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There is a point here...there has to be...

Day 10: Strike Continues After Talks Break Down; Most Shows Canceled Through Nov. 25

By Andrew Gans
19 Nov 2007

The picket line outside the August Wilson Theatre, home of Jersey Boys.
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Talks between the League of American Theatres and Producers and Local One, the stagehands union, broke off the evening of Nov. 18.

Performances in the 27 theatres darkened by the stagehands strike have been canceled through Sunday, Nov. 25, according to a statement released by the League at 10:34 PM Nov. 18. This latest action means the vast majority of Broadway will be dark during the lucrative Thanksgiving weekend.

The statement from Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the League, said: "We are profoundly disappointed to have to tell you that talks broke off tonight, and that no further negotiations are scheduled.

"We presented a comprehensive proposal that responded to the union's concerns about loss of jobs and earnings and attempted to address our need for some flexibilities in running our business. The union rejected our effort to compromise and continues to require us to hire more people than we need.

"Out of respect for our public and our loyal theatergoers, many of whom are traveling from around the world, we regret that we must cancel performances through Sunday November 25."

The union sent out its own press statement at 11 PM. The statement from spokesperson Bruce Cohen read, "Talks between Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and the League of American Theatres and Producers broke off late this [evening]. Just before the talks broke off, the producers informed Local One that what Local One had offered was simply not enough. The producers then walked out. Local One will have no further comment."

Many had hoped that the weekend of negotiations — the first time the union and the League had sat down together since Nov. 9 — would lead to a quick resolution. Those in the industry believed that the talks, which began Saturday morning, Nov. 17, would be aided by the participation of Robert W. Johnson, a Disney labor relations executive who flew in to mediate. Thomas C. Short, the president of I.A.T.S.E. who had granted strike authorization to the Broadway stagehands union on Nov. 9, was also part of the weekend meetings.

A quick resolution, however, was not in the cards. After two days' worth of negotiations at the Westin Hotel on West 43rd Street, there is no indication when talks might resume.

The main sticking point, sources say, continues to be the number of stagehands required for the load-in, the period when the sets for a new production are moved into the theatre.

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.

Now that shows have been canceled through at least Nov. 25, the opening of August: Osage County (at the Imperial Theatre) and the first preview of The Homecoming (at the Cort Theatre) will also be delayed.

Only two shows will play Monday evening, Nov. 19: The Ritz and Pygmalion. The other six shows currently up and running — Xanadu, Mauritius, Cymbeline, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Young Frankenstein and Mary Poppins — offer no Monday performances.

As the strike continues, its effects 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." Kathleen 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.

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.

Tags: the strike, theatre--stagecrew, theatre--ushering
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