The workers who make Broadway hum deserve a standing ovation

BY Patricia White

SPECIAL TO THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Saturday, March 25, 2017, 8:38 PM

 

Giving all due respect to Irving Berlin, it is fair to wonder exactly what he meant when he quipped, “There’s no business like show business.”

A career in the theater certainly is a unique sort of job, but Broadway is a business, after all, with owners and employees, investors and customers, budgets and deadlines and good years and bad.

Producers and actors and agents will sometimes talk about that, which is great.

But most backstage workers on Broadway just nod, secure in having what most American workers used to have — back in the days that our President calls “great.”

These workers have good union jobs.  They have employers invested in a local business that fuels the city’s economy by making a unique product sent out to the whole world.  It is an old-fashioned idea: Hire people to create something special, and pay them fair wages with good health and retirement benefits.

And when employers make a profit, they reinvest in new shows and new technologies and maintaining their buildings and infrastructure.

In the theater industry, employers have recognized the stability provided by unions and guilds to a deep and diverse pool of on-call employees — all of whom must have the skills, talent and temperament to be “on” at a moment’s notice.

Theater ushers (IATSE Local 306) and ticket sellers (IATSE Local 751) show up in good and bad weather to communicate with tourists from every spot on the globe in the universal language of hospitality.  Wardrobe (IATSE Local 764), hair and makeup workers (IATSE Local 798) transform actors (Actors Equity Association) from regular folks into the larger-than life characters of a playwright’s (Dramatists Guild) imagination and child actor guardians (IATSE Local 764) shepherd Broadway’s youngest celebrities, making sure that homework gets done between cues.

Stagehands (IATSE Local One) can amplify an actor’s whisper so it’s heard in the back of the house, make it rain indoors, and even make people fly.

Musicians (AFM Local 802), designers (IATSE Local USA 829), directors and choreographers bring everything to vivid, accurate life — and company managers pull the whole tremendous act together.

In a political era when New Yorkers weary of hearing that we live in the bluest of blue towns and that New York doesn’t understand the rest of America, let me point out that Broadway workers are regular Americans, reaching out to the world, eight times a week, in the inherently political act of bringing the public together.  While doing so, Broadway supports the local economy, keeps good jobs for middle-class workers in our city and supports other businesses like hotels and restaurants, while bridging differences, emphasizing our common humanity and shining a light on themes that unite.

Today, it is possible to see a Broadway show anywhere in the world, but it is a business rooted to its hometown.  Without New York and its workers, how could there even be Broadway?

So posthumously, Irving Berlin is more correct than he ever was. There truly is not another business like show business. But if there were, how great would that be?

 

Patricia White is president of Theatrical Wardrobe Union Local 764 IATSE.