Broadway’s unions and guilds have agreed to accept concessions on four long-running Broadway musicals—The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Rent and Chicago—and one new one, The Full Monty, in an effort to stem the monumental losses suffered by the industry since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on Manhattan. Four shows hung up closing notices on Sept. 18, when box office failed to recover upon the 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.
Unions representing actors, stage managers, stage hands, musicians, wardrobe and other trades connected to the stage will take a 25 percent pay cut for four weeks beginning Monday, Sept. 24. In addition, directors, choreographers and playwrights will waive their royalties for the same time period. The deal was announced at a press conference held at Actors’ Equity’s midtown offices and is the result of a series of meetings between producers and labor leaders which began last Friday.
“All of our community is banding together to deal with this crisis,” said Jed Bernstein, president of the League of American Theatres and Producers. “We are extremely grateful for the cooperation of all our partners at the unions and the guilds.”
“Without question,” added Equity executive director Alan Eisenberg, “this is going to be an extremely tough time for everyone. We are acting now to help these shows, and Broadway itself, survive.”
Absent from the list of lucky shows were Broadway plays or any of the musicals mounted by Disney (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Aida) or Dodger Theatricals (The Music Man, Urinetown). Equity president Patrick Quinn explained simply, “These were the five producers that came to use initially asking for help.” The quintet of producers approached labor as a group, said Quinn. Asked if other shows might be granted salary breaks in the future, Quinn answered, “It depends on the need of the production. Some productions will get by with concessions.” Eisenberg added, “We’ll talk to anybody who needs help.”
Stepping up to the microphone, Rent producer Kevin McCollum elaborated: “These [five musicals] are long-running shows with brand names that rely on tourism.” Since the terrorist assaults tourists have stayed clear of Times Square, 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. Recent audiences have numbered in the hundreds at Rent and The Phantom of the Opera—shows which long ago exhausted the native New Yorker trade. “We want to be here when the tourists come back,” McCollum went on, “and we’re willing to lose a tremendous amount of money waiting for them to come back.”
Barry Weissler, the producer of Chicago, opined “I would assume the same help that we have gained will be given,” to any show that asks for aid.
In addition to the pay cuts and royalty waivers, the one-week rule—which requires producers to give some unions a week's notice before shutting down a show—has been reduced to 48-hour version, allowing productions to announce a Sunday closing as late as early Friday.
Monetary assistance for Broadway will also come from the Mayor's office. 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, Eisenberg said, 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 assistance.
Bernstein also mentioned that the League would soon reveal a new publicity campaign involving “marketing planning and revenue enhancing” intended to get people back in Broadway seats. The campaign would encompass print, radio and television, and also include large discounts for a number of shows. Complete details are to be revealed at a Sept. 21 press conference.
As the four-week concession period draws to a close, the deal will be reexamined to ascertain whether an extension of terms is warranted. Eisenberg said that the lost pay of the next month may be won back by the unions at some flusher time in the future, though that possibility is still subject to discussion.