We should walk in each other’s shoes.

The industry has a lot of big negotiations coming up in the next year or two, including Local 1 (stagehands) and 802 (musicians).  We’ve had a tough last decade, with both of those unions going on strike after impasse was reached.  And when someone goes on strike, guess who wins?  Nobody.  Guess who loses?  Everybody, especially our audience.

So, as chatter starts up about the upcoming sit-downs, I started thinking about ways we could make the talks go smoother.  And the first idea to pop in my head was to . . . well . . . trade jobs for a day.

That’s right . . . I’m proposing that 3 months prior to a negotiation, League Members should switch jobs with a member of the union that they are going to negotiate with (or at least follow them around for awhile).  So a producer should work a load-in, and a stagehand should try to find a star for a play.  A producer should go on a call back, and an actor should try and get someone to invest $100,000 in a show.  And so on.

One of the first rules of every negotiation is to try to imagine the other person’s position . . . this would give the negotiators the actual experience of the “other man’s shoes” and hopefully create empathy on both sides.  And then, if all goes according to plan, agreement could be reached just a teensy bit faster, and with less angst.

It’s simple and a bit hokey, but hey, so are half the musicals out there, and we’ve got no problem with those.


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  • Kristi R-C says:

    I accept! Let’s do it!

  • Greg H says:

    I’d love to, but I can’t afford a pair of Gucci loafers. The problem is one of viewpoint: The workers are trying to make a living at their jobs and the Producers are trying to eliminate their jobs. Maybe the producers should g on strike against the theatre owners who are gouging them for rent or the marketing companies who eat up more money than most shows used to cost to produce.

  • Sue says:

    It’s not the job that needs to be switched, it’s the lifestyle. So there will be negotiations, and perhaps strikes, and slow progress, and finally a compromise, and ticket prices will continue to climb to finance this industry that happens to require a huge amount of human labor.

  • Robert Beimers says:

    I seem to recall that at the last Local 1 contract negotiation, niether the head of the league [Charlotte St. Martin] nor the principal lawyer for the league [Bernie Plum?] had any experience in show business whatsoever. It often had to be explained to them just what it is that stagehands do, just so they could understand what it was they were trying to negotiate. Was it very bright on the part of the League to put them in charge?

  • A very insightful commentary my friend. I find in my capacity as an Artistic Director of an AEA professional regional theater and as a 26 year member of AEA that I now think of myself as a “theater person”. I want to do what is needed to provide great theater, care for the artists and make it affordable for the patrons. We must move beyond the adversarial mentality (or lack thereof) and realize that we all love the theater and must work together to help it survive and thrive. We are truly all in the same boat and we need to remember to row together in the same direction!

  • Harry says:

    Ok it could be a start. However unless you add in the accumulated pressures of 8 live show per week, rehearsal days, classes, practice, press events, work and maintenance calls,put-in’s, working weekends with work week schedules and show times changing week to week for months on end after load in (if you’re lucky) I am afraid that it will leave a false impression of what labor really does. No two days off a week for labor, no holidays spent with family. These are the reasons labor feels it deserves at more each negotiation – because they have just worked for the 4 prior years under the contract terms that changed with the last negotiation and the stress that those term changes wrought.

  • Go, Ken! As a graduate of Cornell University’s College of Industrial & Labor Relations, I’ve focused on finding ways in which everyone can do as well as possible. When I was producing, the unions were, actually, a great help to me. We’re in an industry where it’s essential for management to keep good labor and labor needs those jobs. We’re really on the same team. I know I’m not the only one whose produced who is also a member if the unions. Any decision has to be equitable for labor and management.

  • Kevin Lee Allen says:

    Fascinating. I’ve been wanting to comment here since I first read the post. Deadlines, however, interfered. That’s a good thing.

    I am surprised at some of the vitriol in the comments.

    Ken, I think this is a great idea. I also think that the League negotiators should have theatre experience. I think every student of theatre should experience each craft and discipline.

    I think my own experience is unique. For some time (a short time) I owned part of a scenery building company. That experience has been invaluable. I understand different sides of the business. I know how the bid process can be constructive or distractive.

    In our television and corporate work, we ‘produce’ our product. That is we give the client a final price and handle managing the budget. If we miss, it costs us money. We understand the producer’s role.

    Every job has challenges and compromise and understanding are key.

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