Could Broadway Go Dark?

A crowd stands in front of the Shubert Theatre as lights are turned off briefly on Broadway in memory of Katharine Hepburn, Tuesday, July 1, 2003, in New York. Hepburn, who performed at the Shubert Theatre in the comedy "The Philadelphia Story," died Sunday, June 29, 2003. She was 96. AP

Is there a possibility the fall Broadway season will stop before it starts?

Talks between the League of American Theatres and Producers and the Broadway stagehands union, Local One, have been inching along this month but are approaching a League-imposed deadline.

No one is talking on the record, but the League reportedly will make its last offer Monday. What happens next is up in the air. If an agreement is not reached, the producers could decide to lock out the stagehands, effectively shutting down most theaters. Or the two sides could continue talking if progress is being made toward a settlement.

"These are complicated and sensitive issues and we are committed to working with the union 24/7 to reach an agreement," said Charlotte St. Martin, the league's executive director, in a statement. "But we are committed to making change, and doing so in a timeframe that protects our industry, the city and the theatergoing public."

Union officials have declined comment on the negotiations.

A shutdown would affect most commercial Broadway productions but not those produced by such nonprofit organizations as the Roundabout Theatre Company, Manhattan Theatre Club and Lincoln Center Theater. Also apparently not affected are shows in theaters owned by non-League members, which include the Hilton, where Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein" begins previews Oct. 11, and the Disney-owned New Amsterdam, home to "Mary Poppins."

If Broadway shuts down, it would be the first time since 2003 when more than a dozen Broadway shows went dark after Local 802 of the musicians union went on a four-day strike.

The stagehands have been working without a contract since July. The thorniest issue dominating the negotiations are rules governing "load-ins" - putting a show's physical production into a theater.

Producers say the rules are cumbersome and expensive and that they need more leeway to determine how and how many stagehands are needed. League members, who include theater owners, producers and general managers, have reportedly put together a $20 million fund to help some of the less popular shows financially weather a possible shutdown.

The 3,000-member union, which has between 350 and 500 members working on Broadway at any given time, contends it could find employment for many of these people in television or film if a work stoppage occurs.

If a shutdown is to happen, producers would rather see it take place sooner rather than during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season when business is at its strongest and more new shows will be running.

November, for example, promises to be an exceptionally busy month on Broadway. Eight productions are scheduled to open including such high-profile plays as Tom Stoppard's "Rock 'n' Roll" and "Cyrano," starring Kevin Kline and Jennifer Garner.

By MICHAEL KUCHWARA By MICHAEL KUCHWARA
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