I spent a number of years working as a union stagehand, rising to the position of vice-president of my local and enjoying a steady income while seeing lots of great shows. I gave this sort of work up several years ago, but an article in yesterday’s New York Times is making me rethink my decision.
The times reports that Dennis O’Connell, the props manager at Carnegie Hall, earned $530004.00 in pay and benefits last year. That’s right. Over a half million dollars income working as a stagehand.
These figures come from the Carnegie Hall’s 2007-2008 tax return and it shows that several other stagehands had compensation packages that exceeded $400,000.00.
The times went to some length to point out that stagehand pay many times far exceeded the amount earned by well known performers actually appearing on the stage.
The top executive at Carnegie Hall, Clive Gillinson, actually defended the pay, saying that stagehands “have huge and varied jobs to carry out”.
Now, I’ve been to Carnegie Hall (my wife & son performed with The Duke Chapel Choir there) and I’ve seen these stagehands at work. Moving risers, setting up the conductors podium and controlling the lighting may require some special abilities, but probably not on par with a skilled surgeon. I’m not sure that they even require any specific education.
I remember in detail the “huge and varied jobs” I did as a stagehand-everything from unloading a truck to climbing a lighting truss-and how happy I was to earn $15.00 an hour. I seemed like a fair wage at the time, and some of the work I did was so interesting that I probably would have done it for free.
Sure, there is some wear and tear on the body, but I’m guessing that the earnings of a Carnegie stagehand, including double and triple overtime, compensation for unsed vacation, and various union-mandated payouts, go a long way towards easing the pain.
The next time you pay $100 for a ticket and go to a concert, pay careful attention to the stagehands you see. They may be the highest paid performers in the building.
Want to know more? Here’s a link to the Times article.
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