Jennifer Diaz, the new head carpenter of Local 1 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, is used to being “the only girl in the building.” While it’s still, sadly, rare to find women in construction, Diaz is an even rarer specimen. Her “building” might be Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall or Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theater. She is one of only 189 female members in Local 1.
Her father was the night crew manager for the Metropolitan Opera House. Diaz grew up backstage. She began working as a stagehand at age 19–and even there, she was typically the only woman on the crew. Membership in Local 1 is highly competitive. You need to work three years in a qualifying job, put in a three-year apprenticeship, or unionize your own workplace. A journeyworker can earn $80,000 a year.
Now 34, and with “a lot of clout” in the theater world, Diaz was asked to apply for the head carpenter position. She went up against 12 other candidates for the job. Despite the title, she’s no longer swinging a hammer. “I point and do payroll,” she told the New York Times.
In fact, she is the liaison between the theater and the mostly male stagehands who report to her. One thing she has in common with other construction bosses: Safety is job #1. Diaz learned that the hard way early one when a house–a life-sized prop for Madame Butterfly–ran over her foot, putting her out of work for a season.
Interestingly, Dias doesn’t seem to be a theater fan. She told the New York Times, “I haven’t been to a show in a long time. I’m here enough.” That’s a contrast with Twin Cities welder Lizzy Hallas, whose career in welding began with a backstage tour of the Guthrie Theater. When she asked about in-demand theater careers, Hallas was told, “If you can weld, you’ll always get a job in the theater.”