Out of Town But Not Out of Sight

At least 100 union members turned out to support striking screenwriters at a rally held in the historic Bardavon 1869 Opera House in Poughkeepsie, New York on Friday, January 25. The enthusiastic crowd included over 50 Hudson Valley-based members of teachers union NYSUT as well as union sheet metal workers, commuter railway workers, communications technicians, stagehands, musicians, Actors Equity members, and local Writers Guild members.

Bardavon director Chris Silva welcomed the group warmly, stressing the theatres long history of supporting writers, from Mark Twain to Bob Dylan. Musicians union member and labor organizer John Pietaro kicked off the rally with a Pete Seegerish banjo and rousing chorus of "Solidarity Forever." Hudson Valley Area Labor Fed. AFL-CIO organizer Jen Fuentes addressed the assembled crowd, saying, "The issues at stake and the stand the writers are making are important, because in the labor movement, we are never afraid of a David and Goliath battle… We will stand behind them 100%." She presented WGAE strike captain and Emmy nominee Casey Kurtti with a t-shirt emblazoned, "Kicking ass for the working class."

The next speaker was Philadelphia screenwriter Ron Nyswaner, who was interviewed on Woodstock radio station WDST earlier in the day as part of the media coverage for this event. Nyswaner presented the strike issues succinctly and with humor, noting that "the guy who manufactures the plastic box for the DVD earns more per copy than the guy whose head the movie came out of."

The entire crowd moved onto the street outside the theatre, holding up signs, greeting patrons as they entered for a sold-out screening of The Blues Brothers, and handing out Writers Guild informational flyers. Spirits were high in spite of temperatures in the low teens, and as audience members streamed into the theatre, several cars slowed down to honk in a show of support. Teachers and metalworkers chatted happily with WGAE members, including screenwriters Zachary Sklar (JFK), Nicole Quinn (Racing Daylight); award-winning TV writers David Smilow and Nina Shengold; novelist Kim Wozencraft (Rush); and playwrights Daisy Foote and Donald J. Rothschild. Shengold pronounced the evening, "very inspiring," noting that it connected the Guilds fight for a fair contract to the struggles of workers in every industry.

"Sick of reruns?" Smilow asked a patron, and Fuentes yelled out through a bullhorn, "We want our shows back!", prompting a roar of agreement from everyone on the street. Hopefully members of AMPAS are listening.

reported by WGAE member Nina Shengold

Photo Credit: Michael Weisbrot