This "Stagehand Primer" is specifically intended for the use of the Stagehands and Apprentices of IATSE Local 470. It remains the property of the author, Mick Alderson, and the contents of this website may not be copied, saved, reproduced, or duplicated in any way, either in whole or in part, without the written consent of the author.
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IATSE 470 was founded in 1973 as part of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories and Canada; IATSE or IA for short. The IATSE as a whole is a member of AFL-CIO (the AFL combined with the CIO in 1955). The IA head office is located in NYC.
Unlike Actors Equity, which is nationally organized, the IATSE is organized into Locals which handle theatre labor needs within a particular geographic area, called a "jurisdiction". IATSE Local 470's jurisdiction was originally Oshkosh-Fond du Lac, but has been expanded to cover all of Northeastern Wisconsin. The head office (usually referred to as "International") gives advice and guidance, but the actual wages and conditions are entirely up to each Local to negotiate with employers and venues within its own jurisdiction. Each contract is negotiated separately, each is unique.
As part of organized labor, IA Locals negotiations under a process called "collective bargaining", which means the Local bargains on behalf of all members of the "bargaining unit", who in turn all agree to abide by the terms of the agreement rather than negotiating with the employer individually. This gives strength in numbers to organized workers, and allows them to negotiate for better wages, working conditions, job security, and benefits. Once a contract has been negotiated, it must be accepted by vote of the general membership before it is adopted. Through collective bargaining, organized labor has successfully negotiated for many conditions workers now take for granted, including an 8 hr. work day, unemployment compensation, workers compensation, overtime after 40 hours in a week, gender equality pay, and anti-discrimination laws.
The IA is a democratically run organization. Members each have voice and vote, and can make motions and vote on them at meetings of the membership. Local 470 holds regular monthly meeting, usually on the last Sunday of each month if that date is open, or at a time accepted at the previous meeting. Special meetings are also held as necessary.
Locals are run by an Executive Board of officers elected by the membership every three years. Local 470 takes nominations for officers at the September meeting and elections at the November meeting. Members may vote in elections either in person or by absentee ballot. New officers are sworn in at the December meeting. The President runs meetings and handles matters between members, assisted by the Vice President when the President is unavailable. In Local 470, the Vice-President also chairs the Education Committee. The Secretary takes minutes and handles correspondence, the Treasurer handles the financial matters and keeps the books. The Members at Large provide input from the membership on the Executive Board.
The Business Agent is the Local's liaison with employers. The BA leads the contract negotiating committee, takes labor requests for shows, then contacts members and associated workers (called permit workers or "stringers") to work the calls. The Business Agent is the one to call if you need additional labor on a call.
For each call, the BA appoints a Steward who is in charge of the crew. The steward is the Local's representative on the job, and is an exceptionally key position on a show. An IA steward is not only a traditional union steward, intermediator between employer and employee in disputes on the job, but also acts as foreman for the Local crew. The steward assigns people to jobs, informs workers of the work schedule, finds additional workers when needed, keeps track of hours worked, fills out job sheets, makes sure workers are properly paid, and disciplines workers who violate the work rules. Discipline might range from fines for lateness to dismissal for such things as insubordination, unsafe work habits, fighting on the job, or working under the influence of drugs or alcohol. On the job site, the steward's word is final!
This concept is formalized within Local 470 as the "Steward's Bill of Rights". Basically it means a steward has the right to do his or her job with the support of and without hassle from the workers. The steward's job is critical, so on the job, what the steward says goes. If you should have a problem with or disagree with a steward on the job, you can request and file a complaint form which will be considered and acted upon after the fact by the Executive Board. If you are disciplined or fined by a steward, you can also appeal to the Hiring Hall Conduct Board. But you should NOT argue with a steward on the job. It weakens the effectiveness of the entire Local.
If a worker will be late to a call, he should first contact the steward, and then the BA if the steward cannot be reached directly. A worker should also inform the steward in case of any problem with management, a road crew member, another worker, or with an unsafe working condition. It is the Steward's job to deal with all these issues.
An IA crew was traditionally organized into four departments, Carpentry (including Flies, Riggers and Loaders), Electrics (which includes Sound), Properties, and Wardrobe (which includes Makeup). Several years ago Hair & Wigs was made into a separate department, and Sound and Projection are rapidly becoming recognized as separate specialties from Electrics. The required number of hands needed for each department on a unionized travelling show is listed on a Yellow card (so-called "Yellow card shows"), which is presented to each Local by the show Carpenter.
Once assigned to a department, hands are expected to stay in their own department. This actually improves efficiency on the job, making it clearer who is responsible tor each task as the show moves from stop to stop. If everyone does their job, no more and no less, then everything will get done and nothing be missed.
To pay the expenses of the Local and the costs of filling calls, the Local levies membership dues from local members, and Hiring Hall referral fees on all workers on a call managed by the Local. Referral fees currently are assessed as 5% of the gross wages of each worker.
A stagehand is expected to bring a minimum set of tools for the job assigned. At a minimum, a hand should have crescent wrench and work gloves, and a multi tool or pliers and screwdriver, and small flashlight are also suggested. Other tools can be added as needed. Show up ten to fifteen minutes early and check in with the steward immediately upon arrival. If you are late, a fine may be assessed. When workers are late, they reflect badly not just on themselves, but on the reputation and professionalism of the entire Local.
Wardrobe workers should bring safety pins, bitelite, pencil, small scissors, needle and light and dark thread, and perhaps a needle nose pliers. Show up 15 minutes early and report to the Wardrobe head immediately upon arrival.
Promoter/Producer- the boss, in charge of everything. Arranges for the show to happen and ultimately responsible for paying expenses.
Production Manager- producer's right hand, handles all financial matters.
Stage Manager- in charge of back stage operations and liaison between the various elements of the production. Calls the cues.
Designers- design the portion of the production for which they are responsible and oversee execution of their designs.
Technical Director- Supervises and coordinates the various technical areas. House TD looks after the venue facilities.
Steward- In charge of local Union crew. Keeps track of the crew and hours worked, assigns crew to departments, handles employer/employee problems, sees that work rules are followed.
Head Carpenter- supervises all carpenters, on stage and in shop. Usually in overall charge of backstage area & crew.
Carpenters- term covering construction and running crew who construct and handle scenery and the deck itself.
Head Electrician- supervises electricians in preparing, installing and operating anything electrical.
Properties Head- supervises props crew.
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