Conceived by Pittsburgh Film Office and Pittsburgh Public Theater leaders, the initiative plans to train behind-the-scenes workers for union jobs
By SHARON EBERSON
Two dynamos meet at the Duquesne Club. When the meeting is over, they shake hands, and Create PA: Film & Theatre Works! is on its way to becoming a reality.
On Feb. 23 of this year, Dawn Keezer, who for nearly 30 years has headed the Pittsburgh Film Office, met with Pittsburgh Public Theater managing director Shaunda Miles McDill, who previously was with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and Heinz Endowments. It was McDill’s third day with the Downtown theater.
Morgan Overton, left, is the Workforce Director of Create PA, the brainchild of Shaunda Miles McDill (center) of Pittsburgh Public Theater and Dawn Keezer, head of the Pittsburgh Film Office. (Images: Sharon Eberson)
In speedy-delivery time from the room where it happened to fruition, on Wednesday, May 30, Create PA was launched. The program aims to train behind-the-scenes skilled workers for union jobs, creating a sustainable local workforce earning a livable wage while also making Pittsburgh a more attractive place for film and theater projects.
It is said to be the first partnership between theaters and television producers of its kind, outside of New York.
To introduce the program, a press conference was held at the Public’s O’Reilly Theater home, attended by PA Lt. Gov. Austin Davis, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Sen. Camera Bartolotta (46th District), IATSE Local 489 president Mamie Stein, Felicity Williams, Deputy Chief of Staff to Mayor Ed Gainey, Public Theater artistic director Marya Sea Kaminski and other dignitaries and principals in the partnership.
Pittsburgh native Morgan Overton, a visual artist with an MSW from Pitt, and the former Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, & Access Manager of Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey’s Office, has been named Workforce Director of Create PA.
One of the initiative’s main goals is to facilitate partnerships within the community and to keep talented Pittsburghers here, helping to attract business and grow the economy generated by the entertainment industry.
“How can we make Pittsburgh be the place where talent thrives and it stays to thrive?.” Overton asked. “We’re a region of bridges, but we need to act like it. This is our time. This is such a beautiful window of opportunity for the next generation.”
It is anticipated that Create PA will attract “high quality talent and develop their skills for behind-the-screen and behind-the-stage crew positions, including grips, electric, hair, wardrobe, carpentry, set decorating and accounting.”
The program has $750,000 in funding for its first 12 months, with more grants pending. Initial contributions were from the Commonwealth of PA, and the budget includes a Richard King Mellon Foundation grant for hair/wig training.
Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Austin Davis was in Pittsburgh on May 30 to attend the launch of Create PA at the O’Reilly Theater.
Asked about how Create PA might coalesce with existing training programs in the region, Overton said, “I’m a policy wonk, and usually my way of approaching how to go about things is identifying what already exists. What are the relationships that people, especially our unions, already have with schools, with arts Institutes, communities? Identify those, and find where are the gaps here. And then, do people even know that these units exist? Do people know their pathways to cosmetology schools? Do they know that these trainings exist? That’s a matter of just building relationships.”
Through its partnership with local unions, Create PA is planning to pave a path from training to skill to jobs, where no clear entryway was previously available.
“We have over a hundred professional and community theater companies in the Greater Pittsburgh area. We have over 10,000 people who are employed and we generate over a hundred million dollars in revenue for the city,” McDill said of the theater community. “So we’re excited about the way in which this expansion can move us forward. Also I’m excited about getting in Dawn’s Rolodex …”
A running joke by Keezer throughout the press conference was how she has the cell phone number of everyone in the room, and she’s not afraid to use them.
Her ferocity on behalf of the Pittsburgh Film Office also was noted by more than one speaker at the press conference.
Lt. Gov. Davis noted that, “I’m so glad that the Pittsburgh Film Office is leading in this way. I know they’ve been a leader here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. If any of you know Dawn Keezer, if you look up persistence in the dictionary, she’s here. But she is constantly pushing to make Pennsylvania a leader in this industry. And today’s partnership exemplifies that, and we’re so happy to be a part of it.”
Keezer told a story about how she got to know Fitzgerald, when she initially could not get permission for filming in a county park. One phone call to the Exec, and it was done.
“There are a lot of people that have had jobs in Southwestern Pennsylvania, in this industry, because of what Dawn has done, what the Film Office has done,” Fitzgerald said, standing beside movie posters of Fences, The Dark Knight and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.
“We all know the list of the great movies and the great productions and the great TV series, etc., that have been filmed here,” said the Jeff Daniels look-alike. “And now with Create PA, we’re going to make sure that we have enough people to work in those industries – not just the folks that we see in front of the camera but the folks that are doing all the instrumental work … The industry is growing, and it’s growing here because we know how to do it.”
Fitzgerald thanked the Lieutenant Governor and Sen. Bartolotta for the state’s support in a program aimed at ‘workforce development and providing opportunities for young people, which is really at the heart of so many things that they want to do.”
Lt. Gov. Davis said it was “wonderful to be Downtown to celebrate this partnership rooted in arts and culture, as well as labor and workforce development, two areas that I’m very passionate about.”
He also noted that his parents supported his family in careers that didn’t require a college degree, so he understands the value of a skilled workforce that isn’t solely reliant on higher education.
“I was really proud that in the early days of our administration, I stood alongside Governor Shapiro as we kept our promise and signed an executive order, eliminating the need for a college degree for 65,000 Commonwealth jobs here and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Lt. Gov. Davis said, adding, “Our administration recognizes how impactful cultural amenities are to the fabric of our commonwealth. And I’m happy to be here today to support this new partnership between the theater and the film industry, to train more people for behind-the-scenes and behind-the-stage work. This work is critical. It helps us to become more informed and human as we engage with art and culture, while simultaneously employing thousands of people providing a future for families and careers for young adults, whether they are college bound or trade-school bound. This initiative will support rising professionals and emerging youth in achieving their career goals and provide job training. while connecting communities to an area that many feel they can only dream of participating in.”