In the quiet town of Orange, California, Tuia’ana Scanlan was a creative zealous college student majoring in Theatre at Chapman University. As his final undergraduate year approached, Scanlan says he began pondering on his job placement after college.
While still in college, Scanlan worked at the theatre shop on campus and says his friend Craig Brown, a faculty member and mentor, asked him if he had ever thought about considering a career as a stagehand.
“I had never thought about it before but he explained that there was good money and a promising career in being a Stagehand, so I looked into it.”
“Fortunately, faculty members Brian Fujii, Craig and a woman named Bonnie Walker showed me the value and viability of a career as a Stagehand. They let me know that it’s not about just what goes on stage but to get on stage, there are a number of people who work behind the scenes,” he added. “This piqued my interest. All the things like how do you hang sound, run lights, build a set or even design a set, all these things went into my career.”
Scanlan believes that it’s crucial and almost paramount that universities who offer Theatre and Creative Arts majors educate their students on what and who IATSE is.
“Working as a college student at the time making $20 an hour as an Up Rigger in a non-union shop, I had no concept of health and welfare, annuity, benefits or working conditions,” he says. “But man, if I knew then what I know now about IATSE, I can’t imagine where I would be today.”
In 2004, Scanlan was working at a non-union shop in San Diego doing some high rigging work. However, it wouldn’t be too long before Scanlan would receive the phone call that spearheaded his life as a stagehand and career with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.
“Some of my now Local 665 family called me while I was still in San Diego and said there were riggers needed in Hawaii and asked if I would be interested in coming back,” he says. “This was a valuable career that could support me living in Hawaii, I said sure and officially joined IATSE in 2007.”
Elected in December 2019, today Scanlan is the Local 665 President and a proud member of IATSE’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. He says being Polynesian and coming from a musical culture is what sparked his lifelong passion for the arts. The Stagehand credits theatre and Shakespeare for saving his life.
Scanlan admits as proud as he is to be a part of IATSE, to his knowledge he’s never seen any of his Polynesian Sisters, Brothers, or ‘ohana featured in the IATSE Official Bulletin or social media and would love to see a more diverse representation throughout IATSE.
“Representation matters. And not just any voice, but having positive voices from all faces of the IA is valuable and can not be overstated,” he says. “I was completely unaware of professional Stagehands in Hawaii before joining IA. When you see someone that you identify with, it brings comradery and raises your morale. If my little part in being a representation can inspire someone who looks like me, then I think that’s a worthy cause.”
Scanlan says after IATSE’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee held its first meeting in September 2020, he remembers getting goosebumps and recalls that moment feeling like a breath of fresh air.
“I felt like I was no longer just a face in the crowd but finally being seen,” he added. “As a Stagehand, we operate in the shadows but this moment felt like the actors and the lead people asking the Stagehands to come out and join for a final bow.”
He says the first step to measurable change and an anti-racist culture, is acknowledging the variety of individual struggles and stories of all the members of IATSE.
“We must see each other and show empathy to one another,” he says. “We sing together many different parts but the song can be beautiful, when there’s more than one note.”