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Title: Williamstown Theatre Festival Sound Crew Walks Out
Post by: Justice C. Bigler on July 21, 2021, 02:17:32 PM
I heard about this through the grapevine a week or so ago. But this is the first account that I have heard about the actual issues that caused the sound crew to walk out.


https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2021-07-20/williamstown-theatre-festival-sound-crew-walks-out


I've worked with several people who formerly worked at Williamstown over the years, and I have not heard any good stories about their experiences from any of them.  This one in particular sounds even worse than I had heard preciously.
Title: Re: Williamstown Theatre Festival Sound Crew Walks Out
Post by: Justice C. Bigler on July 22, 2021, 02:46:36 AM
Here's another story from the local paper with a few more details:

https://www.berkshireeagle.com/news/local/off-stage-drama-brings-better-pay-work-shifts-for-williamstown-theatre-festival-crews/article_6de30a04-e99c-11eb-b2ad-07c450fa61e8.html
Title: Re: Williamstown Theatre Festival Sound Crew Walks Out
Post by: Russell Ault on July 22, 2021, 12:43:10 PM
{...} https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2021-07-20/williamstown-theatre-festival-sound-crew-walks-out {...}

I just don't get it; how do the actors have this figured out but us technicians don't? There are a couple local companies here in the same boat, with full Equity casts (and even AFM-affiliate musicians) but non-union technicians (working ridiculous hours for scarcely more than minimum wage). Not that any union is perfect, mind you, but...yeesh.

-Russ
Title: Re: Williamstown Theatre Festival Sound Crew Walks Out
Post by: Dave Garoutte on July 22, 2021, 12:54:09 PM
I just don't get it; how do the actors have this figured out but us technicians don't? There are a couple local companies here in the same boat, with full Equity casts (and even AFM-affiliate musicians) but non-union technicians (working ridiculous hours for scarcely more than minimum wage). Not that any union is perfect, mind you, but...yeesh.

-Russ
Because actors are prima donnas by nature and make sure they are taken care of. :o
Title: Re: Williamstown Theatre Festival Sound Crew Walks Out
Post by: Justice C. Bigler on July 22, 2021, 01:01:46 PM
I just don't get it; how do the actors have this figured out but us technicians don't? There are a couple local companies here in the same boat, with full Equity casts (and even AFM-affiliate musicians) but non-union technicians (working ridiculous hours for scarcely more than minimum wage). Not that any union is perfect, mind you, but...yeesh.
Back when I was in college, the second time, I managed to win the regional sound design competition for the KCACTF theatre design competition in 2007. That got me sent to Washington D.C. to compete in the national level competition. One of the prizes for winning the national sound design competition was a design internship at Williams town Theatre Festival. Even back then, no one wanted that prize and everyone talked about how bad an experience the Williamstown internship was going to be. Luckily I had already been hired to work at the Utah Shakespeare Festival for that summer, which was an amazing job and actual great opportunity.



These regional theatres have built their whole business model on hiring college students and "professional" workers fresh out of college, with little to no professional work experience. They pass it off as a "great opportunity" to get experience and network with professional designers. They're kind of the stepping stone before you jump on a bus and truck one-nighter tour to be abused even more.


I would guess that the IA doesn't have the man power to try to organize all these little pre-professional regional theatres, so they concentrate on the Broadway shows in NYC and on tour, and the larger professional arts groups in the major metro areas. Williamstown is in the far NW corner of Massachusetts, and thus outside of the primary attention of the IA in Boston or other large cities.
Title: Re: Williamstown Theatre Festival Sound Crew Walks Out
Post by: Helge A Bentsen on July 22, 2021, 01:39:38 PM
I've invoiced people for sleeping if their lack of planning leaves me with less than 8 hours between shifts.
No one deserves to work under the circumstances described here.
Title: Re: Williamstown Theatre Festival Sound Crew Walks Out
Post by: Russell Ault on July 22, 2021, 02:27:47 PM
{...} I would guess that the IA doesn't have the man power to try to organize all these little pre-professional regional theatres, so they concentrate on the Broadway shows in NYC and on tour, and the larger professional arts groups in the major metro areas. Williamstown is in the far NW corner of Massachusetts, and thus outside of the primary attention of the IA in Boston or other large cities.

