Broadway Musicals Shut Down as Actors and Stagehands Honor Musicians Strike

News   Broadway Musicals Shut Down as Actors and Stagehands Honor Musicians Strike Eighteen musicals were dark again Saturday March 8 as the biggest strike action against Broadway producers in years entered its second day.
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)

The night the lights went out on Broadway was Friday March 7. At 12:01 AM that day, the American Federation of Musicians' Local 802 called a strike, after weeks of negotiations with the League of American Theatres and Producers failed to produce an agreement.

Producers had intended to bring in so-called virtual orchestras, so that their shows might continue, but when Actors' Equity and Local One of the stagehands union decided to honor the musicians walkout, the move effectively shut down nearly every musical currently playing on Broadway.

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."

Income losses are expected to reach $4 to $5 million over the weekend, according to the New York Post. Equity salary losses will top $1.3 million.

No talks between the two sides are scheduled for Saturday. Midday Saturday, members of Local 802 held a mock funeral procession through Times Square, reported 1010 WINS. The musicians marched and held up tombstones with the names of the 18 closed shows.

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."

Quinn also stated its conclusion was not influenced by a similar one from 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.

Picket lines made up of members of Local 802 began to form in front of selected Broadway theatres Friday morning.

The two sides are still deeply split on the crucial 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.

The League's Jed Bernstein said that audience members could ask for refunds or ticket exchanges.