Both Sides Silent and Far Apart as Broadway Strike Drags On

News   Both Sides Silent and Far Apart as Broadway Strike Drags On All is silence on Broadway as a strike by the unions representing musicians, actors, stagehands and other theatre professionals went on for a fourth day.

Not only were 18 theatres that once housed such ringing hits as Hairspray and Movin' Out bereft of orchestras and audiences, but the two major parties in conflict in the walkout—the League of American Theatres and Producers and American Federation of Musicians' Local 802—were not speaking. No negotiations have been conducted since Friday, March 7, when Actors' Equity and Local One of the stagehands union, among other stage guilds, dramatically threw their weight behind the musicians' strike. All but eight Broadway attractions have been dark ever since.

Instead, theatre of a sort has reigned in the streets around Times Square. Over the weekend, the striking musicians marched in front of theatres, held impromptu concerts—an exhibition of the "live music" that picket signs say the union is trying to save—and held a mock funeral procession through the streets, with players holding up tombstones that bore the names of the dozen and half stricken musicals.

Theatre also reigned in the halls equipped with straight plays. Offerings such as Vincent in Brixton, Take Me Out, Frankie and Johnny, as well as the unaffected musical Cabaret, reported sell-out and overflow crowds, as theatregoers turned away at musical box offices sought out alternative fare. Cabaret even stopped selling half-price tickets at the TKTS discount booth.

With the start of the new week, everyone was talking numbers. Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged the two sides to get back to the negotiating table and with good reason: the city stands to lose $50 million in income for each week the strike continues, Variety reported. Other figures: 632 suddenly unemployed actors will be set back $1.4 million; stagehands will be out of pocket $285,000; musicians stand to lose $440,000.

Alan Eisenberg, executive director of Actors' Equity, said the union would stick by the musicians for "as long as it takes." Member participation in the picket lines is now voluntary, but Eisenberg stated that a good many actors were yet taking part. Local One has called for a "Broadway industry-wide, close-door meeting" for Wednesday, March 12, at Radio City Music Hall. The union expects 3,000 people to attend. On March 11, union officials will ask Local One’s executive committee to authorize use of the union’s strike fund for members who need financial support.

The traditionally-dark night of Monday will not represent a break in the bloodletting, as many musicals have adopted a schedule including Monday performances. Among the canceled shows are Chicago, Rent and Urban Cowboy.

One musical may never open again. Flower Drum Song, the Rodgers and Hammerstein revival that was struggling to find an audience and had been scheduled to close on March 16, was the first show to cancel its Friday performances. A show spokesman indicated that if the strike isn't resolved soon, Flower Drum Song would not reopen.

Since the strike began, there has only been minor progress on the critical issue of musicians minimums, the standard number of players the union mandates producers must use for Broadway musicals, depending on house size. The League said it was willing to accept minimums of 14 at the big musical houses (the number is currently 26). The union wants to bring the count down by only one or two players and rejected the producers' offer. Late Friday, the League moved their offer up a notch to 15. The division remained there. There was word on the street Monday March 10 that Local 802 was being urged to compromise further. Though no official talks are scheduled, private conversations are taking place between the powers that be.

Producers have offered refunds or exchanges to ticketholders thrwarted by the walkout.