Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Before The Holidays Strike?

Before The Holidays Strike?

As previously noted, a potential strike on Broadway looms as Local One of the stagehands union (or International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) is renegotiating its contract -- that expired in July -- with the League of American Theatres and Producers.

Despite the relatively collegial nature of the actual discussions described as "businesslike and civil," there's an underlying threat that is likely causing incredible tension: the League has indicated that if they don't reach an agreement by the end of September, they will force a lockout in early October. What does that mean for theatre fans?

It could force most of the Great White Way to go dark as early as October -- a time period when Broadway business is traditionally slower. That way, the League controls the timing as opposed to Local One, which could opt to strike during the very busy Holiday season that begins in earnest immediately prior to Thanksgiving.

Why most? Since Roundabout Theatre Company, Manhattan Theatre Company (MTC) and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts are all not-for-profit organizations, their stagehands operate under different contracts.

Considering that the first two have the next three shows to open on Broadway -- Mauritius (October 4 at MTC's Biltmore Theatre), The Ritz (October 11 at Roundabout's Studio 54) and Pygmalion (October 18 at the Roundabout-leased American Airlines Theatre) -- if you're looking for safe bets when buying theatre tickets, these would be the shows to see. Whether or not they're any good has yet to be determined.

Update (9/28/2007): The New York Times reports that Young Frankenstein, which will operate in a non-union theatre, and Mary Poppins will not be affected by any lockout or strike.

As a loyal patron on Broadway and theatre in general, I don't have a dog in this fight. But since I'm holding tickets for several shows over the next few months, I'm hoping beyond hope that it doesn't come down to a lockout, which I'm fundamentally against.

Given the fact that the IATSE already has a contingency plan geared toward finding its members union work in television or film during any work stoppage, the only real loser in this fight will be the audience.

The audience is hardly an insignificant group, yet their interests aren't being represented by either side in this battle. The audience is not only paying higher ticket prices at the box office, but in many cases, especially around the Holidays, a substantial number are also incurring non-refundable airfares and exorbitant hotel rates (one of my regular readers told me that's she's paying over $500 per night just for a room in November).

And for what? The chance that they might come to the Big Apple only to learn that their show isn't even playing?!

Let's hope the two sides don't reach an impasse. If they do, they risk turning off the loyal theatregoing public that both sides need.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Related Stories:
Thanks, Mel! (July 6, 2007)

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


At 25 September, 2007, Anonymous Esther said...

Yeah, it would be pretty tough to be planning yur first trip to New York at at that time, or your one big trip of the year to Broadway. After all, Broadway is a big part of why people go to New York.

What about the actors and musicians, wouldn't they be big losers as well? I'm sure the big stars would be fine. Kevin Kline probably has some money saved up! But what about all those singers and dancers in the chorus?

I know there've been strikes before. How long have they lasted?

At 25 September, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Broadway is too important for the NY Economy for a strike to be prolonged. My guess is that Bloomberg will intervene to mediate between the two sides. I would expect a replay of the musician strike scenario where the musicians union ended up giving up the store.

At 25 September, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...


The last time a strike shut down Broadway was during the 2003 strike by the Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians. That strike lastest four days -March 7-10, 2003. Naturally, I had tickets for a short-lived show and never saw it as a result.

During that strike, Actors' Equity supported the musicians on the picket line. As a result, they retroactively won contributions from the producers to their health fund, thanks to an arbitrator who concluded that contributions by the producers to the actors' Equity League Health Trust Fund couldn't be reduced or prorated just because performances did not take place during the strike.


At 25 September, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you think there is a likely chance that this will actually happen? I would be devastated.

I've been planning a trip with family to NY from October 15-20. We've got tickets for EIGHT shows.

I can't even imagine what we would do if this strike happens. This is my first trip to NY since 1987 and we've been planning it for a full year.

I'll be in the corner, biting my fingernails till October.

