able to host performances.
"In the past couple of months, I've had eight festivals cancelled. That's thousands of pounds," she said. "There's so much more to this business than watching a singer on stage. Events needs organised, promoted, sponsors need to be found, tickets need sold. That takes time. It can take months of work to get events from conception to completion and in this business the promoter only gets paid on completion of the event.
"Summer should have been the biggest time of the year for us. Christmas should be next. Summer didn't happen. Christmas won't either."
This weekend, Michelle was supposed to be finally enjoying the Younique festival she had worked long hours to arrange, But six months of planning were undone in the space of a few hours, live music a victim of further restrictions.
"It's heartbreaking," she added. "I spent the day cancelling what I'd been working for six months on. What should have been a crowd of over 600 was going to be around 100. But that's gone now as well.
"We've had to come up with new ideas. I have Nathan Carter doing a live pay-per-view concert at Crumlin Road Gaol in October, so that's something on the horizon. You do what you can to survive."
Singer Conleth Kane was due to be on stage twice this weekend alongside Belfast's Brian Kennedy as part of that Younique festival. He flew in from his home base in London to the news that the gigs had been cancelled at the last minute.
"It's a horror story. But there was a conversation no one wanted to have. The focus has been on Covid, on shops getting open, on virtually every other business getting back. No one wanted this virus to happen, but it has been a hard pill to swallow seeing others get back to work," he said.
"People say to me, 'Sure, you can just go back to your day job now.' This is my day job. It's my career. People might go to concerts as a hobby, but it's everything to me.
But the venues, even around London, are all empty and artists have been on their knees begging for help.
"The last time I performed on stage was on January 27. I'd worked hard on an album earlier this year and spent February and March filming videos, but I wasn't able to do any promotion work after that.
"I'm self-employed and I fell just short of qualifying for any Government support. I was caught in a perfect storm.
"You could look at it as professional trauma. Your career just halts overnight. Everything you worked towards just isn't there anymore. Mentally, it's tough and there will be some who can't deal with it."
With the destination of £29m still to be decided by the Department for Communities, there will be more than a few waiting and hoping it can kick-start a cultural recovery. But it may not get actors back on the stage just yet.
It's not over until the fat lady sings, they say. But she's staying quiet and, for now, she's stepped off the stage.