As a teenager, Jamie Brown managed the costumes for her school productions and even won awards at student costuming competitions. But she didn’t think she could make costuming her career until she saw “Wicked” at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre.
“It opened my eyes that this wasn’t just my high school hobby,” she tells The Times. “I specifically remember seeing Elphaba run backstage to do a [costume] quick change, and thinking to myself, ‘I want to be the person who helps her make that happen.’”
Brown’s childhood dream came true. She’s now the head of the Pantages wardrobe department, which handles the costumes for shows staged at the venue. The team of 14 wardrobe workers is currently tasked with helping to make “Hamilton” happen: pressing pieces beforehand and getting actors dressed, executing quick-changes during a performance, washing everything afterward and making any necessary repairs.
“Wardrobe tends to be the largest department on any production because there can be thousands of costumes in one production, and they all need to be maintained and cared for,” says Brown. “Even though they’re used eight times a week, they have to look the same in December as they did in August.”
However, the members of Pantages wardrobe department — the majority of whom are, currently and historically, women and LGBTQ+ — say they are paid $99 less per performance, on average, in comparison with their fellow stagehands, and receive 60% less in contributions to healthcare and retirement plans. The workers, represented by IATSE Local 768, will distribute leaflets outside the venue starting Thursday evening to spread awareness of this behind-the-scenes inequity.
“We’re trying to bring attention to this because it’s not just for our current workers, but also anyone who might want to pursue this career in the future,” says the union’s president Mary Basile. “We’ve trained for years to perfect our craft, which is just as integral to a show as lights or props or anything else. The goal is to be fairly compensated by employers for the very valuable contribution we make to the story that’s being told onstage, night after night.”
Theater patrons are encouraged to join a letter-writing campaign addressed to Pantages leadership — the venue’s general manager Jeff Loeb as well as the Nederlander Organization, the venue’s parent company — that demands equal pay and benefits for the wardrobe staff. The Pantages has not responded to The Times’ request for comment on the campaign.
“We have been asking for parity for decades, and have been consistently met with excuses,” said Carol Ann Sparks, who has previously helped to negotiate contracts with Pantages leadership, on Instagram. “We have been operating under wage inequality for far too long, and it is no longer sustainable.”
The department will distribute the leaflets while continuing its work on “Hamilton,” which is scheduled to play through February.
“We love our jobs here at the Pantages, which represents the pinnacle of commercial theater in Los Angeles,” says Brown. “It is a high honor to work here. But once you get to this level, you feel like this warrants a sustainable wage. I don’t want to have to work all these side jobs when I already have a more than full-time job. My brothers and sisters in other departments can live very comfortably in careers they love, and I envy that.”
“We’ve each worked so hard to be able to do this work and we want to keep doing it,” she adds. “But we should be paid fairly for the work we do.”