So in about a year I'll have enough experience working at a small university theater to get myself onto the entry-level dispatch list for my local IATSE hall. At this point, I think union membership might be a good move, but I still can't quite wrap my head around how these institutions actually work. I've tried to get in touch with my local hall with little success, and I found a few other IA-related posts that didn't quite answer all of my questions, so I was hoping someone with experience might be able to give me a few answers (especially anyone who's worked with Local 15).
How do calls work? Do theaters and production companies really staff their events by calling a union hall and getting a few dozen random stagehands to work on a day-to-day basis? I understand how that works for plumbers and carpenters but I'm not sure how repertory or regional theaters could use that system for anything besides load-ins. What do union theaters do when they need people to work for entire runs of shows, like programmers or board ops or shop carpenters? How does union membership translate into long-term work? If I stick with the IATSE as a career, will I be running out to random calls on short notice and at weird times when I'm 40? How does hiring for tours work?
I'm also curious about the process of actually joining. For my Local, after three years of professional theater work and passing a basic theater skills test, you can qualify for the overhire ("F") list, but they're fairly cagey about actually becoming a member. Is it reasonable to assume that as a person with no connections in the union, after a year or so of good, hard work on the F list, I would be invited to get a card?
And finally, I'm just curious to hear from anyone who's been there what it's like. Is it worth it? What's working on the A list like? Are there any potential drawbacks down the road (especially if looking for non-union employment)? Do you gain a lot of valuable, on-the-job experience working on the lower levels of the union, or is it mostly manual labor until you rise through the ranks?
I know that's a lot of questions, but any information or insight anyone can give me would be extremely appreciated.