About IATSE Local 2
Local 2 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture
Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States and Canada, or IATSE
(IA for short) is the union that represents stagehands, technicians, and theatrical
craft professionals that serve Chicago’s entertainment industry.
Originally founded as Local 2 of the Theatrical Protective Union of Chicago, the
Local was chartered on March 3rd 1887. Like many other workers of that era, the
newly-organized stagehands sought economic stability, an eight-hour day, and protection
from job-related hazards. After the panic of 1873, the United States went through
a painful economic reset in which it was transformed from an agricultural-based
economy into one of mass industrialization. Theatre was no exception, and like many
other industries of that time, backstage became increasingly dangerous with mechanization
and new technologies such as electricity.
Since its founding 125 years ago, Local 2 has successfully adapted to a number of
significant changes in the entertainment industry. The first example being the dawn
of the movie industry in the 1910’s which saw the need for skilled projectionists
and movie production personnel.
The electronic age following WW II brought us television and more than 100 Local
2 stagehands worked in the new electronic medium; many of them returning combat
veterans. Prior to the invention of videotape in 1957, all broadcast television
was live which required large crews. The post-war period also saw a resurgence of
the Broadway musical with new large-scale productions such as South Pacific and
West Side Story that incorporated complex scenery and lighting.
Local 2 stagehands raised the curtain at Lyric Opera’s very first performance in
1954, and since then have been instrumental in transforming Lyric into one of the
world’s greatest opera companies. The rock-n-roll revolution was the beginning of
the “arena event” era in which top-named acts played to large audiences in venues
such as the Amphitheatre, the Coliseum Theatre, and the old Chicago Stadium. Memorable
events described by Local 2 members include Elvis Presley’s 1957 concert at the
Amphitheatre in which he wore his gold lame suit for the first time, and Jim Morrison’s
lack of a suit (or other clothing for that matter) during a 1968 Doors’ performance
at the Coliseum. By the 1970s, arena rock had expanded to immense productions such
as Pink Floyd at Soldier Field and a number of day-long concerts at the old Comiskey
Park. This genre brought significant new challenges associated with untested staging
techniques such as massive temporary stage structures, and mammoth sound and lighting
systems. Local 2 members proved crucial in solving these problems.
Theatre’s digital age arrived in Chicago in January 1978 when the musical A Chorus
Line opened at the Shubert Theatre. This was the first large-scale production to
use a microprocessor-controlled lighting board. By the early 1990’s digital technology
extended into controlling sophisticated automation systems in productions such as
Miss Saigon and The Phantom of the Opera, all operated by Local 2 stagehands. Since
then, technology in theatrical and event productions has grown exponentially.
Today, Local 2’s primary mission remains to provide economic security and a safe
work environment for its members and their families. Additionally, Local 2 has evolved
to become the foremost center for providing the highest-skilled, best-trained, and
most productive stagehands and craft workers in the nation. This is due to Local
2’s innovative training programs and emphasis on continuing education and certification.
If you have ever been at a concert and wondered, “…who are the people running the
lighting and sound consoles, climbing the scaffolding, running the spotlights, or
moving the musical instruments?” That’s us, Local 2 stagehands.