Most of Broadway Goes Dark Nov. 10 as Stagehands Begin Strike

News   Most of Broadway Goes Dark Nov. 10 as Stagehands Begin Strike After months of negotiations between Local One, the stagehands union, and the League of American Theatres and Producers, the union announced Nov. 10 that its members will go on strike. The strike is effective immediately.
Outside the Broadhurst Theatre, home of Les Mis
Outside the Broadhurst Theatre, home of Les Mis Photo by Andrew Ku

For months producers and the union have been hashing out issues of work assignments, setting of a production's run crew, load-in costs and labor minimums. Local One members have been working on Broadway without a contract since July 31.

The union and the League reconvened earlier this week, returning to the negotiating table for the first time in several weeks. Thomas C. Short, the president of I.A.T.S.E. — Local One's parent union — attended the Nov. 7 and 8 meetings, which proved unfruitful. Following the meetings, Short granted final strike authorization to the union.

The first show affected by the strike was the 11 AM performance of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Patrick Page, who stars in the title role of the limited Grinch engagement, told Playbill.com, "I'm heartbroken by the faces of all these kids. . . I've just gone around to give them a hug, maybe sing a little bit of a song for them, and make them feel a little better [about the show being canceled]." When asked about his opinion of the strike, Page said, "My only opinion is that these guys are the backbone of Broadway. I've worked with some of these guys on four or five Broadway shows, and they are amazing craftsmsen and workers, and I have absolutely no idea what goes on in those contract negotiations back and forth, but I do know that Actors' Equity Association supports Local One 100 percent, and I'm a member of [Equity]."

Most Broadway productions are affected by the strike; that is, the shows will not go on for August: Osage County, Avenue Q, A Bronx Tale, Chicago, A Chorus Line, The Color Purple, Curtains, Cyrano de Bergerac, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Drowsy Chaperone, Duran Duran, The Farnsworth Invention, Grease, Hairspray, Is He Dead?, Jersey Boys, Legally Blonde, Les Miserables, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Mamma Mia!, Spamalot, The Phantom of the Opera, Rent, Rock 'n' Roll, The Seafarer, Spring Awakening, and Wicked.

The only Broadway productions still running are Xanadu, The Ritz, Mauritius, Cymbeline, Pygmalion, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Young Frankenstein and Mary Poppins. These productions are either presented by Broadway's nonprofit sector or are housed in theatres whose contracts with Local One are separate. The Broadway shows that are up and running will more than likely benefit from the lack of options. In fact, Xanadu sold out its matinee and evening performances Nov. 10, and only standing room was available for Spelling Bee as of late afternoon. Off-Broadway shows are also seeing more customers. Three Mo' Tenors was completely sold out for its Saturday matinee, and a ticket seller at the TKTS booth said that although there are less people in line than normal, Off-Broadway shows are selling better than normal.

Charlotte St. Martin, the executive director of the League, posted this statement on the League's official website Nov. 10: "Local One has darkened most of Broadway. They have chosen to strike — without notifying us, rather than to continue negotiating. It is a sad day for Broadway, but we must remain committed to achieving a fair contract. Our goal is simple: To pay for workers we need and for work that is actually performed. Stagehands are highly skilled and highly paid. They are — and will remain — the highest paid stagehands in the theatrical world. We deplore the strike and the harm it does to the City, the industry, and the theatregoing public. Indeed, to all talented people who make Broadway the top tourist attraction in New York. A strike will have an economic impact of $17 million per day in direct and indirect costs. This could have been avoided had the union's leadership chosen to act responsibly at the bargaining table. We extend our sympathy for the inconvenience caused to the theatregoing public, and assure everyone who has purchased tickets that they will get an exchange or refund."

Although the union has not issued an official statement, picketers have been handing out flyers in front of several Broadway theatres. The flyer states, in part, "We truly regret that there is no show. . . Broadway is a billion dollar a year industry and has never been more profitable than now. Cuts in our jobs and wages will never result in a cut in ticket prices to benefit the public, but only an increase in the profits for producers. Unlike the producers, we are not fighting for our second or third homes: we are fighting to keep the one that we have."

Actors' Equity released a statement Nov. 10 at 11 AM ET in support of the union. In its statement, spokesperson Maria Somma said, "Actors' Equity Association strongly supports Local One/IATSE in their efforts to reach a fair and equitable contract. The responsibility for the shutdown of Broadway rests squarely with the League of American Theaters and Producers. The Equity Council, per the Union’s Broadway contract language, endorses and supports the strike, which has been sanctioned by Local One’s IATSE International President, and directs its members to honor the picket line. The men and women of Local One/IATSE deserve fair wages and working conditions and, most importantly, the respect of everyone who is part of the theatrical community."

It is unclear at this time how long the stagehands strike will last. Broadway was last darkened by a musicians strike in 2003, which ended after four days.

For information regarding refunds of tickets, click here.

Playbill.com will provide further information as it is made available.

Outside the St. James Theatre, home of <i>The Grinch</i>, which is also dark.
Outside the St. James Theatre, home of The Grinch, which is also dark. Photo by Andrew Ku