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Williamstown Theatre Festival Sound Crew Walks Out

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Russell Ault:

--- Quote from: John Fruits on July 27, 2021, 11:47:15 AM ---It seems there are a few misleading things in the LAtimes article.  The 8 hour turn-around and maximum 10 hour shift weren't new, they were already in place at the start of the season, it's just that managment  stated that they would no longer violate those terms!  The pay raises were for a limited number of the hourly workers.  There were no pay raises for salaried staff members.  Oh and the forfeiture of OT was still in effect for them too.  The housing fee was $200 per week for a shared dorm room.

--- End quote ---

This showed up the theatre-sound mailing list:

“An open letter to all:

“I’d like to share a few thoughts and corrections on the LA Times article that was released. Should you choose to share this open letter, I ask that you do so anonymously, since many people on site still risk retribution by posting in a public forum. I simply wish to amplify the voices of others, and feel that delaying this amplification will cause further harm.

“Many people here at WTF are still actively restraining themselves on speaking out for fear of retribution. The sad truth is that these small victories are still inadequate to providing any change. I imagine many more will come forward and speak out about this year as the season concludes and they put WTF in their rear view mirror.

“Providing a few clarifications to what has been offered:

“1) The “modest pay increase” for most is the equivalent of going from $13.50/hr to $15/hr. This raise, equivalent to 9% across the board, was only given to hourly employees. Salaried staff (including department heads and middle-management) were excluded. All staff were contractually obligated to waive their right to OT in their initial contract, and there has been no clarification or sign that this position has been reversed (misinformation in the LA times article).

“2) The 8 hour turn around for work day, had already been promised at the beginning of the season. This was not new information, but a recommitment that it will not be violated further.

“3) No more than 10 hour work day, had already been promised at the beginning of the season. This was not new information, but a recommitment that it will not be violated further.

“4) One day off per week, had already been promised at the beginning of the season. This was not new information, but a recommitment that it will not be violated further.

“As a member of a creative team this year at WTF, I can honestly say that I feel woefully mislead and am deeply outraged at the treatment of the crews here across the board; and I stand in solidarity with those who are still actively seeking change. We were sales-pitched that the festival was making concrete, monumental changes that would set a new standard for the summer-stock business model; including abandoning their “pay-to-play” model of the old internship/apprentice program and hiring all staff on an hourly contract, as well as limiting the working conditions of the staff on site to prevent abuse and overwork. The problems of these previous programs and work ethic have merely manifested themselves in other ways; and the festival has instituted these changes without stopping to listen to the needs of their workers and creative team members who are actively trying to produce work in the face of overwhelming environmental and financial obstacles.

“And I wish to be unequivocally clear, we as the creative teams do not hold the crew responsible for the inability to fulfill the design needs of the productions. This burden lands squarely on the shoulders of upper management and their continued ignorance to listen to what needs to be done in order to successfully produce a production. These changes to the season and staffing were blindly instituted without any consideration or conversation for matching the scale of the support teams with the scale of the productions already committed to being brought in. The result has been a complex, constant negotiation of the treatment of the available crew, as well as creative teams being asked to make substantial alterations to the production at the last minute; all while navigating covid restrictions and the constant environmental delays. The denial of proper support to fulfill the design needs of the production, or simply being asked (told) to cut large portions of the design/production in the 11th hour has come directly from the administration. Many creative team members have resorted to spend their time and contributing their expertise in their respective areas to meet the bare minimum requirements of the production. We have been participating not out desire to fulfill our own design ambition, but out of respect to the overextended crew to meet the basic needs of the production and prevent further abuse. As such, we will be holding future conversations with our own respective unions about what (if any) professional creative support should be granted to WTF in future seasons.

