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Broadway Fans Find Alternative Amusements

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Broadway Fans Find Alternative Amusements

Performing Arts

Broadway Fans Find Alternative Amusements

Broadway Fans Find Alternative Amusements

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More than two dozen Broadway theaters have been dark since the stagehands went on strike a week ago. But Broadway fans still find entertainment opportunities in other amusements in the New York theater district.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Ever since Broadway stagehands went on strike last week, 27 Broadway theaters have been dark. The strike also left thousands of Broadway fans with what public relations professionals might spin as an entertainment opportunity.

NPR's Margot Adler took a walk down Broadway for a look at the Theater District's other amusements.

Unidentified Man: Theater show is still running, "Altar Boyz," the musical, tonight at 8:00 o'clock. Half-price theater tickets...

MARGOT ADLER: Strike or no strike, it's still Times Square and people are trying to make a living. Michael Perez stands on the corner of 44th Street in the heart of the Theater District trying to convince two tourists that with Broadway out of the question, they should spend the evening at a comedy club further downtown in Chelsea.

MICHAEL PEREZ: It's a great promotion; you'll have a fun time.

KIM SMITH: So where is this though?

PEREZ: Fifteen minute walk from here.

SMITH: Do you want to do it?

PEREZ: All right.

ADLER: Soon $20 has changed hands. Kim Smith and Anita Fairchild came here from Virginia.

SMITH: We just got here.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ADLER: What were your plans?

SMITH: Well, we were going to go see a show.

ADLER: And how do you think this is going to change your vacation?

SMITH: I'm kind of a little disappointed.

ANITA FAIRCHILD: Yeah.

SMITH: But there's so much other things to see.

FAIRCHILD: Yeah.

ADLER: Not everybody is quite as open to quickly changing their plans. Ivy Weir(ph) came from Alberta, Canada. I found her standing on the half-price tickets line. What has she and her friends been doing since the strike started?

IVY WEIR: Eating and shopping.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

Unidentified Woman #1: And crying

ADLER: What did you want to see?

WEIR: We wanted to see "The Lion King."

ADLER: The line usually stretches around the block, but at this moment there are maybe 25 people on it. One of those people is Harry Vasantos(ph) from Seattle, who plans a theater trip to New York every year.

HARRY VASANTOS: We bought tickets for seven shows, and three of those seven are still playing. So that's the good news.

ADLER: What are you going to do instead?

DE SANTOS: We're not big drinkers, so we won't be going out to clubs. During the day, we'll probably just go to museums.

ADLER: Michael Dooling(ph) is handing out leaflets for an off-Broadway play.

MICHAEL DOOLING: Off Broadway is still playing, but people don't realize that. I'm getting a lot of non-English speaking people who aren't exactly sure of - strike doesn't seem to translate into different languages too easily.

ADLER: Two blocks away, I come across Whoopi Goldberg looking so real you could be fooled. Here's a place where all the stars are still showing up.

ROSEMARY PRETA: In the corner we have Joan Rivers, Oprah Winfrey in the back, Donald Trump.

ADLER: You guessed it, Rosemary Petra, director of marketing, is taking me through Madame Tussauds. She says they're getting a little more traffic because of the strike. We stopped by Jennifer Lopez.

PRETA: If you blow into her left ear, her face actually blushes. Go ahead. Her face is blushing.

ADLER: Oh, my God, she really does blush.

PRETA: She gets lots of kisses, so you could see that her make-up's starting to wear off.

ADLER: Outside Madame Tussauds, Katie Brennan(ph) and Crystal Pelaeus(ph) have just arrived from New Jersey. They knew that Broadway was out.

KATIE BRENNAN: But we figured we'd come and see anyway because it's a city, so there's more things to see, but that's the main reason we wanted to come, but it's okay. We'll figure it out.

ADLER: Into the Wax Museum they go.

Unidentified Woman #2: All tickets for the next show, line up on 51st Street.

