The union that represents stagehands in New York City wields such clout that the highest-paid members of Local 1 typically make $310,000 each per year, reports the New York Times, citing recent tax filings.
At nine top venues — like Radio City, Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Ballet — those stagehands are making more than the dancers and singers.
Examples in the Times report include:
In 2010: “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” paid its stagehands a total of $138,000 a week, while the principals and members of the ensemble earned slightly less than $100,000 put together.
In 2011: the four top stagehands at the Met earned more than $500,000 each in total compensation (including retirement and other benefits).
At Carnegie Hall: the five full-time stagehands average more than $400,000 each per year.
Besides lots of overtime, what’s the union’s secret? The 2,600 members in Local 1 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees are a tightly-knit group. The union card is often handed down from father to son.
The stagehands have specialized skills that aren’t easily replaced. (Think complicated sets and light cues for an opera.) The Times notes, however, that at some venues they may do little more than set up music stands.
And the show must go on. When the stagehands threaten to strike, producers and theater owners are quick to settle to make sure they get “butts in seats every night.”