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Williamstown festival crew walks off the job. It's a cautionary tale for outdoor theater

Ashley Lee, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Minutes later, both sound department team members said, festival Artistic Director Mandy Greenfield approached crew members and said they were cleared to resume working. "The thunder was beyond the 5-mile radius so that they thought it was safe enough for us to go back to work, even though it was still pouring rain," Fator recalled. "But they were getting stressed about time, so we got back to work."

The rain started pouring even harder, and the crew — already working 13-hour days, earning a relatively low wage without overtime and paying for festival housing — hit a tipping point. With the full solidarity of the present creative team, the entire sound crew walked out.

Greenfield attempted to talk with team members as they left, the team member said, and then called a meeting with those who were still there. "She gave this whole speech where she broke down crying and said, 'The crew, they're just so tired. I made this mistake. And I really wish that we could come together as a group. We're gonna have to cancel rehearsal and we'll get through this,'" recalled the team member. "I could not tell you if it was genuine or not."

The next morning, the sound crew met with Greenfield and the festival's leadership team and secured modest increases in pay, safer working conditions and a more reasonable work schedule: an eight-hour turnaround between shifts and a 10-hour cap on the number of hours before overtime pay kicked in.

The festival released an announcement that said the July 14 performance was canceled "as a result of continued inclement weather during the process leading up to the scheduled performance," not as a result of a work stoppage.

"Row," which was initially programmed for the festival's 2020 season and is scheduled to run through Aug. 15, had its first public performance on July 16 but hasn't played since because of rain. Still, Greenfield told the Los Angeles Times she is "incredibly grateful to the entire production team at the Williamstown Theatre Festival for speaking up and speaking out.

"The biblical proportions of rain which have plagued Williamstown this summer has made an already new outdoor season more profoundly challenging," she added. "The production teams, the extraordinary people who make this work, were really vocal about what they needed, and we took immediate corrective actions so that we could keep everyone safe emotionally, physically. Their well-being and their safety is of utmost importance to us."

 

Members of the sound department disagree.

"This is a Band-Aid on the bigger problem that is the way this festival treats its workers, and especially how it abuses the youngest and most vulnerable theater workers who are just entering the industry, and don't know that they can and should stand up for themselves," one team member said.

Fator added: "I was really just using this job to dip my toes back into the water after the pandemic, and I think they were relying on a lot of people to be doing the same.

"But young people are realizing that there's strength in numbers. And I don't think theaters are going to get away with exploiting college students or young professionals anymore."

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