Facing some 200 members of the League of American Theaters & Producers, executive director Jed Bernstein drew applause Oct.26 by prefacing his prepared remarks with the announcement that the League had the night before reached an agreement with the stagehands, subject to a Nov. 5 ratification vote by members of Local 1 of the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.
The agreement concluded nearly a year of more posturing than usual by both sides, as Broadway producers announced their determination to achieve a wholesale renegotiation of work rules they insisted were outdated and costly, and the stagehands swore no such renegotiation would take place.
Although neither side would release details of the new agreement before the ratification vote, sources familiar with the negotiations said the producers had won some concessions on work rules regarding load-in of musicals, a million-dollar budget item that was among the chief sticking points in the negotiations. The sources also said there had been a concession regarding the staffing of nonmusical productions that could slightly reduce weekly running costs for plays.
The agreement apparently will allow both sides to claim some progress and save some face after all the saber-rattling that preceded the negotiations, which began when the previous contract expired in August.
The settlement also proved to be a gift for Bernstein, who is addressing the League for the first time since his appointment six weeks ago. This is the sixth biennial League conference, and it comes at a time when Broadway and road producers are trying more than ever to present a unified front to a splintering entertainment universe.
“At the end of the day, we need to help create more customers,” Bernstein said. “This is not only critical in the short term, but in the long term as well…. Whatever we do, from research to labor to lobbying, should one way or another help to make it possible to produce more profitably.”
In his keynote address, Bernstein named 10 goals for the coming year. They include:
* Making the League more dedicated to member service – particularly the 50% of the members who represent the road.
* Expanding the League’s financial base and developing a rational operating budget.
* Exploiting the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Tony awards, in New York and on the road.
* Developing new audiences.
* Creating a theme park-type attraction in the Times Square area spun off from the Theater Hall of Fame.
* Marketing the “Broadway brand.”
“One of the reasons I took this job is because it represents one of the great branding challenges in the history of marketing,” said Bernstein, a recruit from the advertising world. “There is a fundamental difference between a Broadway show in New York or on the road and anything else. You all know it. We need to make sure everyone else knows it as well.”
Bernstein also mentioned creating a “Broadway news bureau” as a clearinghouse for generic information; restructuring the Broadway Alliance; and improving the League’s research and database.
All the proposals related to the two most pressing issues on members’ minds as they headed into three days of panel discussions, town meetings and parties: recapturing what Bernstein referred to as the “lost generation” of live theatergoers, and creating more product for them at a lower cost.
“Entertainment, and what it means to consumers, is being redefined daily,” Bernstein said. “The industry is unifying like it never has before, to address the common challenges and opportunities that will allow us to prosper well into the next century.”