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Friday, March 6, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 2.0° F  Fair
Arts
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Stagehands' union in the spotlight: IATSE Local 251 turns 100
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They project our films, transform Overture Center's bare stages and even change the Kohl Center from a basketball court to a hockey rink. After 100 years of literally shining the spotlight on Madison's arts, it's time for the spotlight to shine on IATSE Local 251, the stagehands union.

Last spring the local moved from backstage to center stage when it very visibly took part in Capitol protests against Gov. Scott Walker. As a result, its distinctive T-shirts are a hot item. "We ended up sending shirts all over the country to stagehands who have requested them," says Justina Vickerman, secretary of Local 251.

The union is going to have a centennial party this summer, but right now it needs help in planning it.

IATSE does far more than represent stagehands. Nationally, it includes film editors and even animators, as reflected in the union's official name: International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories and Canada.

The union came to Madison in 1912. It had been founded in 1893.

At the time, the city had one legitimate theater, the Fuller Opera House, on the northwest corner of Mifflin Street and Wisconsin Avenue. There also were two vaudeville theaters: the Majestic, which survives, and the original Orpheum, at what's now 113 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Road shows carried their own union stagehands, who talked up IATSE during stopovers. Madison organized, and the local was formed. In 1917 it expanded to include "motion picture machine operators." In the 1920s IATSE stagehands and projectionists worked at both the new Orpheum and Capitol theaters on State Street.

These days the local's 125 members staff shows for Frank Productions at the Dane County Coliseum as well as Overture Center. Union stagehands work some shows at the Wisconsin Union Theater, and projectionists show movies at the Chazen Museum of Art, the Wisconsin Film Festival, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and Sundance Cinemas.

IATSE will hold a centennial celebration at Monona Terrace on July 13. Descendants of charter members are being sought, to honor families and collect their stories. Charter members included: H. Achtenberg, Frank Bleid, R. Bleid, M. Bradford, William Dinneen, Carl Hinze, John Lally, Frank Lamphere, Jas. Livsey, W. Lauk, G. Nelson, Jos. Pearson, Jas. Reynolds, George Swahn, C. Vetter (probably Charles) and Oscar Vetter.

If you have information, contact Vickerman at secretary@iatse251.com, or at IATSE Local 251, 1602 S. Park St., Madison, WI 53715.

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