Stagehands' Strike Or Not, Philadelphia Theatre Company's Mountaintop Will Begin Jan. 19; Negotiations Ongoing
By Kenneth Jones
Despite an ongoing strike by the IATSE stagehands union Local 8, the first preview performances of Philadelphia Theatre Company's production of The Mountaintop, Katori Hall's drama about the last night in the life of Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., will take place 8 PM Jan. 19 and 3 PM Jan. 20, PTC leadership announced.
The remainder of the performance schedule remains unchanged through Feb. 17 at PTC's home at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre at Broad and Lombard Streets. Replacement workers will take on stagehand duties, if necessary, though Playbill.com learned at 12:40 PM Jan. 18 that both sides are currently in a negotiation session. The meeting follows a noon press conference held by Local 8.
Both PTC and IATSE leadership have been using the legacy of King to illustrate their positions.
"We are eager to come to a resolution with the union but we cannot allow this situation to impede our ability to bring this marvelous production to the community," PTC managing director Shira Beckerman said in a Jan. 18 statement. "It is ironic that, while we are producing a play about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who urged cooperation and consensus, we are engaged in a disruptive and distracting situation prompted by the stagehands' union walkout."
The union released this earlier statement: "The management of the Philadelphia Theatre Company is guilty of hypocrisy in putting on a show about the last days of Dr. Martin Luther King — a man who lived and died for the cause of economic and social justice — at the same time they are threatening the job security of the men and women who make the theatre work. IATSE Local 8 is walking in Dr. King's footsteps by walking the picket line in protest of the Philadelphia Theatre Company's anti-worker policies."
The stagehands at PTC chose to join Local 8 in summer 2012, and worked under a temporary agreement that expired in November. Since that time, the union has not been happy with what it calls "the sluggish pace of negotiations for a full contract," convincing Local 8's workforce "that management was intentionally stalling and that only a strike action would break the impasse."
PTC's producing artistic director Sara Garonzik stated, "We have been negotiating in good faith with the stagehands and have offered them a reasonable and fair contract which they have rejected. Our first responsibility is always to our audiences and our community, and we are focusing on delivering a quality production of this inspiring show about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The show will go on."
Union representative Michael Barnes notes that the stage and theatrical workers employed at the other theatres on Philly's Avenue of the Arts — including the Kimmel Center, the Merriam Theater, the Academy of Music, and the Walnut Street Theater — are all unionized workforces. Those organizations, it should be noted, are larger and don't have the same mission as the smaller PTC. The two other anchor resident Equity companies in Philly — Arden Theatre Company and the Wilma, comparable to PTC — do not not employ union stagehands.
Set in Memphis on April 3, 1968, The Mountaintop imagines the events that might have taken place the night before the assassination of Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It won an Olivier Award for its premiere in London, and later played Broadway in a separate production. It is now blossoming in regional theatres around the country.
Monday, Jan. 21 is a national holiday recognizing Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birth.
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