There is uneasiness in the arts community today after it was revealed that theatrical stage employees at the Harbourfront Theatre are seeking to unionize.
The workers are prepared to enter into negotiations to become members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 906, the same union that represents stage workers at the Confederation Centre of the Arts.
The theatre opened its doors in 1996 following more than a decade of work by a group of Summerside citizens. The facility, housed in the Wyatt Centre, was made possible through the legacy of Dr. Wanda Wyatt who was a major contributor to what was considered to be a community theatre.
Its mandate is to “provide a continuous live entertainment service to the Island community and its visitors, featuring both local and touring productions, while being the driving force within the community to encourage and nurture the development and appreciation of the performing arts.”
Over the years it has done just that. What it has achieved has been to be a venue for local talent, The Harbourfront Players, Spotlight Theatre Company, school recitals, the East Prince Music Festival and many more. Whether a production is big or small, professional or amateur, there are costs involved. The one saving grace for the Harbourfront Theatre is the large number of dedicated volunteers.
Would jobs that were done for free in the past now be passed on to the cost of production?
Local producer Reesha Walsh of Spotlight Theatre Company said it costs a lot of money to put on a show and any increases in those costs would force Spotlight Theatre Company to look for another venue and she is not the only one thinking this way.
Union rep Sean McGuire maintains the union “is not in the habit of putting small theatres out of business nor are we in the habit of disrupting community events.”
Let’s put that in writing.
Any agreement signed with the union for the Harbourfront Theatre stage employees needs to acknowledge the purpose of the theatre. Any agreement must not only be written to protect the rights of workers but also the role theatre in the community as well.
The Harbourfront Theatre should not and cannot be looked at the same way as the Confederation Centre of the Arts.
Its sole purpose is to be available and affordable to the entire community.