IATSE Stage Workers Picket Outside Midtown Spiegeltent; Empire Producers Respond
By Kenneth Jones
Members of Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) gathered on West 45th Street starting at 11 AM May 22 to voice their concern about a new midtown circus-cabaret show's lack of union tech employees.
The demonstration, which at 2 PM Tuesday included about 20 picketers, is at 265 W. 45th Street, just east of Eighth Avenue, the site of Spiegelworld's new tent show, Empire.
IATSE said the demonstration will last all day and night, coinciding with the Tuesday first preview of the show. This is "to protest the use of non-union lighting and audio technicians on the non-union tent show," according to the union.
"Local One IATSE can't stand by while a non-union entertainment operation pitches its tent, even temporarily, in the heart of the Broadway theatre district, the working home of thousands of entertainment professionals," James J. Claffey, president of the 3,100-member stage local, said in a statement. "Though the number of Local One IATSE jobs we're talking about are no more than a handful of jobs, we will exercise all our legal rights to ensure these employees have union rights and protections."
Spiegelworld's Empire is a hybrid entertainment show of music, cabaret, circus and more.
Ross Mollison & David J. Foster, the producers of Empire, said in a May 22 statement, "We are thrilled to be bringing a circus tent to the heart of midtown, but to be clear: this is not a Broadway show, the tent is not a Broadway house, and we don't charge Broadway prices. We look forward to providing fantastic entertainment to New Yorkers this summer in our own unique style."
Empire's top ticket price is $89, with a VIP ticket going for $129. Broadway's top for many shows is about $135, with higher and lower-priced options available.
Actors' Equity Association made a statement in the late afternoon of May 22, saying it "urges Foster Mollison Entertainment to bargain in good faith with our sister unions, including AGVA and Local One IATSE, to achieve a fair and equitable contract [for Empire] as it begins its run in the heart of the Broadway theatre district."
AGVA is the American Guild of Variety Artists, a union that represents theme park performers, circus artists, revue singers and dancers, comedians, skaters and others.
AEA is one of "more than a dozen unions whose highly skilled, creative and talented memberships work tirelessly to entertainment audiences on Broadway." Actors' Equity "firmly believes that our sister unions should be represented at this production."
Local One IATSE represents stage and studio electricians, set carpenters, audio technicians, moving-light operators, riggers and special effects people in Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island, Westchester and Rockland. Visit iatselocalone.org.
Spiegelworld, the producer of tent-housed theatrical events that draw on circus, cabaret, variety and burlesque traditions, returns to New York City for a 15-week run of its new show, Empire.
The Spiegelworld tent sits on a vacant lot at 265 W. 45th Street, across the street from the Golden Theatre and a few doors down from the Imperial. Shows continue to Sept. 2. Opening night is May 31.
Mollison said in an earlier statement, "We've scoured the planet to find the most awe-inspiring acts ever performed, and assembled them together on one stage, creating the greatest show New York has ever known. New Yorkers are the most demanding audiences in the world, and so we have had no choice but to deliver a show that represents the very height of the art."
Empire headliners include Moondog, Carrot Man, Polka Dot Woman, Rubbish Bag Lady, Lime Green Lady and many more.
Spiegelworld shows first came to life in New York City in summer 2006, when it launched an annual summer season on Pier 17 in the South Street Seaport neighborhood. Spiegelworld has produced Absinthe, La Vie, Late Night Lounge and Desir under its tent. The company has also toured to Miami's South Beach and Melbourne, Australia.
A 440-seat Belgian "spiegeltent" is the venue of the Empire experience. According to production notes, "Popular across Europe during the early 20th century, the luxurious traveling spiegeltents were used as dance halls and music/cabaret venues, featuring intimate in-the-round seating, ornate wooden paneling, mirrors, stained-glass windows, and velvet-upholstered seating booths."
Spiegelworld offers "a carnival-style bar facility and a speakeasy VIP lounge."
The creative team of Empire includes Wayne Harrison (director), John O'Connell (choreographer), Jamie Siegel (music producer), Angus Strathie (Academy Award-winning costume designer), Josh Zangen (production designer), Matthew Hodges (art director), Martin Kinnane (lighting designer) and Matt Kraus (sound designer). Empire is presented in New York by Related Companies and Boston Properties.
Tickets are priced at $59 and $89, and are available at telecharge.com or by calling (212) 239-6200. A special VIP Ticket is available for $129 and includes a complimentary glass of champagne.
The performance schedule is as follows: Monday at 7:30 PM, Wednesday-Saturday at 7:30 PM and 9:30 PM and Sunday at 7:30 PM.
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