These were large-scale rock and roll spectacles that involved a week or more of work to set up for one show and the manpower required was unprecedented. By this time, the position of business agent had become so demanding that it became a full-time job. During the Exhibition itself, the Grandstand Series meant an intense three- week period when every night would bring a new show while at the same time, there were dozens of other work sites operating on the grounds.
In the winter, Maple Leaf Gardens would host somewhat smaller ‘arena’ concerts. The opening of the SkyDome in 1989 meant that Toronto now had a year round venue for large events of all kind. Although the rock and roll business has changed, due to intense and often unfair non-union competition, Local 58 is determined to enter into collective agreements with the Molson Amphitheatre and the Kingsway Theatre at Canada’s Wonderland. Through events like conventions, trade shows or the Indy car race, Local 58 is still very much involved in Exhibition Place, the CNE and the new National Trade Centre.
In the 1980’s the production of CATS at the Elgin theatre led the way for the era of the mega-musicals. The former Loew’s Downtown and its sister theatre the Winter Garden, which were built in 1914, had been almost forgotten before they were revitalized and restored by the success of CATS. Almost 50 years after the death of vaudeville had caused the loss of jobs, the stagehands of Local 58 were working on the same stage once again.
Before the decade had ended, the Pantages Theatre had also been renovated and the Phantom of the Opera began a run that has continued to this day. Producer Garth Drabinsky and his Livent Corporation were to transform the face of theatre in Toronto, on Broadway and around the world. Although their dealings have not always been amicable, there is a mutual respect now and recognition that the partnership of these two organizations has benefited both management and workers. Although there is much uncertainty today concerning the future of Livent’s Canadian operations, the skilled workforce provided by Local 58 is a strong inducement for the company to continue to develop shows in the Toronto market.
Not to take a back seat, the Mirvishes in partnership with Cameron Macintosh’s Really Useful Corporation produced Les Miserables at the Royal Alex (with a set built by Brother Grant Milligan’s scenery shop). Les Miz was an enormous hit, spawning a number of international tours and return engagements. David Mirvish, Ed’s son also oversaw the design and construction of a sister theatre, the Princess of Wales, in order to accommodate the special needs of “MISS SAIGON”.
Although many of a stagehand’s jobs, such as running a spotlight or putting down a dance floor, have changed very little over the years, overall, the technology of show business has been transformed at a blistering pace. To quote Brother Jack Ralph on sound gear, “as soon as the equipment is delivered, it’s obsolete.” This maxim applies to lighting as well. New lamps, new consoles and new concepts are the rule rather than the exception. What is needed to keep up with technology, is a constant program of education and re-education. The membership has proven itself up to the task.
A new century is dawning and the challenges of the future are many but they will be met with the pride and dedication that has always marked the history of Local 58 of the International Alliance. For those who work together as Brother and Sister, the constant will always be to keep the faith and be true to the principles of those who built this union and made it great.