NEW YORK, NY – This morning at Lincoln Center, the curtain will open – not on a new opera – but on contract talks between the Metropolitan Opera’s management and the Theatrical Wardrobe Union Local 764 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IA). Before contract talks even began, the Met’s senior managers publicly said that they want to cut costs for opera employees, including those in wardrobe. Meanwhile, opera managers are asking backstage employees to do more as the number of productions rise and grow in complexity.
The work of Local 764’s members has significantly changed in recent years as a surge in new opera productions, combined with new costume requirements for HD simulcasts to 1,900 movie theaters, has changed the way operas are staged. Costumes previously designed to be seen 200 feet away now need to be made for the movie screen and HD cameras. The Huffington Post recently noted that, “Directors coming into these productions think they’re making movies now. They want real clothes, not costumes.”
“While the Met’s management has been adding expensive productions, fancy multimedia and costly props and sets designed to look real, in its public statements it appears that its only real cost happens to be the paychecks of the middle class artists and craftspeople who work backstage,“ said Joe Hartnett, IA’s Assistant Director of Stagecraft. “Considering the grueling hours and increased demands for producing opera for the screen rather than the stage, this is foolish. We all want the show to go on. We want to save the Met, but it won’t happen by hiding management’s spending practices and scapegoating workers.”
Local 764 President Patricia White added, “With the Met’s new focus on audiences who view operas on an HD screen, the work of wardrobe and costume departments has taken a new dimension – the close-up. What often fill the screen are shots of exquisite, custom made work created by Local 764 members. The costumes previously were made to be seen from a distance — part of the whole stage picture a live audience sees. Now we do both, creating costumes seen on the Met Opera stage and the HD screen, adding another level of difficulty to our work.”
White concluded by saying, “We have stepped up, worked harder and smarter, and met this new challenge to make the Met successful and should be recognized for it, not penalized. ”
Local 764 is the second IATSE union to open negotiations with the Metropolitan Opera in the past month. Local 1, which represents stagehands and many craftspeople who work backstage, entered contract talks on May 13. Contract talks for other IA-represented workers at the Metropolitan Opera are scheduled for later in June and into July.
The IA has created a website focused on the Met negotiations at: savethemetopera.com