I'm sure this is a big part of it. One of the disadvantages of "home rule" is the more fragmented approach to organizing. IA53 (the Springfield/Pittsfield local) might have some interest, but they may not have the resources (especially if the festival is bringing most of its people in from outside of the local area), whereas you're always in AEA's jurisdiction.

-Russ
Title: Re: Williamstown Theatre Festival Sound Crew Walks Out
Post by: Tim Weaver on July 22, 2021, 06:55:55 PM
Because actors are prima donnas by nature and make sure they are taken care of. :o

This. We techs tend to be service-oriented people also. People pleaser's. Not all of us, but mostly I'd say we would rather work a 12 hour shift than to say "no that schedule is not tenable".



I know working at Texas A&M one week several of us logged over 120 hours on the clock for one week. I couldn't remember my name at the end of it.
Title: Re: Williamstown Theatre Festival Sound Crew Walks Out
Post by: Brian Jojade on July 22, 2021, 07:31:59 PM
Planning is the key word here.  Yeah, it seems as though the organizers didn't plan for problematic weather.  The crappy thing is that when the weather didn't cooperate, the organizer isn't the one that suffered. They just passed the suffering down to the crew.  That's crap.  They should have hired additional crew that could get things done on shorter timelines once they realized weather was going to cause issue.

Yeah, I definitely understand that some things are out of anyone's control, and when crap hits the fan, we work harder.  But when crap never stops hitting the fan, that's when it's time to walk.
Title: Re: Williamstown Theatre Festival Sound Crew Walks Out
Post by: John L Nobile on July 23, 2021, 02:37:46 PM
I think a lot of people expect the tech crew to perform miracles. They don't think about how the job will get done, they just know that it will be. Management is busy stroking the talent and sponsors and forget that people need to eat and sleep. It's our own fault for making things work with limited time, money and resources. And performing miracles.
Maybe we need to complain more???? This is a start.
Title: Re: Williamstown Theatre Festival Sound Crew Walks Out
Post by: Steve-White on July 23, 2021, 03:11:13 PM
I side 100% with the crew on this one.
Title: Re: Williamstown Theatre Festival Sound Crew Walks Out
Post by: Tim McCulloch on July 23, 2021, 06:08:14 PM
I posted this on another site, but it seems appropriate here, too.

"Bring down the curtain on shit shows. I said in another thread that live entertainment is the most emotionally, physically, and monetarily abusive of any industry I've worked in. "Tradition" is more than a song in Fiddler, it's a way to ensure that new people in theater get the same shitty hazing in conditions, hours, and general misery, at the hands of those who proceeded them. And "we" have perpetuated this b.s. myth because we, too, were victims and part of how we process that is to inflict it on others to rationalize it as 'normal'.

The business of art exists because without it, art would be pretty much a one-on-one thing, or at best "to-a-few". Without commercialization, making any kind of living as an artist of any kind, without a patron, king or duke would be nearly impossible.

What must be done is for organizations to stop making 'art' with the pretense that it is NOT a business. It is. And it costs a lot of money to throw people at a business, compensate and treat them fairly, and not abuse the concepts of internships and apprenticeships in the process."
Title: Re: Williamstown Theatre Festival Sound Crew Walks Out
Post by: Brian Jojade on July 23, 2021, 08:12:12 PM

What must be done is for organizations to stop making 'art' with the pretense that it is NOT a business. It is. And it costs a lot of money to throw people at a business, compensate and treat them fairly, and not abuse the concepts of internships and apprenticeships in the process."

100%!  It's pretty amazing that how much talent and experience certain crew members must have to be able to put a show together.  Their skillset has to bridge across many normal disciplines.  Any of those jobs pay a heck of a lot more and have far more regular work schedules.  It's somewhat mind blowing that you have higher demands and crappier and unpredictable work schedules yet expect to pay less for the work.  It's just crazy.
Title: Re: Williamstown Theatre Festival Sound Crew Walks Out
Post by: Dave Garoutte on July 23, 2021, 09:33:27 PM
I posted this on another site, but it seems appropriate here, too.

"Bring down the curtain on shit shows. I said in another thread that live entertainment is the most emotionally, physically, and monetarily abusive of any industry I've worked in. "Tradition" is more than a song in Fiddler, it's a way to ensure that new people in theater get the same shitty hazing in conditions, hours, and general misery, at the hands of those who proceeded them. And "we" have perpetuated this b.s. myth because we, too, were victims and part of how we process that is to inflict it on others to rationalize it as 'normal'.

