Broadway's Stranded Actors Wait Out the Strike in Varied Ways

News   Broadway's Stranded Actors Wait Out the Strike in Varied Ways Broadway performers, stranded by the stagehands strike that has shut down most of Broadway since Nov. 10, have — like other employees from the 27 darkened Broadway shows — been waiting out the experience in a variety of ways.

Most of them have been showing up for work 30 minutes before what would be curtain time. They sign in and hang out for a half-hour in order to be eligible for Actors' Equity's emergency strike-fund pay.

As of this writing, the strike has only lasted six days, and with union and management planning to go back to the negotiating table Nov. 17, there is some hope that shows will re-light before the start of Thanksgiving Week Nov. 19.

The time off from performing has meant time to worry about finances, time to catch up on books and DVDs and time to share with friends, family and colleagues.

Michael McGrath, of the cast of the new comedy Is He Dead?, was photographed by the New York Post cooking a meal for his family on his down time. He told the paper that the time with his family is welcome, but "it's a tough time of the year not to have an income."

Jersey Boys Tony Award winner John Lloyd Young wrote on his blog that he and a pal took one of his free nights and caught the John Pizzarelli Quartet at Birdland. "Each night the cast assembles at the theatre anyway, to sign in with our actors' union representatives and demonstrate that we were willing and able to work," Young wrote. "In the meantime, we've found imposed upon us nights free, for the first time in years for some of us."

Ed Dixon, who plays Old Max in Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, said he's been watching the newly released DVD of Aaron Sorkin's "Studio 60."

The community is closer because of the strike, actor Stephen Kunken, of the cast of Rock 'n' Roll, told Playbill.com.

"Socializing is a very different experience inside the theatre when the machine is in full swing; everyone has work to do, and it's catch as catch can between cast and crew," he said. "However, out on the streets has brought a solidarity that you couldn't have guessed. Both cast and crew have turned up with their kids, their dogs, their cameras, their mittens, their hats and their baked goods to share. There are coffee runs, and contests to see who can get the most cabs to honk 'If you love Broadway.' It's taken on a personality of its own, and it has helped immeasurably in getting [us] to see each other as people as opposed to contracts."

Some actors contacted for this story declined to comment about their experiences during the strike week.

One Broadway Tony Award winner wouldn't comment, saying she was told not to speak to the press. One actor who didn't wish to be identified said he was "incandescent with rage" that the sides — The League of American Theatres and Producers and stagehands' Local One of I.A.T.S.E. — had failed to properly communicate. "The theatre is all about communication," he said.

Another said that he wished the sides would remember that not too long ago the community faced a greater threat to the industry's well-being, referencing the brief shuttering of Broadway after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Is there anxiety about the future? An actress in the cast of the darkened smash Wicked said because the show is a sold-out hit "we know we have a job eventually, whether the strike lasts a week or a month; I think I might be dealing with this in a different way if I was in a show in jeopardy."

The $405 per week in strike pay is a serious cut compared to a regular salary, she said. "Fortunately, I have savings, but there are other [strike-affected] actors who are far less fortunate."

The down time has been used for hanging out on or around the picket line, but also for mundane things, actors said: cleaning their apartments, painting a ceiling, going to movies, nesting with spouses and kids.

"It feels strange," said the Wicked refugee. "I still have a connection to my job, to my peers, to Broadway because I am going there every day for every show, but there's a sense of purgatory — a sense of no man's land."