ADLER: There's a healthy crowd at Radio City Music Hall celebrating its 75th Anniversary and that ever-popular Christmas show. Joyce Gunn(ph) stands on the line, but she really wanted to go to "Wicked."

JOYCE GUNN: We're from Georgia, and we're very disappointed. We're seeing this for the Rockettes, but we were going to see "Wicked" too.

ADLER: Of course, you might think if Broadway's dark, what about a TV show like David Letterman or Jon Stewart? But no such luck, there's the writers strike. So those shows are dark too.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

INSKEEP: And if you're wondering what sort of work rules apply to stagehands or why the stagehands are so upset about them, you'll find the answer at npr.org. And there's also a list of Broadway shows that are still running.

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Q&A: The Backstage Story on the Broadway Strike

Broadway's marquees went dark Nov. 10, when stagehands went on strike after months of bitter contract negotiations with theater owners and producers. The walkout shut down 27 Broadway shows, from the long-running Les Miserables to the still-in-previews The Farnsworth Invention.

And though the parties hope to settle the strike by Thanksgiving — a new round of talks is scheduled for this weekend — there's no guarantee the pickets will come down anytime soon. Here's a primer about why the show's not going on.

Who's striking? Against whom?

Broadway's stagehands, represented by Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, are the backstage workers who install, operate and maintain the sets, lights and props for Broadway shows. At any given time, approximately 350 to 500 members are employed on Broadway. The union has been in existence for 121 years; this is the first time it has struck on Broadway.

On the other side is the League of American Theatres and Producers, a trade organization for the industry. Its 600 members include theater owners, producers and presenters across North America.

What's the dispute about?

The union has been working without a contract since July 31 and labor negotiations have broken off more than once. At issue: a set of decades-old work rules determining how many people are needed for backstage crews, for loading and unloading sets, and for extra functions like rehearsal calls.

The producers claim the union has successfully institutionalized "featherbedding" — in other words, that the work rules force producers to pay for stagehands who aren't needed or pay hours of overtime for small, easily performed tasks. According to the producers, the current average salary for a stagehand is $150,000.

Local One counters that the producers — who are coming off a record-breaking $939 million season at the box office — have made an offer that would mean a 38 percent cut in jobs and salaries. It would also compromise safety backstage, the stagehands argue. They say they're willing to make changes in the union rulebook if the producers offer an equal exchange.

The union disputes the producers' salary figures, saying the average is $67,000 annually. And they argue that work rules are necessary in an unpredictable industry: While some stagehands work for years in long-running shows, many work only for weeks or months in shows that flop. It's here that both sides agree — according to the league, only one out of every five shows that opens on Broadway goes on to turn a profit.

Why did the stagehands walk out?

In mid-October, the producers implemented new work rules in its Broadway theaters without the union's consent. A week later, the local voted to authorize a strike. The president of the international, Thomas C. Short, sat down at the negotiating table with producers in early November. When those talks reached an impasse, he directed the union to set up picket lines on Nov. 10. All the members of Broadway's other trade unions — actors, musicians, box-office personnel, ushers and press agents among them — have honored the picket lines.

Are all Broadway shows affected by the strike?

No. Twenty-seven shows have been shuttered by the strike, but eight continue to perform: Cymbeline, Mary Poppins, Mauritius, Pygmalion, The Ritz, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Xanadu and Young Frankenstein. These shows perform in theaters that operate under different contracts with Local One.

In addition, off-Broadway and off-off Broadway shows continue to perform. The industry publication Playbill recently published one list of what's still running and what's gone dark.

I bought tickets to a Broadway show that isn't playing because of the strike. How can I get a refund or exchange my tickets?

If you purchased your tickets with a credit card, your card will automatically be credited. If you purchased tickets with cash, you will have to write requesting a refund — the box offices are closed, remember. For further details, check the producers' official Web site.

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