By Andrew Gans
14 Nov 2007
Outside the Schoenfeld Theatre, home of A Chorus Line, which remains dark.
photo by Andrew Ku
The strike begun by Local One, the Broadway stagehands union, on Nov. 10 has now lasted longer than the previous labor dispute that darkened most of Broadway. The 2003 strike by the musicians' union stretched four days; the stagehands strike has entered its fifth.
Unlike the relatively brief musicians' strike, which lasted from Friday, March 7, 2003 to early Tuesday morning, March 11, 2003, with a settlement expedited by then-and-current Mayor Michael Bloomberg, industry watchers fear that the current dispute will prove more intractable.
Bloomberg has again offered his assistance to ease the current stalemate, saying in a Nov. 10 statement, "While this is a private labor matter, the economic impact is very public and will be felt far beyond the theatres closed today. It is in everyone's interest for both sides to come together and resolve their differences. I have spoken to both the theatre owners and the stagehands and the City continues to stand ready to help in any way we can." The union, however, has declined the Mayor's offer, with Local One president James J. Claffey, Jr. explaining at a Nov. 11 press conference that his organization will not return to the bargaining table until producers stop using what the union considers inflammatory language regarding work and staffing minimums.
As evidence of a slowdown in theatre-district restaurant business trickles in, the economic impact on the shows themselves has been swift: according to the grosses released Nov. 13 by the League, both Jersey Boys and Wicked, which usually lead the pack, were down nearly half-a-million dollars apiece without their lucrative weekend performances. For the Nov. 5-11 week, Jersey Boys and Wicked took in, respectively, $732,840 and $852,843; the previous week those shows grossed $1,217,333 and $1,335,757. The picture was grimmer for shows already struggling before the work stoppage.
The one silver lining in the overall boxoffice tumble was that seven of the shows not hit by the strike (Young Frankenstein does not reveal its grosses to the League) have seen a bump in attendance. Attendance for the Nov. 5-11 week was up for each of these productions: Cymbeline (67.3%, up from 57.5% the previous week), Mary Poppins (96.7%, from 72.4%), Mauritius (76.3%, from 72.0%), Pygmalion (94.8%, from 91.4%), The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (77.3%, from 68.8%), The Ritz (81.0%, from 67.5%) and Xanadu (75.5%, from 55.2%).
In other strike news, the official opening of The Farnsworth Invention, the new play from "West Wing" scribe Aaron Sorkin - scheduled for this evening, Nov. 14 - was officially postponed by producers. A new opening date will be announced at a later time. Although it has not been officially announced, it is likely that the opening of Conor McPherson's The Seafarer — scheduled for Nov. 15 — will also be postponed. Many first-string critics - whose reviews typically run the day after a show's opening - haven't been able to attend a performance of either play.
Besides shows and neighboring restaurants, the strike's impact is being felt by hotels, 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."
I have to call the Shuberts today to see how I can get my check from last Wednesday when I worked a Phantom matinee.