Although the mood along the Rialto has been growing increasingly dim, especially as the Thanksgiving holiday weekend — one of the busiest theatre-going periods of the year — quickly approaches, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. The League of American Theatres and Producers and Local One, the stagehands union, issued a statement Nov. 14 that said the two sides will return to the negotiating table this coming weekend.
Following the release of the joint League and union statement, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg released his own, which read, "Today's announcement that talks have been scheduled between Local One and The League of American Theaters and Producers is a very important step forward. I spoke with both sides again today and reiterated that we will provide any help we can to help resolve these disagreements and let the shows go on." The New York Post reports that Disney, whose productions of Lion King and Little Mermaid have been halted by the strike, is largely responsible for getting the stagehands back to the bargaining table.
The League/union statement was brief but encouraging: "Talks have been scheduled between Local One and The League of American Theaters and Producers beginning this weekend, at an undisclosed place and time. No interviews or comment from either organization will be issued until further notice."
It would seem a wise move to avoid additional public statements, as both press conferences — the one held by the League on Nov. 10 and the subsequent press conference held by the Union Nov. 11 — seemed to inflame the opposing side.
At the League's press conference on the strike's first day, executive director Charlotte St. Martin and producers decried the union's absence from the negotiating table Nov. 9 and for not providing any warning about the impending strike. The League also sought to highlight what has come to be the flashpoint of contract negotiations: the issue of employing more union workers than the producers consider necessary, also known as featherbedding. The following day, Local One president James J. Claffey, Jr. — along with officials of Local 802, the musicians union and Actors' Equity — sought to recharacterize the terms of the dispute as one of the union fighting for its members' families and preserving safety in the theatre. Claffey said at the Nov. 11 press conference that the union was willing to return to the negotiating table but would not do so until "[the producers] give the union more respect." Claffey said the producers' use of the term featherbedding was disrespectful to the union. "As they continue to say featherbedding and they keep [saying] basically that we're thieves," Claffey said, "we're not going back to the table with that lack of respect. . . . We can't negotiate under those circumstances."
As evidence of a slowdown in theatre-district restaurant business trickles in, the economic impact on the shows themselves has been swift: according to the grosses released Nov. 13 by the League, both Jersey Boys and Wicked, which usually lead the pack, were down nearly half-a-million dollars apiece without their lucrative weekend performances. For the Nov. 5-11 week, Jersey Boys and Wicked took in, respectively, $732,840 and $852,843; the previous week those shows grossed $1,217,333 and $1,335,757. The picture was grimmer for shows already struggling before the work stoppage.
The strike has also forced the postponement of two Broadway openings: The Farnsworth Invention (originally scheduled for Nov. 14) and the aforementioned The Seafarer. New opening dates have yet to be announced.
The League has also announced that the darkened theatres have canceled shows through Saturday evening, Nov. 17.
The one silver lining in the overall box-office tumble was that seven of the shows not hit by the strike (Young Frankenstein does not reveal its grosses to the League) have seen a bump in attendance. Attendance for the Nov. 5-11 week was up for each of these productions: Cymbeline (67.3%, up from 57.5% the previous week), Mary Poppins (96.7%, from 72.4%), Mauritius (76.3%, from 72.0%), Pygmalion (94.8%, from 91.4%), The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (77.3%, from 68.8%), The Ritz (81.0%, from 67.5%) and Xanadu (75.5%, from 55.2%).
Besides shows and neighboring restaurants, the strike's impact is being felt by hotels, gift shops, bars, taxis, pedicabs, even charitable organizations such as Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, who all depend on the lights going up eight times a week.
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Playbill.com will provide further information as it is made available.