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Break A Leg! Stagehands Find Bright Careers Behind The Footlights

July 30, 2012
By Joe Manisalco

In little over a month’s time, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local One will once again hold an open “audition” of sorts for men and women interested in making the theater their life’s work. No professional experience necessary.

California transplant Devin Lindow took the same test in 2004, and is now the head electrician on ABC’s “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire,” as well as a frequent contributor to NBC’s “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.”

“I never thought about working in television before, but since that’s where I did my apprenticeship, that’s predominately where I am now,” Lindow says.

Lindow did her apprenticeship at ABC’s Production Services Electric Shop from 2006 to 2008 where she worked on a pair of soap operas.

“We were doing a lot instrument repair,” Lindow remembers. “Anytime they broke any of their gear it came back to the shop to be repaired. We were also doing the electric install, so, anytime there was a practical lamp on the set, or there was plumbing on the set we were doing that. We built a couple of new sets with some LEDs installed. And I was a part of all that.”

Those who score high on the test – like Lindow – can be placed in any number of very different venues affiliated with Local One to do their apprenticeship.

“It can be a shop or it can be a theater,” Local One Recording-Corresponding Secretary Robert Score explains. “For instance, if an apprentice is placed at Jazz at Lincoln Center, they work throughout many departments where they learn carpentry skills, they learn lighting and electrical skills, and they learn sound skills. That’s if they’re in a venue like that. They could also be in a shop like Hudson Scenic up in Yonkers. And in a situation like that, they would learn how to build the scenery. They don’t do shows – they build shows. Whereas, an apprentice at Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Friedman Theatre, Radio City Music Hall or similar venue is learning basic skills, and also learning show skills.”

Before being accepted into the apprentice program, Lindow enjoyed a deep background in theater working behind the scenes dating back to when she was just a teen, and many of those that are chosen for the Local One apprenticeship program do come out of college theater programs – but it is certainly not a prerequisite.

“It’s a general intelligence test,” says Score, whose own stagehand experience goes back to 1972. “It’s not specific to the industry, but it’s related to it. For instance, there is a special relations portion of the test. There’s an arithmetic portion of the test. But it’s not the type of test where you see a piece of scenery and are asked to name the parts. It’s more aptitude than knowledge-based because we’re teaching somebody how to become a stagehand. We don’t expect them to know anything about the business. We’re just looking for people with an aptitude for it.”

Even though Lindow’s work experience prior to her entry into Local One’s apprentice program included non-union gigs both Off-Broadway and at Marymount Manhattan College, she says that her quality of life has improved greatly since joining the union.

“I have health benefits,” Lindow declares. “I have retirement benefits, too, which I never had before.”

The crackerjack stagehand also likes having a vigilant union that cares about her career and is always supportive.

“I like having a group of people that I can call when I have a problem at work,” Lindow says. “If there’s a question, I can get clarification. We had a grievance on “Millionaire” last year, and I only had to make one phone call and say, ‘Hey, I don’t think that this is right.’ And the executive board took it from there. I didn’t have to do anything else. It’s nice to have a support system.”

Local One also supports it new members in other way like continually helping them develop new skills and providing them with the means to take advantage of emerging technologies.

“In all the training that we do for our members, we also try to incorporate the apprentices,” says Score. “So, in addition to the skills and training they get on the job, we’re also offering seminars and conferences and things like that.”

The apprentice program, although administered by the local, is part of a newly established entity called the Training, Education and Technology Fund – or TET FUND of Local One. The non-profit 501c3 is comprised of trustee from both within and without the union, and is contractually partially employer funded. Score calls the TET Fund “Another piece of the evolution of the union and the progressive nature of Local One.”

About 300 people tested for Local One’s apprentice program the last time the exam was given in 2009. Those interested in taking the test this time out – tentatively scheduled for September 8 – should check out the Local One website at iatselocalone.org or visit the HQ at 320 West 46th Street in Manhattan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

July 29, 2012

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