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DEPT. OF LABOR
Jonathan Richman and the Pissed Off Projectionists
BY CAMILLE DODERO

Labor struggles are steely-eyed showdowns, but the ongoing battle between Somerville Theatre management and its camp of picketing projectionists has recently broken into a bare-knuckle beat down. Four of the picture palace’s seven part-time projectionists went on strike May 1, a day after demanding that the theater recognize their desire to join the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 182; the demand was a bid to secure an increase from their $6.75-an-hour minimum wage. Now more than a month later — after the self-declared " Pissed Off Projectionists " offered to return to work unconditionally; after they haven’t been scheduled for shifts; after the reel spinners went to labor court to contest the movie house’s assertion that managers would be eligible to vote in an upcoming union election because they’d been running the projectors since the strike; after an unknown vandal shattered the Somerville Theatre’s front ticket window and the projectionists publicly swore they didn’t know who was responsible — the conflict has become a sanguinary slugfest with indie-rock progenitor Jonathan Richman standing in the Pissed Off Projectionists’ corner.

Last week Richman moved his show from the Somerville Theatre to the Middle East Downstairs in support of the locked-out projectionists, but won’t get into specifics about what factors led him to the decision. " While I disagree with the management of the Somerville Theatre on this particular issue, " Richman says over the phone from a tour stop in Toronto, " they’ve always been great when we played there — and I’d gladly play at the Somerville Theatre again. "

Richman admits he discussed the dispute with both sides for weeks and still isn’t sure he understands who’s to blame. " I don’t think this is black and white, " Richman says. " I don’t want anyone to look like the enemy. " Nevertheless, the decision to pull out of the venue " was the conclusion I came to. I told both parties that I wasn’t sure it was even the right decision, but this is how it looked to me. " He adds, " In the middle of what seems to be an honest labor dispute, I just figured that it’s not the time to play the theater. "

This past Monday, Richman’s name still appeared on the Davis Square cinema’s neon marquee, even though he’d yanked the engagement days earlier. As for the Somerville Theatre’s stance, a female voice answering the phone for its executive office offered, " We have no comment. " And who is this? " Doesn’t matter. Pretty much anyone you talk to around here, this is what you’re going to get. "

Jonathan Richman will appear next Wednesday, June 18, at 8 p.m., at the Middle East Downstairs, 491 Mass Ave, in Cambridge. Tickets are $15; all tickets purchased for the Somerville Theatre will be honored. Call (617) 864-EAST.

Issue Date: June 13 - 19, 2003
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