Last night at 6pm, stagehands on strike from the Philadelphia Theatre Company assembled at City Hall to march down Broad Street in protest of the Company's unwillingness to reach an agreement to sign a contract with the folks that build the sets, light the sets, make the props, and run the sound for the company's productions. Highly skilled, highly trained technicians who, based on their current wages, have to work an entire day to earn enough money to pay for a ticket to see the performance they built.
Last night was opening night of the theatre's "Mountain Top" - a play about the activities that occurred following Martin Luther King, Jr’s historic speech he gave in defense of sanitation worker’s rights in Memphis, TN, on the last night of his life. (Do we see the irony?)
Here is a quote from Mike Barnes, as told to reporter Victor Fiorillo, in his article " Giant Union Rat Makes Debut at Suzanne Roberts Theatre [UPDATED] - The stagehands are striking!"
“We started negotiating in September. We’re looking to establish benefits for workers that are comparable to what other workers receive at Philadelphia Theatre Company. We believe the finances to accomplish this exist, based on what they pay the management side of the theater. We’re looking for wage increases. Many have not seen increases in salaries for years, and some of these people regularly work 12 or 16 hour days. They don’t get [holiday] pay when they work on holidays, while many employees of Philadelphia Theatre Company get paid to not work on holidays. These are some of the lowest paid workers in the theater.”
The theater scrambled all day during the first day of the strike, to find replacements for the stagehands, but no one was willing to cross the picket line.
(Thank you fellow Philadelphia theater professionals!)
Strikers and supporters assemble peacefully in front of the Philadelphia Theatre Company to protest for stagehand rights.
You can read about the progress of the strike, in Victor's follow up article, here.
The theatre company, despite not being able to hire ANY replacement workers, in ever the theatrical fashion, decided the show must go on. The unfinished - read the "un-safe" revolving turn-table floor, which turns to reveal different sets on each side - ISN'T completed and is therefore unsafe to perform on. But the Production Manager, who has played a huge part in this conflict, says it is, so the performance continues...
So the fight rages on.
At 6pm, January 23rd, strikers and supporters gathered at City Hall and with a rousing speech from Mike Barnes, took to Broad Street to march towards the Philadelphia Theatre Company in solidarity. The honking from city bus drivers, Philly residents and the support of the Philadelphia police force (as they blocked the street for us to march) was hugely encouraging, and we met up with the Giant Union Rat in front of the theatre.
The show was scheduled to start at 7pm. We greeted patrons with kindness, and an "enjoy the show" after we spoke with the ones who would listen about the unfairness of the management's stance on their workforce. We passed out handbills, asking patrons to ask for a partial refund of their tickets. You have an unfinished set, no sound (except for the actors), no prop running, no lighting other than one static working position - you're basically getting half a show. Why not ask for half your money back? Some really listened, some stopped in their tracks and walked the picket line with us.
Unfortunately, I saw some arts and culture government employees walk into the theatre without one word, without acknowledgment of the workers freezing their asses off for their right to join a union in order to ensure their basic economic rights. And while it's not my place to badger them about their crossing of a picket line - if I don't see some sort of post/article from them about the disappointment THEY feel at having to watch an unfinished / un-fully-realized production, or that they are saddened about the strike, hell, SOMETHING, there will be phone calls. And emails. And I will encourage all my local arts advocates to do the same.
This isn't right. This theatre has openly said they are willing to look at Delaware and New York for technicians instead of using the vast amount of talent they already have. (This theater also, as told to me by a very reliable source, hires actors out of New York 90% of the time - great way to showcase the talent and put money back into your own city, jerks)
The lovers of arts and culture in Philadelphia shouldn't stand for it.
PTC Stagehands - whatever you need, the Artistic Rebuttal Project is willing to help in whatever way we can.