Affiliate News
August 01, 2014

Profile: Behind every great performer is an even greater stagehand

The men of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union, Local 2 set up staging for the best acts in Chicago.

Profile: Behind every great performer is an even greater stagehand

The men of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union, Local 2 are tough union guys. Just as tough as a road or steel worker crew.

“I don't know any other job where 24 semis worth of stuff comes in at eight a.m., you set it up by four p.m., and have it loaded back on the trucks at two a.m.,” said Christopher Iovino, union steward for Local 2.

The members of IATSE Local 2 have set up the rigging, lights, stage, lawn decking and anything else a major concert needs for all venues in the Chicago area, from acts like the Rolling Stones and U2, to Billy Joel and Beyoncé this summer. They setup about five stadium shows per year, as well as events like the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field and the Ringling Brothers Circus at All State Arena.

Iovino boasts that in terms of safety and efficiency, his crew beats any other city's stage crew.

“The elements are the only thing we don't have control over,” he said. “Chicago is a wonderful city, but we've had July in the morning, October in the afternoon, and July again at night, all in one day.”

He recalls a Stones concert where it was hot in the morning, but when Mick Jagger took the stage, snow was falling.

“That was interesting. We have to stand by here to deal with anything the weather throws at us. It's not the performers’ job to look out for the equipment and safety concerns, that's our job,” he said.

The crew generally stays at a venue day in and day out during a busy weekend, sleeping on cots or wherever there is room behind the stage. They also streamline the process of getting a massive stage ready for a big act at a venue like Wrigley Field ─ a place that normally hosts baseball, and has the same entrance and exit doors that the place was built with.

“There's one way in, one way out at Wrigley,” said Iovino. “It was a challenge. The first time we setup here, we developed a system, then we followed that system ever since. It's worked out. And of course, you have to make sure not to damage the Ivy at Wrigley.”

Iovino said his favorite part of the job he has held for the past 30 years is the people he works with.

“It's just a great mix of people. Younger guys teaching older guys new stuff, and older guys teaching the younger guys tried and true methods,” he said. “Everyone knows each other’s jobs. One day you could be a rigger, the next day you're the lighting guy. It's all interchangeable.”

The union members gained respect from the weekend music festival Lollapalooza, which was re-vamped in 2005 by a Texas based company and moved to Chicago's Grant Park.

“Their production came from a non-union background. Once they saw our hard work, they made us a part of their team. They embraced union labor,” said Iovino. “It's very rare that you work with a bunch of people that have your back. They pull the same weight you pull, and you pull the same weight they pull.”



Article and photo by Pat Barcas