Productions shut down as stagehands protest
Twenty-eight Broadway houses went dark Saturday, as striking stagehands picketed in front of theaters and disappointed consumers found their Rialto plans abruptly scuttled.
Strike was called Friday night by IATSE prexy Thomas C. Short, giving little time to warn ticketbuyers.
First show affected Saturday was “Dr. Seuss” How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” which was to have had its first of four performances that day at 11 a.m. News crews shot footage of disappointed theatergoers as production teams handed out fliers assuring theatergoers their tickets would be refunded.
Box offices were shuttered as their unionized employees honored the stagehands” picket lines. Actors” Equity endorsed the strike, while instructing its members to show up and sign in for work as required by that org’s contract.
Members of the stagehands” union, Local One, carried signs and handed out an explanatory statement to passersby that highlighted the boom
in grosses seen by Broadway in recent years.
At a press conference held by the League of American Theaters and Producers Saturday afternoon, Rialto producers reiterated the risk of
Broadway producing, saying that despite heightened grosses, only one in five productions recoups. They also restated their aim for a new agreement with the union that would reduce contractual obligations they referred to as outdated and overly costly featherbedding.
The League estimated that a strike costs the New York City economy $17 million a day.
Local One reps had no comment, and neither side offered an estimation of how long the strike would last. “As long as it takes,” said Michael David, producer of “Jersey Boys” and “The Farnsworth Invention.”
The Gotham mayor’s office has previously offered to aid the two orgs in reaching a deal, but Local One declined the offer.
An extended Broadway shutdown especially jeopardizes shows scheduled for limited engagements, which only have a short time to make back capitalization costs.
“The economics of it are very fragile,” said James Sanna of Running Subway, the producing org behind the holiday run of “Grinch.”
‘something like this is devastating to us.”
Meanwhile, the eight productions not darkened by the strike â€“ in theaters that have separate agreements with the union â€“ anticipated
picking up biz from the spillover of auds affected by the strike. Off Broadway productions also looked likely to get a boost.
Producer David Stone (“Wicked”), whose tuner “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” was one of the productions still running, said “Bee” had sold out both performances Saturday.
Ticketbuyers expressed some frustration â€” like the one tearful young girl clutching her mother in front of “Mamma Mia!” â€” but in general most were merely resigned.
“We were, like, counting down the days,” said a teenager from Long Island who came in early Saturday morning to line up for ‘spring Awakening.” “I”ll come back, but this morning I was so furious.”
“I”m not a union person, but they have the right to do what they want,” said an older woman from Alabama, who had tickets to see “Wicked” Saturday afternoon and “Cyrano de Bergerac” that night.
“That’s America for you.”
One family had come in to the city from Hershey, Penn., to catch the Saturday matinee of “Wicked,” having purchased the tickets three months prior. “There were a few tears,” the mother admitted.
But soon thereafter the family headed off to nearby New World Stages, to see if they could get tickets to Off Broadway’s “Altar Boyz.”