Broadway Strike: Touring Shows Next?

Stagehands and members of Local One union walk the picket lines in front of a Broadway theater in New York Monday, Nov. 12, 2007 in New York. Striking stagehands and theater producers traded accusations but not much else as the work stoppage that has shut down more than two dozen Broadway shows entered its third day Monday. AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

Could the Broadway work stoppage spread to touring companies of major musical hits such as "Wicked" or "Jersey Boys"?

No one, not the union nor the producers, is talking on the record about what might be the next step in Local 1's battle with the League of American Theatres and Producers. Such a move would need the endorsement of the local's parent union, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

It would seriously undermine producers since such megahits as "Wicked" and "Jersey Boys" on the road regularly pull down weekly grosses of $1 million or more.

The current walkout by stagehands, which has shut down more than two dozen Broadway theaters, entered its fourth day Tuesday with no end in sight.

Photo Essay: Broadway Strike
"It's going to be a day-to-day thing," said Norman Samnick, an entertainment lawyer who specializes in labor relations for Bryan Cave LLP. "Once a strike starts, it's very hard to stop the rock from rolling downhill."

Shows have been canceled through the Wednesday matinees, according to Alan Cohen, a league spokesman. "We will deal with the Wednesday evening performance on Tuesday," he said.

No talks have been planned. Not even an offer from Mayor Michael Bloomberg to provide assistance has been accepted.

"The idea is to get them back to the table," Samnick said. "The question is: What is going to get them to that table? As a result of this (the strike), there are going to be a lot more hard feelings."

Local 1 walked out Saturday without much notice, shutting down 27 plays and musicals and causing confusion on the busiest theatergoing day of the week.

The union includes more than just the men and women who move the scenery and props; it also represents a show's electricians, carpenters and sound people. Stagehands work for individual theaters but do not get paid when there is no show running.

The existing contract requires theaters to use at least three stagehands for each production: a carpenter, a property master and an electrician. On occasion, a fourth stagehand called a fly man is needed. This is the person in charge of scenery, props and other things that move up or down, or from offstage - for example, the "bubble" that transports Glinda in the musical "Wicked."

Adding more stagehands depends on "what's moving around," said Bruce Cohen, a union spokesman. "You could conceivably do a show with three or four people. It depends on what else the show requires. The more action you have on a stage, the more people you have to have."

The contract dispute has focused on how many stagehands are required to open a show and keep it running. That means moving scenery, lights, sound systems and props into the theater; installing the set and making sure it works; and keeping everything functioning well for the life of the production.

Theater owners and producers want to be able to hire only the number of stagehands they think they'll need for an individual show. For example, a play with one set might not require as many stagehands as a large-scale musical with many scene changes or special effects. The union wants to maintain its rules on how many stagehands are hired, how they work and for how long; it also wants a specific number hired for each show.

Eight Broadway shows that have separate contracts with the union remained open and were doing strong business. Among the attractions still running are "Young Frankenstein," "Mary Poppins," "Xanadu" and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," as well as four shows - "Pygmalion," "The Ritz," "Mauritius" and "Cymbeline" - playing at nonprofit theaters.

Meanwhile, the league has put together a Web site, www.ILoveNYTheater.com, which will be updated daily with new information about how to exchange tickets or get refunds for canceled shows.
By Michael Kuchwara
  • CBSNews

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