At 25 September, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, You should also know that during that musicians strike, members of Actors' Equity who supported and participated in the walkout received compensatory benefits from their union of $100 for each missed performance or $100 for each day of missed rehearsal. Actors' Equity's total outlay was estimated at approximately $325,000.

Anonymous, While Mayor Bloomberg intervened quite successfully in the strike as he holed both sides up in Gracie Mansion until they hammered out an agreement in a matter of hours (one that had neither side claiming victory), it should be noted that another far bigger battle was looming...

The United States was about to go to war in Iraq. As that fateful day (March 20, 2003) neared, there was widespread fear that people would once again stay home as they had done immediately after the first Persian Gulf War and in the aftermath of 9/11. To have Broadway closed for business would have been a disaster.

Am I saying that Mayor Bloomberg wouldn't intervene again? No. But circumstances are somewhat different and since neither side seemed happy with the result of that 2003 strike, I'm not convinced that either side in the current drama wants a repeat of that.

At 25 September, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Second Anonymous, If the League is true to their word, a lockout could very well occur right after the first of October. If it does occur, I would hope as the first Anonymous does that a settlement of some kind would take place within days.

But since you never know, and since you're traveling in from out of town, you should inquire about the possibility of travel insurance with your travel agent.

At 25 September, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Second Anonymous - I should also have noted that if shows are indeed canceled as a result of a strike, you are due a full refund for those tickets.

At 25 September, 2007, Blogger NYStagehand said...

It's interesting that you bring up 9/11. In the weeks following the attack, with the smoke still in the air and nobody in Times Square, the stagehands voluntarily took a 25% pay cut to keep shows going. We were later reimbursed but we pitched in and did our part. Now the Producers are saying that they can't pay back their investors fast enough and we have to change our work rules. In an article in Worth Magazine a producer bragged an individual who invested $10,000 in 52 shows over 19 years would have received a 38.71 percent annual internal rate of return as of December 31, 2002, according to Baruch.

Our pay goes up 3% a year and they need to improve margins!

If the Producers want to reduce their risk, don’t do it off the backs of the working people in the theatre. Develop a better sense of taste. Flying cars and jukebox musicals are all well and good but we didn’t make you bring them in. You want virtual scenery and 2000 moving lights, fine. If you make it up as you go along, fine, we can adapt. But it’ll be on your dime. Good, fast, cheap. You only get to have any two at any given time.

http://www.worth.com/Editorial/Wealth-Management/Investment-Risk-Management/Broadway-Backers.asp?ht=broadway broadway

At 26 September, 2007, Anonymous Sparkforce said...

While it is unfortunate for audience members that they will not be able to see shows, and especially for tourists coming in, it's important to remember why the stagehands might strike in the first place. It's not because the producers are raising tickets prices and are making more money. They have been doing that for years. The fact of the matter is, it's a cost of living issue. 90% of the stagehands working in theater have to supplement their theatrical work with corporate gigs, television, film, concerts, or some other thing because they simply cannot afford cost of living in New York.
Sure, you can say, "Well, then don't live in New York" or, "That's just what comes from living in New York" but really that's a straw man argument. If all the people here working in theater left New York because of how expensive New York is, there would be no-one left to work in theater. Oh sure, you'd get a few volunteers here and there, but the quality of the shows would decline dramatically.

True, it's unfortunate that shows on Broadway cost so much. They probably don't need to. The current profit margins could be spread around a bit better. But that's not the crux of the argument. Theatrical professionals deserve to be able to afford at *minimum* basic cost of living expenses.

So please, before you go complaining about those 'darn stagehands who ruined my vacation' think for a minute about what they are trying to accomplish.

At 26 September, 2007, Blogger SarahB said...

Unfortunately, the producers and actors have no choice but to rely on this union. Hopefully Actors Equity will assert their presence. It's a business after all. I don't have any Broadway tickets right now (opera season!) so I won't be affected but I'll still be dismayed if it happens. Any dark night on Broadway is a bad night.

