In its 129-year history in Minneapolis, the Alliance of International Theater Employees (IATSE) Local 13 has never elected a business agent other than a white male. On November 8, 2022, everything changed when Wendell Bell, his 33-year veteran on the Twin Cities music and theater scene, was elected in a landslide.
In his new role, Bell, who officially took office on Monday, is responsible for a number of union business issues, from collective bargaining to production values, logistics and payroll.
He also secured a roster of 3,000 IATSE Local 13 workers, including technicians, carpenters, wardrobe professionals, sound engineers, hair stylists, applicators, makeup specialists, lighting designers, and other stagehands. and is tasked with helping to ensure that it works successfully. Metro he is sent to staff various productions both inside and outside the area.
As liaisons between union members and their employers, business agents may be said to be one of the most important positions in unions. of many. Something that Bell seems destined for.
fate on stage
Bell and his siblings all fell in love with music at an early age. “We all knew how proficient his uncle was with guitar and piano,” he recalls. “So we all gravitated towards music ourselves, picked up an instrument and entered talent him contests. It was a huge part of our lives.”
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Bell became obsessed with new sounds from New York City and the surrounding area, featuring Parliament Funkadelic, Bootsy Collins, and the Sugar Hill Gang, Grandmaster Flash, and the Furious Five.
He also quickly picked up on the sounds emerging in his hometown of Minneapolis. By the time Bell was in his teens, he knew, “This is where I belong.”
Bell joined several bands himself and, as he puts it, “gigged out” whenever he could. Bell was gifted with talent, but he realized that making a living as a young musician wasn’t the easiest thing in the world. “You have to live, you have to be eaten,” Bell said.
After high school, Bell attended Brown College with a degree in electronic technology. From there he went on to Music Tech and trained to become a recording engineer. It was also during this time that Bell began to moonlight a bit in his future field. This included, among other things, transporting and setting up audio equipment around town.
One of these trips took him to Paisley Park. “This was him around 1988 or he was around 1989,” recalls Bell. Couldn’t get over how clean the place was. ” After setting everything up, he waited for someone to come over and check everything. Be it Prince or anyone else. But no one came.
As such, Bell found himself alone in the building at the time and took a self-guided tour of the place, checking out every studio, costume store, and nearly every other room whose doors were open.
Hours passed, but no one came to inspect his work, so Bell left. On his second trip to Paisley Park, where he was setting up shop again, he felt a presence in the room. When he turned his head there was Prince.
“Hey,” said Prince. “Hey,” Bell replied. A few seconds later Bell turned and said something more, but Prince was no longer there. “It’s what people always say,” Bell laughed. “He appeared out of nowhere, and in an instant he was gone.”
make his mark
While still finishing his studies, Bell began working as a sound designer at the Mixed Blood Theater and soon after as an engineer at Metro Recording Studios, helping on records such as Steeles’ debut album Heaven Help Us All.
Meeting Pepe Willie, another icon of the Minneapolis sound at Metro, led me to work as a recording engineer at Pepe Music for 11 years. 15 and “Fortune Teller” – both had his teenage Prince Rogers Nelson on guitar.
However, the business rarely relegated him to a single gig, and in 1992 Bell was hired as lead soundboard engineer at the Guthrie Theatre. At Guthrie, Bell worked on such legendary plays as Sophocles, Shakespeare, Anton He Chekhov, Franz Kafka, Oscar He Wild.He especially liked Alexander Ostrovsky’s Half Too Smart, Villain’s Diary.
Another memory that stands out was the Penumbra Theater Company’s production of August Wilson’s Fences in Spring 1997 in Guthrie. Penumbra founder and artistic director Lou Bellamy, who babysited Bell and his siblings when they were kids, has been pushing for a long time. Putting the work of black playwrights front and center on Guthrie’s stage, his two-time Pulitzer Prize winner August His Wilson crossed the river nearly 20 years ago to make his professional debut at Penumbra .
“Lou fought really hard to make this happen,” Bell explained. “It was a struggle. There was tension around it. But he didn’t give up. In addition, he maintained complete artistic control and created one of the most famous works in Guthrie’s history.” Props to Lou for that, always.
Reach new heights
In July 2000, after splitting the first decade or so of his career between stage and recording studio, Bell became head sound engineer at the Ordway Performing Arts Center, a position he maintains to this day. But then again, Bell continues to leave an artistic mark all over town for as long as such work takes.
If you’ve ever been to a theater, concert, or any type of theater or music production, chances are you’ll find Bell’s name on the billboards. to the TCF Bank Stadium, multiple venues at the State Fair, and the aforementioned array of theaters, among many other local stages.
Some of the most famous and kind people Bell has worked with over the years are Gladys Knight, Tito Puente, Sheena Easton, Peabo Bryson, Ringo Starr, Jane Fonda and Twin · Cities legend Gordon Parkes and others.
But most of all, I am grateful to my colleagues of color and their support as IATSE Local 13 business agents.
Commenting on Bell’s historic election, friend and mentor Willie said: Whether he was in the studio, playing golf, or just hanging out, it was always easy to tell that he was the real deal. Wendell is kind, talented, and humble. he is a sincere person Wendell deserves this honor, and the union is better for it.”
Tony Kiene’s experience in the Twin Cities nonprofit and entertainment industry includes Minneapolis Urban League, Penumbra Theater, Hallie Q. Brown, and Pepé Music.
He welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.