Broadway Musicals Shut Down as Actors and Stagehands Honor Musicians Strike

News   Broadway Musicals Shut Down as Actors and Stagehands Honor Musicians Strike Actors' Equity and Local One of the stagehands union are honoring the day-old strike by the American Federation of Musicians' Local 802, effectively shutting down nearly every musical currently playing on Broadway.
Picketers in front of the Ford Center, home to 42nd Street, on Friday afternoon.
Picketers in front of the Ford Center, home to 42nd Street, on Friday afternoon. (Photo by Andrew Ku)

Equity delivered its decision at a 5 PM March 7 press conference following an emergency meeting by its council. President Patrick Quinn, who was flanked by executive director Alan Eisenberg and actors Bebe Neuwirth and Harvey Fierstein, said the union would "endorse and support" the walkout and would not cross the picket line unless an agreement was reached by 8 PM.

Quinn also stated its conclusion was not influenced by a similar one by Local One of the powerful stagehands union.

The strike also interrupts rehearsals of three musicals due to open on Broadway this season: Nine, Gypsy and The Look of Love. It does not affect Broadway's plays, or the musical Cabaret, which works under a different contract with Local 802.

Equity members with jobs in Broadway musicals have been asked by the actors' union to appear at their theatres at 6:30 PM to show solidarity with their companies. In theory, they are close enough to their shows to jump into the job if some agreement or extension is reached. As of 6 PM, the two sides — producers and musicians — were still in negotiations.

However, the League announced at 7 PM Friday that the affected musicals were canceled for the entire weekend. "This is a sad night for Broadway and for New York," said League President Jed Bernstein. "The economic impact for the entire New York Metropolitan area economy will be severe. And it is a terrible disappointment for theater goers, for the people who hired a babysitter and planned a big night out on Broadway, and all the others. The League is committed to resolving this dispute in an equitable fashion." Picket lines made up of members of Local 802 have formed in front of selected Broadway theatres.

With the passing of the Friday, March 7 strike deadline at 12:01 AM, Local 802 posted to its website a notice that the Broadway musicians had gone on strike. A spokesperson for Local 802 told Playbill On-Line that the union planned to begin picketing all Broadway theatre housing musicals at 5 PM. However, following a late-morning union press conference, labor officials began handing out picket signs reading "Save Live Music on Broadway."

As of noon Friday, a few protesters had appeared in front of the musicals Movin' Out and Beauty and the Beast.

Talks between the League of American Theatres and Producers and Local 802 continued during Friday afternoon. The League called a press conference for 11 AM. The union countered that with an 11:15 conference of its own.

At last report, the two sides are still deeply split on the issue of minimums, the number of musicians the union mandates producers must use for Broadway musicals. At its press conference, 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.

Earlier today, there was some question whether the stagehands union would cooperate with producers' wishes to install so-called "virtual orchestras" to replace the union players. Various sources had stagehands refusing to handle the equipment.

A spokesperson for Local 802 told Playbill On-Line that there were protests in front of certain theatres this morning as the technology was brought in. It was not clear whether stagehands transported the equipment.

Jed Bernstein of the League said that audience members could ask for refunds or ticket exchanges.

Earlier on March 7, Flower Drum Song and La Boheme canceled their Friday performances.