By Momar G. Visaya/AsianJournal.com
NEW YORK – Members of Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees went on strike Sunday, Nov. 10 against Broadway producers, effectively shutting down Manhattan’s Theater District.
A total of 35 shows are currently running on Broadway, with 27 of them affected as the strike continued as of Tuesday.
Local One Union Chief James Claffey Jr. told reporters the strike was the stagehands’ only option as they try to protect what they claim is rightfully theirs.
“We truly regret that there is no show,” the stagehands said in a statement as tourists from all over the world scampered all over Times Square while announcements on ticket refunds were plastered on theater doors.
The statement also said that theatre owners and producers are demanding a 38% cut in the stagehands’ jobs and wages. “They have built a $20 million fund to be used against us from the sale of theatre tickets to the public,” the statement added. “Stagehands” is the term used for the people who work behind the scenes to install and run lights, sets and props for all the shows on Broadway.
Tickets to some of the top Broadway shows can command prices of more than 500 dollars, and last year 1.3 million tickets were sold to foreign tourists.
“Broadway is a billion dollar a year industry and has never been more profitable than now,” the 3,000-member stagehands’ union said.
Despite steep ticket prices, the number of theatergoers has continued to increase, jumping 2.6 percent from 2006 to 2007, while box office receipts have increased 8.9 percent over the same period.
According to the producers’ league, Broadway pumps five billion dollars into the New York economy a year and provides the equivalent of 45,000 jobs.
Police monitored the picket lines outside the theaters, with an average of about 20 demonstrators in each theater marching with their placards.
The strike came after months of heated negotiations and caused the multi-million dollar business of Broadway to come to a grinding halt.
Some of New York’s most popular plays and musicals affected by the strike include Cyrano de Bergerac, a new play starring Kevin Kline and Jennifer Garner; the David Hyde Pierce-starrer Curtains; Fantasia’s The Color Purple; classics such as A Chorus Line, Rent, Mamma Mia and Les Miserables and tourist favorites like Legally Blonde, Hairspray and The Drowsy Chaperone.
The usually long line outside TKTS, the same-day discount tickets booths in Times Square and at the South Street Seaport were almost empty on Saturday, with only a handful looking at the boards that announced only a couple of shows were on.
“The stagehands are striking to seek to preserve their right to get paid when there is nothing for them to do,” the producers’ league said in a statement.
According to The League of American Theatres and Producers, the average stagehand makes 150,000 dollars a year in pay and benefits.
No new negotiations have been scheduled between the stagehands union, and the League of American Theatres and Producers. The stalemate has forced theatergoers, particularly tourists, to find other attractions and off-Broadway has some 48 productions now playing, according to the League of Off-Broadway Theatres and Producers.
On Monday in the theater district, people were passing out flyers advertising off-Broadway shows, meaning productions in theaters smaller than 499 seats.
The dispute has focused on how many stagehands are required to open a show and keep it running. That means moving scenery, lights, sound systems and props into the theater; installing the set and making sure it works; and keeping everything functioning well for the life of the production.
Theater owners and producers want to be able to hire only the number of stagehands they think they’ll need for an individual show. For example, a play with one set might not require as many stagehands as a large-scale musical with many scene changes or special effects. The union wants to maintain its rules on how many stagehands are hired, how they work and for how long; it wants a specific number hired for each show.
Eight Broadway shows that have separate contracts with the union remained open and did strong, often sold-out business over the weekend. Among the attractions still running are “Young Frankenstein,” “Mary Poppins,” “Xanadu” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” as well as four shows — “Pygmalion,” “The Ritz,” “Mauritius” and “Cymbeline” — playing at nonprofit theaters. (AJ with AP wire reports)