The business of art exists because without it, art would be pretty much a one-on-one thing, or at best "to-a-few". Without commercialization, making any kind of living as an artist of any kind, without a patron, king or duke would be nearly impossible.

What must be done is for organizations to stop making 'art' with the pretense that it is NOT a business. It is. And it costs a lot of money to throw people at a business, compensate and treat them fairly, and not abuse the concepts of internships and apprenticeships in the process."

I think college athletes are up there, playing for 'free' and making the colleges millions.  They are just now getting some rights in that regard.
Title: Re: Williamstown Theatre Festival Sound Crew Walks Out
Post by: Tim McCulloch on July 23, 2021, 10:57:45 PM
I think college athletes are up there, playing for 'free' and making the colleges millions.  They are just now getting some rights in that regard.

The college athletes on scholarship are basically indentured servants.
Title: Re: Williamstown Theatre Festival Sound Crew Walks Out
Post by: Keith Broughton on July 24, 2021, 07:25:25 AM
I would like to preface my comment by saying I don't condone venues running crews down with bad work conditions.
That said, if you don't like the schedules or pay, "no" is an option.
To continue to work in bad conditions, (safety, pay or call times) you are giving tacit approval to the employer and helping them get away with whatever they want.
In this case, without a union, this crew managed to change the situation and good for them!
It's just unfortunate that the management allowed a poor working condition to develop in the first place >:(
Title: Re: Williamstown Theatre Festival Sound Crew Walks Out
Post by: Caleb Dueck on July 24, 2021, 10:47:30 PM
That said, if you don't like the schedules or pay, "no" is an option.

It's not quite that simple.  One person quitting doesn't do jack to fix the real problems.  Most/all of the people quitting together - might.

I used to work for a very poorly owned company.  1/3 of the company walked out - got the owner's attention, but nothing changed.  Another 1/3 walked out, including myself, started another company, and most clients followed us.  Got his attention big time - but nothing changed.  Another 1/3 walked out - nothing changed.  It's easy to fire an employee or quit; it's harder to fire the owner. 
Title: Re: Williamstown Theatre Festival Sound Crew Walks Out
Post by: Justice C. Bigler on July 25, 2021, 04:14:52 AM
So I got another piece of information this evening, from an associate who knows one of the sound crew members that walked out.

The first individual who walked out, the one who was quoted by name in the LA Times article is an IA member, and was formerly on tour with a Broadway show. That person took this position because it was some amount of work when none existed elsewhere because of the shut down. That person also chose to leave and not come back to the Festival (even after the pay bump). Apparently, once that person left, the others decided to follow.
Title: Re: Williamstown Theatre Festival Sound Crew Walks Out
Post by: Keith Broughton on July 25, 2021, 06:07:42 AM
It's not quite that simple.  One person quitting doesn't do jack to fix the real problems.
Of course, one person walking out won't change the business model of a company. I wasn't suggesting that it did.
However, staying at the job and bitching and complaining won't change anything either.
Sometimes, one has to decide to look for other opportunities.
In this case, they were able to get some results by working together, and good on them.
Title: Re: Williamstown Theatre Festival Sound Crew Walks Out
Post by: 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. 
Title: Re: Williamstown Theatre Festival Sound Crew Walks Out
Post by: Russell Ault on July 27, 2021, 08:09:29 PM
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.

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.”
Title: Re: Williamstown Theatre Festival Sound Crew Walks Out
Post by: Justice C. Bigler on July 27, 2021, 09:01:56 PM
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.
Title: Re: Williamstown Theatre Festival Sound Crew Walks Out
Post by: Keith Broughton on July 28, 2021, 09:09:36 AM
Thanks for posting the letter, Russell!
It's always nice to get more detailed info on a situation like this.
Title: Re: Williamstown Theatre Festival Sound Crew Walks Out
Post by: Dave Garoutte on July 28, 2021, 12:55:58 PM
It seems like WTF! is the perfect acronym.
Title: Re: Williamstown Theatre Festival Sound Crew Walks Out
Post by: Stephen Swaffer on August 02, 2021, 01:05:34 PM
The college athletes on scholarship are basically indentured servants.

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".