Broadway Shows Threatened by Stagehand Strike The Great White Way remains mostly dark as some 20 shows have shut down because of a strike by Broadway theaters' stagehands. A long strike means some shows could close. Both sides are trying to set up a negotiating session on Sunday.
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Broadway Shows Threatened by Stagehand Strike

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Broadway Shows Threatened by Stagehand Strike

Broadway Shows Threatened by Stagehand Strike

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday, "The Grinch" is back and scheming to ruin Christmas. A New York judge cleared the way for that Broadway show "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" to go on, beginning at tomorrow's matinee.

But well into the second week of the strike by stagehands, the Great White Way remains mostly dark.

Jeff Lunden has been following the strike, and joins us for an update. And, Jeff, what's lost in all of this is that there are Broadway shows still open.

JEFF LUNDEN: That's right. There are eight shows that are still running. They're at theaters that have separate agreements with the stagehands. So if you come to New York, you can still see "Mary Poppins," "Young Frankenstein." You can even go to some of the nonprofit theaters and see plays like "Pygmalion" with Claire Danes. And, of course, there are dozens of shows playing off-Broadway.

MONTAGNE: Well, take us back in this strike. Remind us who the two sides are and what's keeping them apart.

LUNDEN: Well, on one side is the League of American Theatres and Producers. They're a trade organization of theater owners and the producers. And on the other side is Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, who represent the approximately 350 stagehands who work on Broadway.

And the dispute is all about a set of long-established work rules which govern how many stagehands work in each theater, how many are needed to load in sets, who can do what backstage. And a lot of these rules were negotiated 60 or 70 years ago when you needed a lot more people backstage to pull ropes and shift scenery. It was a lot less mechanized.

And the producers are arguing they've got mounting costs, four out of five shows fail to make back their investments, and some of these work rules are just unaffordable. So they've pressuring the stagehands to give them more flexibility.

Here's Charlotte St. Martin, the executive director of the Producers' League.

Ms. CHARLOTTE ST. MARTIN (Executive Director, The League of American Theatres and Producers): We have offered many, many different proposals, trying to find a place that would harm them the least, but give flexibility to our producers, and also, frankly, give them the relief of not paying for people who don't work.

MONTAGNE: And the union has said it's quite insulted by the suggestion that its workers don't work. But what is their opposition?

LUNDEN: They agree with the producers about the volatile environment. And if you're lucky enough to get in a show that runs for years, you're okay. But a lot of their members don't work for 52 weeks a year. They work for shows that close after a couple of months or a couple of weeks. They want to preserve some of these work rules to protect their members. And they say they're willing to be flexible, but they want to receive exchanges of equal value. In other words, they don't want to take cuts in jobs or income.

MONTAGNE: And what is the potential impact of a long strike, should it come to that?

LUNDEN: Well, some shows could close. There are several long-running musicals that don't have particularly big advances, like "Rent," "Chicago," "The Drowsy Chaperone." They may have a rough time weathering the strike. And then there are some plays. Plays are harder to sell on Broadway, and several of them were in previews, hadn't even opened when the strike hit. And some of them just may not reopen.

MONTAGNE: So where to from here?

LUNDEN: I've heard that both sides are trying to set up a negotiating session on Sunday. Both sides claim they want to get this settled.

Here's Bruce Cohen, a spokesperson for the union.

Mr. BRUCE COHEN (Spokesperson, Local One, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees): We're ready to sit down at the bargaining table now. Every day that Broadway continues with this situation, you can't sell last night's ticket.

LUNDEN: That's where both the producers and the stagehands agree. It sounds like there's going to be a lot more drama before this is over.

MONTAGNE: Jeff Lunden, reporting from New York. Thanks very much.

LUNDEN: Thanks, Renee.

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