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Last week, I broke the news that the stagehands of Philadelphia Theatre Company had gone on strike, setting up the giant inflatable union rat in front of Broad Street’s Suzanne Roberts Theatre, home to PTC since 2007. The work-stoppage caused the cancellation of some preview and rehearsal events for The Mountaintop, a play about the final night of Martin Luther King Jr. But this week, the show goes on, in spite of the strike.
No, PTC did not hire
scabs replacement workers. The company tried, but they were unable to find stagehands willing to cross the picket line. So, management decided to proceed without stagehands altogether, including lighting and sound technicians and scenery and props workers.
“It’s been challenging,” PTC producing artistic director Sara Garonzik admitted to me on Wednesday morning, as the company prepared for Wednesday night’s show. It was supposed to be the official opening until management changed it to a preview.
“When audiences come to see The Mountaintop,” said Garonzik, “they will see a fully staged performance with fully designed costumes and sufficient lighting on a nearly completed set. Having seen run-throughs of the show, we realized that is was so powerful and the acting so great and the story so great. These are the primary elements that power this particular show.”
Garonzik explained that one actress will be offstage, reading aloud some stage directions in place of certain key effects and sound cues. For instance, if there was to be the sound of thunder in the theater, the actress will simply say “thunder” from the wings.”We’ve had standing ovations after every performance,” said Garonzik of the weekend’s preview performances, which went on as planned. “This is something that audiences should see and that we can stand by.”
As for the strike itself, Garonzik claims that the union, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States (IATSE) Local 8, canceled last Monday’s previously scheduled meeting. “They said that there’s nothing to talk about,” she said, adding that the company was willing to make concessions on compensation, health and welfare, transportation provisions, and annuities. “To our knowledge, the union has made no effort to do further negotiations. They are unwilling. We are waiting to hear from them.”
Local 8 business manager Mike Barnes has a different take. “The Monday meeting was tentatively scheduled,” explained Barnes. “The employer is demanding the unrestricted use of an alternative workforce and a rollback of the conditions that existed prior to the negotiations. That is punitive. We gave them a clear proposal that resolves all open issues, and we haven’t heard from them. That settlement included a 25-cent raise. ”
Barnes said that in light of PTC’s decision to produce the show without stagehands, the union is circulating a handbill calling for a partial refund of the ticket prices, which range from $46 to $59. I asked Barnes how much of the ticket price should be refunded. “I think that’s an artistic decision,” he replied, jokingly. “But being a stagehand, I’d say about 70 percent.”
On Wednesday afternoon, the union was preparing to march (locked-arms, MLK-style) down Broad Street from City Hall to the theater to greet the audience. “And don’t worry, the rat will be there,” promised Barnes. “The negotiation has gone beyond economics and is being driven by a philosophical position. The theater says that the union should not be allowed to represent these stagehands.”
Barnes adds that the union has written a letter to the board members of PTC asking them to resign. Starting on Thursday, the union will not only be demonstrating at the theater, but the rat will be set up in front of the businesses of the PTC board members. First stop: Cozen O’Connor, where PTC board chair E. Gerald Riesenbach practices. “They’re going to be targeted,” said Barnes.
Below, a press release circulated by union spokesman Frank Keel about Wednesday’s march and protest.
IATSE LOCAL 8′s STRIKING MEMBERS TO MARCH TONIGHT IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF DR. KING TO PROTEST THE PHILADELPHIA THEATER COMPANY BEFORE PREMIERE OF “MOUNTAIN”, ABOUT KING’S FINAL HOURS
WHO: The striking members of the International Alliance of Theatrical & Stage Employees Local 8.
WHAT: The striking union stagehands will assemble in the central courtyard of City Hall, listen to live speeches and the iconic words of Dr. King, lock arms together (as did Dr. King and the striking sanitation workers of Memphis, TN), march up Broad Street to the Suzanne Roberts Theater, and re-establish a picket line in front of the theater as patrons arrive for the opening night of “Mountaintop”. Protestors will peacefully provide handbills to theater patrons about the issues that led to the strike, now in its second week.
WHEN: Wednesday, January 23, 2013, beginning at 5:45 pm.
WHERE: The striking stagehands will assemble in the central courtyard of Philadelphia’s City Hall. After brief speeches, the strikers will march south up Broad Street, locked arm-in-arm, to the Suzanne Roberts Theater (480 South Broad), where they will picket the opening night of “Mountaintop”.
WHY: The Stagehands Union’s strike against the Philadelphia Theater Company (PTC) is entering its second week. Despite many hours of face-to-face negotiations, talks have failed to produce a resolution to the contract stalemate. PTC management will not agree to back off its demand to have the unrestricted right to hire as many nonunion workers as they decide to perform the work covered in the union’s jurisdiction and previously performed by the workers of the PTC, who chose to be represented by the union.
[Mountaintop photo: Mark Garvin]
UPDATE 1/24/2013 1:30 p.m.:
Local 8 has made good on its promise to inflate the giant union rat in front of the headquarters of Cozen O’Connor at 19th and Market. The updated handbill that union representatives are handing out names Cozen’s Riesenbach for remaining on the PTC board, although it does not call for a boycott of the law firm. Here’s a snippet, unedited:
This is not a request to boycott or withhold your business from any business other then the Philadelphia Theatre Company. We are simply informing you that Mr. Reisenbach’s decision to remain on the Philadelphia Theatre Company’s Board of Directors indicates his support of these actions. The decision to do business with a company that employs this type of person is yours.
Riesenbach was not immediately available for comment.