Holiday Season Adds Pressure to Stagehand Strike It's been nearly a week since the stagehands union strike shut down Broadway. As the lucrative holiday season approaches, the pressure to end the strike mounts. Producers and the union plan to meet at the negotiating table over the weekend.
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Holiday Season Adds Pressure to Stagehand Strike

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Holiday Season Adds Pressure to Stagehand Strike

Holiday Season Adds Pressure to Stagehand Strike

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Last night, Broadway producers announced that 27 productions have been cancelled for this weekend. The openings of two more Broadway shows have been postponed, and that's all because of the strike by stagehands. The two sides will return to the negotiating table tomorrow driven by the mounting pressure of the holiday season. Meanwhile, ticket brokers, who sell Broadway shows to groups and individuals, have been left holding the stubs.

Jeff Lunden reports.

JEFF LUNDEN: Scott Mallalieu works in a windowless rabbit-warren of an office right off Times Square. His desk is covered with yellow Post-its and pink while-you-were-out slips. His wall is plastered with Broadway posters and he shares the space with a computer server, which gives off a constant hum. But don't be fooled by the modest surroundings.

Mallalieu is one of the most important people on Broadway. He's president of Group Sales Box Office, which sells millions of dollars of Broadway tickets to everyone from church groups and schools to charities and corporations. And Mallalieu remembers exactly where he was when he heard the strike was called.

SCOTT MALLALIEU: Friday night I was at the opening night of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." It's a great show. We did huge business on it last year. We're doing great business on it this year. We were at the party and the worry began to go through the party that the strike was happening. So suddenly, everybody's face became long and sad and very worried.

LUNDEN: Mallalieu rushed back to his office to find that his customers were worried, too.

MALLALIEU: The switchboards didn't stop all day. At some point, I just called our - the man who was in-charge of our switchboard who was off premises and said, John(ph), turn them off. Just put a special recording on calls tomorrow morning. We can't do any more than this.

LUNDEN: Group sales play a big role on Broadway, bringing busloads of people to the theater district and building audiences for new shows. Mallalieu and his colleagues sell blocks of tickets that can put five to eight million dollars in a producer's coffers. This can be as much, or more, than half of a Broadway show's advance.

MALLALIEU: We make 10 percent of what we sell. We are one of the quantifiable portions of this industry that you can actually see if we're doing our job, because if we don't sell any theater tickets, we don't make any money.

LUNDEN: A few blocks away, in the lobby of the Westin Hotel, Susan Browning sits at her desk, a computer screen in front of her and brochures for Broadway shows at her side. Browning works for CGS, a broker which offers Broadway tickets at a substantial mark-up for hotel guests. She says she sells as many as 60 tickets a day when shows are running.

SUSAN BROWNING: I have kids who would come to my desk and crying because they can't see the "Grinch" or "Lion King," and they come here and they're like, you know, what do we do? And I think there are some shows that are playing, not many. And the ones that are playing, availability is, you know, very limited.

LUNDEN: Browning convinced Bruce Sullivan(ph) and his family, from Brisbane, Australia, to see the Radio City "Christmas Spectacular." Sullivan said they have their heart set on the "Lion King" and "Spamalot."

BRUCE SULLIVAN: Part of New York is the whole Broadway experience. That's why we're staying here in this hotel so we can be in the center of it and an easy walk to the all of these shows. And yeah, it is very disappointing.

LUNDEN: But the tide may be turning. Ticket broker Susan Browning says, it's a good sign that stage hands and producers are meeting on Saturday to try to iron out an agreement.

BROWNING: I'm really glad. I wish it was sooner, but they need to get together and, you know, hammer out some kind of deal because it's the holidays and it's a big, big time for New York City. There's a lot of money being lost. And the sooner they get it done, the happier everybody is going to be.

LUNDEN: For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

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