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some new info...finally

Day 9: Negotiations Continue as Effects of Strike Are Felt

By Andrew Gans
18 Nov 2007

Stagehands walk the picket line.
photo by Matthew Blank

The latest round of negotiations between Local One, the stagehands union, and the League of American Theatres and Producers, continues Nov. 18 as most of Broadway remains darkened by the strike that began Nov. 10 and has shuttered 27 theatres.

The League and the union returned to the bargaining table Saturday morning, Nov. 17 at 10 AM at the Westin Hotel. The meeting marked the first time the two sides had officially met since Nov. 8; following that early November meeting, Thomas C. Short, president of I.A.T.S.E., granted strike authorization to the Broadway stagehands union.

Short is also part of the current negotiations, which also include Robert W. Johnson, a Disney labor relations executive, who flew in to help in the talks. Peter Schneider, the former head of Disney Theatrical, told the New York Post that "Tom Short respects [Johnson] beyond belief. If anybody can bring a sense of security, fairness and calmness to this situation, it's Robert."

There has been no official statement from either side since the negotiations began anew on Saturday. NY1 reported at 11 PM Nov. 17 that talks were scheduled to continue through the night. Even if a verdict is reached today, shows in the 27 darkened theatres have already been canceled for the day.

As the negotiations continue, the effects of the strike continue to multiply. In addition to the millions of dollars in revenue lost by the 27 darkened productions and the severely reduced pay for those on strike, the city of New York estimates it has lost approximately $2 million per day because of the drop-off in business in theatre-district hotels, bars and restaurants.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, NYC & Company and the Times Square Alliance have announced a "Dining in the District" restaurant discount — effective through Nov. 25 — as a means to counter this loss of business. The "special weeklong dining program [is] intended to attract New Yorkers and visitors to restaurants...that have been affected by the Broadway stagehand strike," according to an announcement, and "will offer a 15% discount on lunch or dinner to all patrons at more than 25 participating restaurants." The offer does not include Thanksgiving Day; more information and a list of restaurants can be found by visiting nyc.gov, nycvisit.com or timessquarenyc.org.

Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the nation's leading industry based, not-for-profit AIDS fundraising and grant-making organization, has also suffered. It is during this time of year when casts of the Broadway shows make post-show curtain speeches to raise funds for the organization. It is a six-week fundraising drive that leads up to the annual Gypsy of the Year competition. Tom Viola, the executive director of BC/EFA, told NY1, "The strike has hit us right in the middle of the [audience] appeals. For every week of the strike, we've unfortunately lost over $350,000."

In an effort to try to recover some of these losses, BC/EFA has introduced Team Raiser, a chance for interested parties to donate to the Gypsy of the Year competition on-line. Contributions can be made to one's favorite show, and people can also register to fundraise themselves. (For more information click here.)

And, the most tragic strike-related news of the week was the death of a stagehand, who was picketing in front of the Minskoff Theatre on Nov. 16. Francis Lavaia, a Lion King worker, suffered a fatal heart attack while picketing 7 PM Thursday evening. Mr. Lavaia, the Daily News reports, was 57 and was taken to Roosevelt Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

About the late stagehand, Kenny McDough, the head carpenter at the Booth Theatre, told NY1, "Frank Lavaia was one of the most loved stagehands, one of the most talented. He was just like a father figure to all the people. I know him for over 20 years, and I loved him to death." Kathleine Spock, an usher at the Schoenfeld Theatre, added, "Everybody's gonna remember him. He would do whatever he could for you any time, anywhere. He's a good friend for everyone to have."

Stagehands will continue picketing with a black band around their arms in memory of their late colleague.

All in the theatre community — including the out-of-work actors, musicians, ushers and box-office personnel, among others — are hoping this latest round of negotiations will be fruitful. Many believe that Broadway will be up and running by Thanksgiving, which would give those in the industry even more reason to be thankful come turkey day.

To date, the strike has forced the postponement of two Broadway openings: The Farnsworth Invention (originally scheduled for Nov. 14 at the Music Box Theatre) and The Seafarer (previously scheduled for a Nov. 15 opening at the Booth). New opening dates have yet to be announced for either show.

The Steppenwolf Theatre Company's production of August: Osage County is the next scheduled Broadway opening: Nov. 20 at the Imperial. It remains to be seen whether that show will open on time.

Only eight Broadway shows are currently running: Xanadu, The Ritz, Mauritius, Cymbeline, Pygmalion, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Young Frankenstein and Mary Poppins.

For months, producers and the union have been hashing out issues of work assignments, setting of a production's run crew, load-in costs and labor minimums. Local One members have been working on Broadway without a contract since July 31.

Broadway was last darkened by the 2003 musicians' strike, which lasted from Friday, March 7, 2003 to early Tuesday morning, March 11, 2003. That dispute temporarily closed 18 Broadway musicals.

Tags: theatre--stagecrew, theatre--ushering
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