“Most middle management here are actively and fundamentally in support of making positive changes to the system (and I honestly believe this). What has become clear, is that they lack the ability to do so within the bureaucracy of the institution, even when their own requests have been ignored. The ability to grant actual change and provide flexibility in policy within their own departments (budgets, scheduling, humane treatment, etc.) is reserved for a small handful (i.e. 3 to 4 people) of top management who are blissfully out of touch with the needs of their workers, and are still reacting in fear of their own public image. And since the Row walkout, they largely still refuse to listen and adequately respond to the needs of their workers who are actively trying to produce their products, despite their own outrage - staff, crew, designers & actors alike.

“I’m truly disappointed that the LA Times article spends most of its’ read time highlighting the context of their musical “Row”, as well as the environmental conditions for the truly biblical proportions of rain in the Berkshires. While this is true, it is far from an acceptable excuse for the lack of preparation and support that has been requested repeatedly for these productions from the very start, before the rain hit. They are the symptoms, not the cause. What is fundamentally lacking in the article is the accurate reporting of the working conditions and abusive contractual obligations that lead to this walkout, and the support of the crew who bravely continue to stand up to these abusive practices.

“I’ll also hint that the fight is not over. There are several practices here that are still being challenged by staff and company members that deserve public outcry, amplification and support. In no particular order:

“1) Non-equity company members and hourly staff have to pay $200/week, to be paid post-tax from their paychecks, for housing in shared undergraduate dorm rooms (if any of you have been here and seen these living conditions, enough said). Equity members and Creative Team members are housed in graduate level housing, inclusive of their contract.

“2) Basic, humane living support is actively denied and discouraged by upper management; and company & production management is discouraged by administration from offering this support in order to provide “equitable treatment for all”.

“2a) WTF has little-to-no control over this: but all Williams College housing lacks ANY air conditioning and ventilation. Designers & Equity are offered box fans for their windows, but employees in the dorms are denied this. AC is only offered in the theatre complex. (Can someone please explain to me how this was approved after a global pandemic?)

“2b) Company management transportation to the grocery store (“food runs”) are only offered to designers & equity members, and are denied to the non-equity company and other staff; even if there is space available in the car. People are therefore limited to shopping at the small, local college stores within walking distance (most of which shutter by 4pm), asking company members with cars for transportation, or ordering delivery at their own expense.

“2c) Non-equity members and staff are denied basic housing materials like towels and soap (in their 10:1 shared bathrooms)

“3) Responding to the needs of ALL company members, regardless of their union status; and providing staff with the ability to provide adequate changes in policy without administration approval to facilitate the basic needs of their employees. For example: while the row walkout happened on July 14, an outline of these changes was not provided to staff members until July 20 - well after several of the productions were already open.

“These conflicts are not about outdoor theatre, rain, delays, or even covid-19 safety & policies; they are about the basic humane treatment of the people under employment who make the festival happen. For years now, it has become clear that the festival has prioritized the business of producing a product far above any ethical consideration to how that product is produced.

“If Williamstown Theatre Festival reads this letter, I urge them to pause, listen, and consider the solutions that are being handed to them on a silver platter. They’ve squandered the opportunity to handle these conflicts internally and quietly, and it’s time that the changes expected of a prestigious institution are made collectively, comprehensively and publicly. Honestly, it is the only way I see them surviving this.”

Justice C. Bigler:
If ever there were a company that was screaming for unionization, it is Williamstown. I think there needs to be an open and industry wide boycott of this festival until such time as they ratify union working agreements for every department and provide professional level pay and accommodations for their cast, crew, and designers.

Or maybe Williamstown just needs to dissolve and go away forever. They are a stain on our industry now.

Keith Broughton:
Thanks for posting the letter, Russell!
It's always nice to get more detailed info on a situation like this.

Dave Garoutte:
It seems like WTF! is the perfect acronym.

Stephen Swaffer:

--- Quote from: Tim McCulloch on July 23, 2021, 10:57:45 PM ---The college athletes on scholarship are basically indentured servants.

--- End quote ---

That argument can be made-but they are playing a game that many play for fun/recreation and a fair number of them have scholarships-which if you look at real tuition costs (paid for with after tax dollars)  is not insignificant.

I doubt many do jobs similar to what the crew is doing "just for fun".


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