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...Meanwhile, on Broadway.

The Writers Guild of America may not be the only entertainment union more concerned with making money than with the well-being of its industry. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE, or "the alliance"), which represents all of the stagehands in the country's major commercial theaters, has a history of stringent rules and high salaries that stands in stark contrast to the happygo-lucky image of those who work on the Great White Way.

The union's work rules are notorious. Those who work on a typical Broadway show-carpenters, electricians, props men, and wardrobe workers-are not allowed to share even the simplest duties. According to the bylaws from IATSE's 1984 constitution, union members, as well as producers and theater owners foolhardy enough to infringe on other members' jurisdictions, can come in for heavy punishments. Working on "short-crew" show (one employing fewer stagehands than the union feels is necessary) carries a fine o "not less than" $100 for union members, while "working out of department"carpenters handling stage lights, for example-costs an extra $100. Second offenses are punishable by fines of at least $200 and suspension from the union for no less than one year.

Most stage managers say they do not encounter rigid adherence to the "out of department" rules in the middle of a performance-say, an electrician refusing to adjust a sandbag that seems precariously close to falling on Angela Lansbury. But given the penalties, producers do follow union rules during the months and months of preparations that go into a show. Why shouldn't the stagehands be cooperative once you've already hired everyone they told you to? According to one IATSE rule, if a particular department, electricians say, is required in the theater for a specific "work call," then the crew chiefs of all departments also must be called.

Under another agreement (now expired) crews were required to take down every stage light at the end of a show's run. It didn't matter if the next show needed some or all of the lights in the same placesthey still had to come down so that union crews could put them back up. Some rules are just silly. One designer remembers cutting a deal with his crew when they wanted to postpone lighting work (a "focus" session) to pick up a more lucrative job first. He was kind enough to agree if they would charge him less. To make the deal binding, the crew members had to run around the theater and touch each light. Why? According to union rules, they had to give the owner a discount once any work had been done on a light-a touch was enough.

TATSE is not the only theater union with a history of odd rules, of course. In 1970, Local 3 of the American Federation of Musicians managed to lose 52 union jobs by insisting on one of its residency rules. According to the rule, musicians-including AFM members of other locals who moved to the city-could not be admitted to the local until they had completed three years of residency in the city. An exception was made for the Indianapolis Symphony so that they could hire union members who had not yet been "transferred" to the local. When a new summer program was initiated to play concerts in the city's parks, 32 members of the local were offered jobs. But the program's organizers needed another 20 musicians and the union was adamant about excluding the "union transfer candidates" who were allowed to play with the .Symphony. In the end, the program was canceled.

What are salaries like when IATSE members do show up?. The president of the Shubert Organization, Bernard Jacobs, says that for the 1987-88 season, his crew chiefs made $781 per week during the run of a show, or about $40,000 per year in base pay. (Another producer put the figure closer to $1,000 per week. IATSE won't return calls.) Taking down an old show ("striking it," in stage terminology), "putting in" a new one, or fixing and maintaining a running show costs extra. Ralph Roseman, general manager of the $4 million musical Me and My Girl, estimates that as much as one quarter of that went to union technicians. And that $4 million only gets the show to opening night. During the run of the show, the ten IATSE crew members will account for a minimum of $6,000 per week-or $312,000 per year By the end of a two-year run, that will have put 35 percent of the cost of the show into the pockets of alliance members. And with overtime, first-class air travel, and other bonuses-which vary from local to local and theater to theater-it can be much more, So what? So labor is a culpable proportion of these productions' inflated budgets.

This would all be very well if the money were there. Joseph Papp, producer of such Broadway goldmines as A Chorus Line, seems to think that people would be willing to pay $60, S70, $100 for a big hit. "They have it," he promises, though he adds, "that may change." But it's hard to see how the public will continue to indulge soaring ticket costs,

The top-priced show on June 3, 1951, was Guys and Dolls, which cost $6.60 for a weekend evening orchestra ticket. By 1961, Camelot was asking $9.40 for its top ticket price. The 1970-72 seasons saw upper limits of $12 for such musicals as 1776 and Jesus Christ Superstar (You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown was a bargain at $8.) The 1970s saw only modest increases after inflation. Pippin and Candide were asking $15 by 1975; A Chorus Line and Dancing in the End Zone set a high of $27.50 in 1980, but Annie, Bamum, Evita, and Ain't Misbehavin' were all going for $25 or less.

Then the floodgates opened. In 1981, Evita, Amadeus, and Bamum all were asking $30; by 1982 Cats had risen to $45; Evita and A Chorus Line were up to $40. In 1983, Agnes of God, A Chorus Line, and Amadeus all joined the $45 club. Inflation accounted for less than $5 out of the $20 increases of those three years. After those years, increases again slowed. The top ticket price today is $50.

Other costs-particularly advertising-are rising too and the pressure appears to be on to charge whatever people will pay. Explaining the ticket increases of the first four years of the eighties, producer Morton Gottlieb notes that "when I had Sleuth and Same Time, Next Year on Broadway, they played to capacity standing room for the first year. . . [so] everybody said 'raise the prices, raise the prices.' "

Has there been an attempt on the part of management and Labor to keep price increases down over the last few "I don't think there ever is," he contends. "Somebody raises and somebody else raises." As Papp notes ominously, "there are only large-budget shows on Broadway."

Box office receipts this year were Broadway's highest ever, but much of that can be accounted for by a handful of big musicals, and attendance levels are still not back to their 1984 level. That means goodbye to all but the smallest plays-"Chances are slim that you'll ever make it [on a play with a cast of 15 or more] ," says Papp-and goodbye to the kind of risk-taking that makes great theater.

IATSE officials seem to understand that the salad days may be over. Presumably some of the recent restraint is a product of more modest union increases in the past three years-0, 5 1/2, and 5 1/2 percent salary increases per year, But their idea of worker cooperation still leaves a lot to be desired. For Rosenman's production of Dancing in the End Zone, for example, IATSE allowed him to drop the otherwise-required curtain-puller. Of course, the show didn't have a curtain. "It's an experiment," Bob McDonald, business agent of Manhattan's Local 1, boasted to Business Week at the time"Maybe it will work and bring in other producers with shows. I hope so '"

A shared system of real risk and real reward, where salaries are tied more closely to the success of a play, might help pull the commercial theater through, allowing producers to stem their price hikes and giving them no excuse to complain about high costs. In the meantime, as Papp himself admitted, "a lot of people just can't go to the theater who want to go to the theater."
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Title Annotation:International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees' stringent rules
Author:Martin, Nicholas
Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:Nov 1, 1988
Previous Article:The making of the Hollywood working class; how the writers' strike drove the Jaguar owners to the barricades.
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