The show goes on: Tentative agreement reached after IATSE strike shutters opening night at North Shore Music Theatre

IATSE Strike
Emily O'Sullivan holding her sign on the picket line with other striking workers outside the North Shore Music Theatre. Photo by Emma Picht.

By Emma Picht
Boston University News Service

BEVERLY – As the curtain closed after an open dress rehearsal of “Mamma Mia!” at the North Shore Music Theatre on Wednesday, the stage crew took their bow and left. On Oct. 6, immediately following a matinee, stagehands represented by the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 11 walked out of the theater, starting their strike in Beverly, Mass.

24 hours later, both the workers and theater reached an agreement.

Leading up to this week, according to Local 11 business manager Colleen Glynn, stage employees had been in negotiations with the theater for a first-time contract this year. Their demands: pay stage workers an average hourly wage of $27.90 per position, with 20% benefits going toward a pension, annuity, health and wellness. 

In response, Bill Hanney, owner of the theater, said, “They want Boston rates, they think they’re in Boston — they’re not. They’re in Beverly.” 

According to Gabriel Dumontthe lawyer representing IATSE Local 11, stagehands and tech workers in Boston are paid $44 per hour with 48% benefits. The theater responded to negotiations with their final offer over a Zoom call on Sept. 24.

Dumont said Hanney’s team offered an average hourly wage of $18 with an optional $300 buy-in to health benefits.

On Thursday, Sept. 30, IATSE Local 11 voted unanimously to strike. The decision came after nearly a year of negotiations for their initial contract to standardize wages between workers.

Giving an example, Emily O’Sullivan, the interim assistant technical director, props department head and run crew member, said she worked 94 hours in a single week at the theater and was compensated with overtime because she is an hourly worker.

Other production crew workers employed on salary worked the same hours as O’Sullivan but, according to her and scene shop foreman, Myles McMann, they received no overtime. 

“We’re all professionals and we all take a lot of pride in what we do, and we have some amazing shows that we put on here,” O’Sullivan said, adding that better pay means a better quality of life and even better shows for the North Shore Music Theatre.

Leading up to this week, when faced with the possibility of show cancellations, Hanney said, “plan B was ready” after being asked how the production might run without its crew. Theater management preemptively restaged the show to be run by costume workers and actors. The overhaul occurred during a rehearsal last Friday, which tech workers were told was canceled. 

“Our people were expressly told to leave the building and not return, and one of our people forgot something here at the space, went back to retrieve it and then was immediately escorted from the building,” McMann said.  

When the stagehands were invited back to work, they found security cameras watching over their break room, according to Emily O’Sullivan. She said cameras watched the crew’s personal lockers and punch-in clock. 

While on the picket line this week, union members expressed anger in response to the nearly $4 million in loans and grants Hanney received to aid with pandemic recovery, claiming his employees saw none of the benefit.  

Hanney said the money was “for the future” and that he plans to use the grant to offset the cost of hosting shows at one-third capacity each night.

Shortly after the strike began on Wednesday, the musicians and cast of the show joined in solidarity, ensuring that the show would not go on. Prior to the cast walk out, Hanney was adamant that “Mamma Mia!” would continue its run through Oct. 17.

“It’s not the sets, it’s not really the costumes. It’s the story, and the people that tell the story, doing the music that makes a show,” Hanney said. “The fluff we’ve put around this in the last 100 years is great, but it doesn’t need it to tell the story. The story is the story. The music is the music, and they’re not going to stop the show. They may delay it tonight, or make it uncomfortable tonight, but they will not stop this show.”

According to a press release, an interim agreement between workers and theater management was reached with a pay increase by $5 per hour.

Given Thursday’s agreement, all productions of “Mamma Mia!” will go on as previously scheduled, according to the theater’s official twitter feed.

“We have a commitment to continue to negotiate,” said Glynn. “It’s not where we want to be, but it’s absolutely in the right direction.”

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