At 26 September, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

To NY Stagehand and Sparkforce,

I really appreciate getting an insider perspective on this. As I said in my initial piece, I'm writing purely from the audience perspective - although I did express my distaste for lockouts.

You both raise important points about New York's high cost of living and the need to keep more than one job just to make ends meet.

Clearly, as a member of the audience, a great Broadway show wouldn't be nearly the thrilling experience it is without the people on stage and backstage. I remember how amazed I was to learn just how many stagehands there were behind the curtain. Even as the show must go on, it can only go on with the help and support of those backstage.

Thanks for sharing your points of view. I sincerely hope the two sides will be able to reach an agreement, because as Sarah says, "Any dark night on Broadway is a bad night."

At 26 September, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Post Script: According to this morning's edition of The New York Times:

Seven shows are scheduled to begin previews next month. (One, Young Frankenstein, is playing in a nonleague theater, and would probably open no matter what. Likewise, Disney’s New Amsterdam theater [home to Mary Poppins] and the four nonprofit Broadway theaters would not be included in a lockout.)

The League is set to make its final offer to the union on Monday, October 1. But as I've already reported and as the Times story affirms:

"But if the league calls a lockout, it could start as soon as Monday, and no one is certain how long it would last."

At 26 September, 2007, Anonymous gene in minneapolis said...

I could easily side with the stage hands in this strike. I guess it's now the big business aspect of what was almost a cottage industry in days gone by that has me so inclined.

Dan Rather, on Larry King last week, spoke about how news, from his perspective, has been given over to large corporations set on profits. Has this attitude also pervaded the American theater?
Was this the result of the over-hype of the blockbusters of the late '80's and does everyone think this is easy money?
The League has for years tried to convince everyone that the increased wages and generous work rules are the reason for ticket price increases. I disagree and I remember when the Shuberts were upping prices in the 1980's with a laissez-faire approach to the market. The market was there and the seats still filled despite the increased prices. That trend continues and the present market seems very willing to continue to bear the increases; even though many have been shut out by the higher prices.

One another footing...........
I don't know how many stage hands are required per show but I see management's point on having crew needs assessed by the needs of the show. I understand management's points about load-in and crew needed there and that, in management's view, no one should be "standing idly by" and I don't necessarily agree with that viewpoint.
Perhaps the crew times could be staggered based on how the load-in is set to go. Heavy when there is much to do and less as the load subsides and more has been placed. Whatever the management thinks is the correct amount of staffing the union must at least two more added to that amount and not let management screw them.

One other thing to note is ticket prices don't increase in small percentages.....they are up in like a 10% jump each time they go up. While wages shouldn't exactly do the same the workers should be seen in better light than an across the board 3% or 4%; the stagehands make the show happen just as much as the men and women who raise the money to get it there.

I know that many of the backers are now those who want quick returns on their investments and are no longer those who were willing to wait months and months for a show to recoup. Perhaps the theater isn't the best place for those looking for that "quick buck?"
I really don't want to see a strike because of theater-lovers, who like Steve, may miss a performance and can't get back to NY to see it before it closes. However, I really am disheartened with the way the big boys have come in and taken over the system seeming to want to squeeze every penny out of it.
But then again the big boys have the money to put up be it a hit or a flop.........

At 26 September, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Gene, Appreciate your perspectives...especially your line that "Perhaps the theater isn't the best place for those looking for that 'quick buck?'"

At 28 September, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Post Script (9/28/07): Michael Riedel reports in this morning's New York Post that:

BROADWAY producers looked over the precipice - and decided to step back. All that tough talk last week about locking out the stagehands has quieted down. The producers are still planning to put their final offer on the table this weekend, but they've agreed to negotiate at least through the first week of October.

"If they want to talk, we'll keep talking," says a producer, who adds that progress on the new contract is moving "incrementally."

Let's hope that when they looked over the edge, they saw nothing but future box office demand plummeting.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Technorati blog directory Blog Directory & Search engine
Visitor Map

Powered by FeedBurner