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'Marketplace' Report: Broadway Might Go Dark

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'Marketplace' Report: Broadway Might Go Dark

Performing Arts

'Marketplace' Report: Broadway Might Go Dark

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From NPR News, it's DAY TO DAY.

The auto industry isn't the only business facing labor woes this week. Theaters in New York City may shut down if Broadway producers can't reach a deal with the union representing stagehands.

Amy Scott joins us now from MARKETPLACE.

So Amy, what are the sticking points here?

AMY SCOTT: Well, stagehands have been working without a contract since July. And one of the biggest issues is the rules concerning load-ins - that's basically when the set is installed in the theater. And the League of American Theaters and Producers argues that the load-in work rules are archaic and cumbersome. Producers have to hire a certain number of union workers and pay them even when there's nothing for those workers to do. And the producers want more flexibility to pay just the people they need.

Now, the stagehands haven't been as public about their demands. But they seem willing to give up some of those job protections as long as they get something in return. And apparently that's not happened yet.

COHEN: So what could happen next?

SCOTT: Well, last night both sides came up with each - what each called its last best offer. And now it's sort of a wait-and-see. One possibility is that the producers would decide to lock union workers out of the theaters, meaning the shows would go dark. And the producers in some ways have the upper hand here. In order for the union to go on strike, they would have to get authorization from the international organization, which can take many days. But the producers can order a lockout at any time.

I talked with Gordon Cox, who's been following the negotiations for Daily Variety, the trade newspaper. And he says there's a reason producers are bringing this to a head now instead of, say, next month.

Mr. GORDON COX (Daily Variety): The past two times that these two organizations have renegotiated their contracts, talks have tended to sort of drag on through Thanksgiving. And as you get closer and closer to the holiday period, which is always the most profitable time on Broadway, that's when the union has more and more leverage because a strike during the holiday time could really screw up the annual income of a show.

COHEN: So let's say that suddenly thousands of ticket holders can't get in to see "The Lion King" or whatever they want to see on Broadway. Will New York's economy take a big hit on this?

SCOTT: Chaos in the streets for pre-teens, I would imagine. Well, a lockout which shut down all but four of the big Broadway shows, so it is potentially a huge loss in ticket sales.

About four years ago, the Local Musicians Union went on strike for four days. And the theaters lost an estimated $5 million.

And you know, when people see a show, they're not just seeing "Legally Blonde"; they stay in hotels, eat restaurants, buy - in restaurants - buy souvenirs. So a protracted lockout could certainly add up.

COHEN: Thank you so much, Amy. That's Amy Scott of public radio's daily business show MARKETPLACE. It's produced by American Public Media.

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