By: Lisa Budwig
“Running a union really comes down to one thing…taking care of people.” ~ Beverly Miller, President, United Scenic Artists Local 829
Local USA 829 is the national union that represents a diverse membership of skilled creatives employed across the entertainment industry: theatre, television, film, opera, ballet, commercials, industrial shows and exhibitions. Found backstage, behind the scenes, on locations and in workshops and studios, Local USA 829 members are essential practitioners in the art and magic of illusion and storytelling. They are designers and artists working in scenic, costume, lighting, sound, projection, computer and graphic design and allied crafts who create the worlds we see on film and stage, taking a director’s vision and making it real.
Beverly Miller, who has been President of Local USA 829 for twenty years and Business Rep for the past fourteen, believes the union’s job, and her job by extension, is to work to protect the members, to support them and be their voice.
“It’s a lot of responsibility,” says Miller. “The vast majority of our members are freelancers. That’s a hard life, a very insecure life, and they work in challenging, sometimes dangerous conditions.”
Miller knows firsthand. After graduating from Pratt Institute, then four years designing jewelry for Cartier, she entered the entertainment industry, a world she had first become familiar with through her father’s work in advertising. It was during the next ten years, working as a scenic artist on films and commercials that she, along with others who had become politically engaged, formed a group that started fighting for safer, healthier, and more equitable working conditions for all of their number. Finally, in the late 90s, they successfully gained the support and means to take over Local USA 829.
By that time, Miller had begun working at the Metropolitan Opera, a time and place she describes as “wonderful.” So wonderful that when she got the call from the Union asking her to come work as a full-time Business Rep that it was a tough choice. But a good one, Miller says now, resulting in a lot of good programs, with health and safety a primary concern. In fact, it’s one that led her also to accept an invitation to be Vice Chair of the Advisory Board of the Selikoff Center for Occupational & Environmental Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital.
With 3800 members nationwide, Pennsylvania has its share in Local USA 829, which works hand in hand with PaFIA to ensure a healthy employment landscape for its members, both physically and economically. When asked if she thought it important for Local USA 829 members in PA to join PaFIA, Miller replied, “Absolutely! Community and local support is essential. Our collective voice is the most powerful tool we have. It’s important to let people know the entertainment industry is a strong economic engine. We’re hoping the film tax credits get stablized and PA gets more television shows.”
Expanding on the interconnectedness of the business and the importance of building community and relationships, she continued, “What I love most about this business is that it’s team work. You can watch circus people all working together like an orchestrated ballet, on a crew we get the same feeling all working together for a common goal, for a quality product, and everyone shares in the pride of accomplishment, from the DP to the dogwalker.”
Miller has devoted herself to the industry and taking care of the people who work in it. And in this three-ring circus called show business, Beverly Miller is one of its most passionate and respected ringmasters.