An interview with Jim Shea, Business Agent for IATSE LOCAL 74 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees
As the steel skeleton of the Festival’s iconic stage rose on the Green this week before the return of in-person programming on Friday, a crew of workers lifted beams, laid floor, and--quite literally--set the stage.
These are workers for Local 74 for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the stagehand’s union, and they work behind the scenes across southern Connecticut to bring theater, concerts, graduations, and other live events to life.
We caught up with IATSE Local 74 Business Agent, Jim Shea, to learn about the work behind the scenes--and scenery!--before and after the pandemic, and what keeps him passionate about his work after 28 years in the business, including on Broadway.
What do stagehands do?
Pretty much everything the audience doesn’t know we do--stage, lighting, rigging, forklifts, sound, truss, roofs--everything you see, we do, but you never see us.
What most excites you about seeing this stage go up on the Green?
The diversity of this community coming together around it. The community HAS to have this Festival happen. From the beginning when we started putting the stage in, we’ve had a great community response. It brings everybody out--it gives them direction and inspiration. It’s amazing how far out the Festival spreads and how diverse it is--there's a piece for everybody here.
What does it mean to see the performing arts coming back to life?
It means the world to us. We’re a very tightknit group at IATSE--across the US and Canada to across the world--and when that mechanism [of the performing arts] stops, everybody gets displaced.
The other side of the coin is that during the pandemic everyone got to see their families again--usually we’re out all night and up early the next day and don’t get to see very much of our families.
The best thing I got during the pandemic? Reconnection with my sons, and I’ve watched all my members get back with their families while things were slow. We are huge supporters of workers and their families. I am grateful they all hung in there, and now there’s work to do, and we can get back to doing it.
What differences do you see now that things are opening up?
It’s been a challenge for everyone, but we’re so grateful for everything that is coming back. Before the pandemic we had such a bubble and everyone was participating--when it shut down, we couldn’t be the outlet for folks who like to see shows. Now things are coming back, and we’re excited to work! I have about a dozen workers on this crew.
What do you love about building the Festival stage?
It’s great to be back on the Green. This community needed us here--we always get direction from these shows. I’m grateful that folks support this Festival, and come out, and get to forget and go somewhere else for a while. And then they take that experience home, and it never leaves their system. It’s just amazing!