I am endlessly fascinated by Pittsburgh as a theater town. It has everything.
Pittsburgh was a hub of American industry and production for much of the 20th Century, which left a lasting cultural legacy on the city. Carnegie Mellon and Point Park's training programs make Pittsburgh a hotbed for young talent. There are a vast array of Equity employers and contracts in the area—including two LORT houses, a handful of SPTs and LOAs, a summer CORST theater, the Pittsburgh CLO, as well as a Pittsburgh-specific version of the Special Appearance contract. And despite a massive deindustrialization, the city has reinvented itself as a hotspot for tech and healthcare companies, creating an atmosphere in which live theater can not only survive, but thrive.
The city also boasts one of the region's most actively engaged Equity memberships. I've been fortunate enough to get to Pittsburgh twice since being elected Vice President—first when I was there to open a touring production at the Benedum Center, and then a few months later to attend Pittsburgh's 2019 annual membership meeting. And I'm proud to say that the room was packed to the gills. If there was one thing that I took away from getting to meet those stage managers and actors, it's that every single one of them was deeply proud to be a part of the Pittsburgh community.
That all being said, we're currently living through extraordinary times. Much of what the coming weeks and months will look like remains unknown. So, as we plan for our collective emergence from the COVID crisis, how can we ensure that we keep the theater community in Pittsburgh thriving? I think it'll be important to focus on three things:
First, doubling down on the importance local hiring. The Pittsburgh Area Liaison Committee runs an incredibly effective local general audition, with plans in the works to partner with nearby markets like Cleveland to pool resources and to create better access for members. In a time when we expect local theaters' resources will be strained, now is a perfect opportunity to impress upon our employers that not only are there extraordinary stage managers and actors living in Pittsburgh, but that it's fiscally prudent to hire them. I'm proud that as the Chair of the Equity Principal Audition Committee, I've worked to not only strengthen access rules in our contracts, but to cut down on concessions being needlessly granted to local theaters. If employers agree to see local members in their contracts, we're going to hold them to it.
Second, Equity needs to continue its work towards creating a better model for independent theaters. It is long past time that we devised a contractual process at Equity that empowers our staff to negotiate around the specific needs of the members in Pittsburgh, as well as the specific circumstances of each employer. The better our contract model is, the more successful we'll be not only at achieving better, locally-relevant, mutually-beneficial results, but at organizing more theaters onto full Equity agreements.
Finally, we must work towards a member-driven recovery. Members in Pittsburgh—like those across the country—have had their lives upended by this pandemic. They have lost jobs, wages, benefits, and their sense of safety at work as a result of the closure of our workplaces. When it is time to go back to work—and I assure you that the time will come—it will be our union's job to advocate forcefully for those very same basics that our members have lost. We will need to partner with our employers to ensure we have a viable industry moving forward, but it will be incumbent upon us that make sure our stage managers and actors are taken care of in the process.
I'm more grateful now than ever to be a member of a union, because it means that none of us has to go through this alone. As your Eastern Regional Vice President, I have and I will make sure the union has the back of every stage manager and actor in Pittsburgh as we recover together.