By Andrew Gans
and Robert Simonson
13 Nov 2007
Outside the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, home of the Grease revival.
photo by Andrew Ku
The strike initiated by Local One, the stagehands union, reaches its fourth day Nov. 13. Only eight Broadway shows will offer performances Tuesday evening, while the remaining 27 productions will remain dark.
The third day of the strike (Nov. 12) was marked by a notable silence from either side: Neither the union nor the League of American Theatres and Producers issued a statement or held a press conference. There was also no word as to whether any further negotiations had been scheduled.
The silence was perhaps apropros, as Nov. 12 was the first day since the strike began where Broadway was completely dark. Among the eight still-running shows, none offered Monday-night performances; those few shows that do regularly perform on Mondays were affected by the strike and, therefore, went dark. (The union did allow a previously announced benefit to be held at the Marquis Theatre, the home of The Drowsy Chaperone.)
The effects of the strike have started to be felt by others than those directly involved in the Broadway theatre, including hotels, restaurants, gift shops, bars, taxis, pedicabs, even charitable organizations such as Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, who all depend on the lights going up eight times a week.
"If you'd walked around the area over the weekend, you'd see how instantaneous the drop-off was," Tim Tompkins, the head of the Times Square Business Improvement District, told Playbill.com. "It's absolutely not the same. The thing's that deeper is that a lot of folks come to New York specifically to go to a Broadway show and with this cloud of uncertainty, they postpone or cancel their trips. So that's a double hit."
The one bright spot seems to be the upturn in business for several Off-Broadway productions. Theatregoers and tourists who might normally spend their money on a Broadway show are turning to such Off-Broadway fare as Make Me a Song: The Music of William Finn; Die Mommie Die!; and Frankenstein, A New Musical, among others, for their theatre fix. The few Broadway productions that are open — which include Xanadu, The Ritz, Mauritius, Cymbeline, Pygmalion, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Young Frankenstein and Mary Poppins — are also benefiting from the lack of options.
While many Broadway ticketholders were left stranded over the weekend, both the union and the League took their cases to the public by holding dueling press conferences, which were broadcast on local cable channel NY1.
At the League of American Theatres and Producers' press conference on the strike's first day, Nov. 10, executive director Charlotte St. Martin and producers decried the union's absence from the negotiating table Nov. 9 and for not providing any warning about the impending strike. The League also sought to highlight what has come to be the flashpoint of contract negotiations: the issue of employing more union workers than the producers consider necessary, also known as featherbedding.
Largely silent during the three-month period of negotiations leading up to Saturday's strike, the union responded with its own press conference on Nov. 11. Local One president James J. Claffey, Jr. — along with officials of Local 802, the musicians union and Actors' Equity — sought to recharacterize the terms of the dispute as one of the union fighting for its members' families and preserving safety in the theatre.
Claffey said the union is willing to return to the negotiating table but will not do so until "[the producers] give the union more respect." Claffey said the producers' use of the term featherbedding was disrespectful to the union. "As they continue to say featherbedding and they keep [saying] basically that we're thieves," Claffey said, "we're not going back to the table with that lack of respect. . . . We can't negotiate under those circumstances." Although Local One has declined Mayor Michael Bloomberg's offer to mediate a deal, Claffey did say that the union will "come back to the table at some point. Broadway has to continue, and we know that."
The League responded to the union's Nov. 11 press conference with a statement from Charlotte St. Martin, the executive director of the organization. The press statement, said, in part, "[Local One] left the negotiating table and abruptly went on the picket line. They refused to budge on nearly every issue, protecting wasteful, costly and indefensible rules that are embedded like dead weights in contracts so obscure and old that no one truly remembers how, when or why they were introduced. The union wants you to believe they are the victims, the little guys. . . They are professionals and should be well paid, and will remain the best paid in this industry in the world. We simply don't want to be compelled to hire more workers than needed and pay them when there is no work for them to do. . . .These issues can only be resolved at the bargaining table, not on the picket line. We remain prepared to meet 24/7 until we reach an acceptable agreement."
Broadway was last darkened by a musicians strike in 2003, which ended after four days.