ASK PLAYBILL.COM: The Strike | Playbill

Examining why eight theatres are not affected by the current stagehands strike.


Ask is a weekly column that answers questions about theatre, generated by readers and staff, every Thursday. To ask a question, email Please specify how you would like your name displayed and please include the city in which you live.

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This question comes from Patrick Flynn of Cranston, RI.

Question: I was wondering why most shows are affected by the strike, but some are not. Can you tell me why shows such as Mary Poppins and The Ritz are not affected? Answer: Let's start from the beginning. This dispute is over the contract between Local One (the stagehands union), and the League of American Theatres and Producers (the organization that represents most of the Broadway theatres and producers). That contract sets out rules for how much the stagehands get paid, how many stagehands the theatres are required to hire, and other issues.

But some Broadway theatres are members of the League (and use that League-negotiated contract) and some are not (and use their own separate contracts). The theatres that are members of the League are the theatres owned by the big three companies — Shubert, Jujamcyn and Nederlander. Those are the theatres that are dark. (With the stagehands, Nederlander actually negotiates separately from the rest of the League, but they are standing firm with their League brethren in this dispute.)

The theatres that are not affected by the strike are theatres that are not members of the League. For instance, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is at the Circle in the Square, which is not a member of the League, and is on its own separate contract with Local One.

Cymbeline, Mauritius, Pygmalion and The Ritz are at theatres controlled by non-profit companies — Lincoln Center Theater, Manhattan Theatre Club and the Roundabout. They're on what's called a LORT contract, which typically governs regional theatres (these big three Broadway nonprofits have their own separate LORT contract especially for them).

Also still running is Xanadu, which is at the Helen Hayes, which is owned by Richmark Entertainment. Young Frankenstein is at the Hilton Theater, which is owned by Live Nation. Mary Poppins is at the New Amsterdam, which is owned by Disney.

A question one might ask is, aren't the producers also involved, in addition to the theatre owners? It is, after all League of American Theatres and Producers. Plus, on Broadway, the line between producers and theatre owners is blurry — all of the big three theatre owners are also producers, for instance.

But the contracts with the stagehands union are tied to the theatre, not the producer. After all, it's the theatre that employs the stagehands — many stay on at a theatre even when one show moves out and another comes in.

So, even if you're a producer who's a member of the League, when you put your show in a non-League theatre, your payments to the stagehands are governed by that particular theatre's contract with the stagehands union. For instance, David Stone is a lead producer of both Wicked and Spelling Bee, but Wicked is not running because it's in a League theatre (the Gershwin, controlled by the Nederlander organization) and Spelling Bee is running because it's in a non-League theatre (Circle in the Square). Disney is not a member of the League, either as a producer or as a theatre owner. But two of its shows — The Lion King and The Little Mermaid — are in theatres that are owned by the Nederlanders, which are part of the League, which is why they're not running. Its other show, Mary Poppins, is in a theatre not in the League, owned by Disney itself, which is why it's still running.

One wrinkle is that Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which is playing in the Jujamcyn-owned St. James, a League theatre, and which is dark during the strike, is actually on its own contract, according to David Waggett, the show's general manager. Every year, the show, which played last holiday season at the Hilton Theatre, has to negotiate its own contracts — modified from the theatre's regular contracts — with the stagehands and other unions to get permission for its atypical performance schedule of 12 or so performances per week, as opposed to the typical eight per week. While the League's contract with the stagehands expired in July, Grinch began negotiating its own contract with the stagehands in the spring, came to an agreement Aug. 30, and executed it a few weeks later, Waggett says. Therefore, he says, "Our point of view is that our contract is, in fact, still in effect," but the stagehands still decided to include the show in its strike. Local One is not currently commenting on the record about the strike.

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