As Broadway shows continue to teeter and fall, suffering the aftershocks of last week's devastating terrorist attacks on Manhattan, producers, labor leaders and City Hall struggle to find solutions to the ongoing crisis. Four shows hung up closing notices on Sept. 18, when box office failed to recover upon the Sept. 13 reopening of the Rialto, which sat dark for two days following the collapse of the World Trade Center. A fifth, Kiss Me, Kate posted the next day. Meanwhile, one-time powerhouse shows such as Rent played to only scattered theatregoers, and scheduled productions such as Assassins abandoned plans to open on Broadway at all this season.
Since last Friday, the League of American Theatres and Producers and the theatrical unions have been feverishly batting about ideas, discussing what can be done to keep Broadway afloat in what has been called the worst crisis in its history. Producers have asked unions for large concessions until the theatre recovers, with shows pleading for salary cuts ranging from 30 to 50 percent.
Union officials were originally set to meet with their executive boards over Wednesday and Thursday, and reconvene with the League again on Friday. But a highly placed source close to the discussions told Playbill On-Line that the labor honchos have been prodded to act more quickly. The unions are said to have accepted pay cuts, with the monetary sacrifice in the area of 25 percent. According to Variety, this cut applies to the IATSE unions and covers stagehands, and workers connected to box office, scenery, wardrobe, makeup, props and publicity. The concessions will begin on Monday, Sept. 24, and continue for four weeks.
Actors' Equity's executive director, Alan Eisenberg, said the details of its agreement would be revealed at a 3:30 PM press conference on Sept. 20. There is no word yet from the musicians union, the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers and the Dramatists Guild of America.
The League had also petitioned labor to waive the one-week rule, which requires producers must give unions a week's notice before shutting down a show. (This is why closings are typically announced on Tuesdays.) It could not be learned whether labor had agreed to this provision. However, tacit approval seemed to be illustrated by the shuttering of the hit revival of Kiss Me Kate, which was decided upon Wednesday afternoon. Sources say a 48 hour rule will be imposed, allowing shows to announce closings as late as Friday. Monetary assistance for Broadway will also come from the Mayor's office, according to sources reached Sept. 19. On Tuesday, producers learned that City Hall was putting together a financial aid package to bolster the Great White Way. That relief is on the way, though its size and the manner in which it will be distributed could not be immediately determined. The League president Jed Bernstein told Playbill On-Line, however, that the city is looking for the theatre industry to help itself before provided additional aid.
Bernstein also mentioned that on Sept. 21, the League would reveal a new marketing campaign, intended to get people back in Broadway seats. The campaign would encompass print, radio and television.
Since Broadway reopened last week, audiences have stayed away, alternately frightened by the prospect of venturing into Manhattan, kept out of New York by grounded airlines or simply disinclined to take in entertainment during such dismal times. Audiences of 300 for Rent and 500 for The Phantom of the Opera have been reported. Whether the quick work of the unions and government will be enough to pull Broadway back from the abyss is an open question, but some leaders in the theatre community are guardedly optimistic.
"The longer a peaceful interlude ensues, the better people will feel about going to the theatre," the Shubert Organization's Gerald Schoenfeld told Playbill On-Line. "There is a preoccupation with world events right now. Naturally, people are disconcerted about things. But the Broadway theatre is very resilient."
The Shuberts, as well as Broadway's other theatre owners, have been waiving rents in the wake of the disaster.
—By Robert Simonson