The recent migration of New York costume designers to the West Coast has more than doubled the membership at Local 892, and has prompted the union’s new president to make designers a more active part of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

“We want to take our place visibly as part of the IA,” said Local 892′s president, Emmy-winning designer Robert Turturice. “With our membership quickly expanding, we believe involvement is crucial.”

In the last two years, the local’s membership has grown from about 150 members to more than 300.

A good deal of that growth has to do with New York members making the move west, but it’s also due to stepped-up union organizing by the IATSE.

“The industry is hurting in New York,” Turturice said. “That’s why we’re in the process of establishing a member assistance fund.”

Common problems

In addition to setting up a financial assistance program, Turturice plans to offer open forums where designers can discuss problems they are experiencing in the industry.

“With sparser production schedules, it’s important for people to understand their frustrations are not particular to them,” he said.

“What we’re seeing is that creative below-the-line people are facing tighter and tighter production budgets,” he said. “It’s becoming more and more difficult to get the job done.”

Yet designers are changing with the harsh economic times.

“I think there’s a perception in the industry that designers only work in the old way, using all new expensive materials,” Turturice said. “But it’s not true. Many of our members are very resourceful and are aware of budgetary constraints. They can invent the right look for a picture by a combination of new, old and rehashed.”

Standardized deals

While the Local has been affiliated with the IA since 1976, it has never been very active within the union.

Now Turturice and IA exex are looking to draw up a “standard costume designer deal memo,” outlining what designers should be receiving in overtime pay and other considerations.

“I still consider us a youngish Local,” he said. “But now we want to take our respective place within the Guild.”

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