Broadway strike talks promising

Hopes for settlement increasing

Both sides are staying tight-lipped about details but stagehands and producers have indicated that progress has been made in their ongoing negotiations. Optimism rippled through the theater community Monday, as hope spread that a settlement might soon be reached in the strike that has darkened much of Broadway since Nov. 10.

As the Rialto shutdown enters its third week, a marathon 20-hour negotiation session wrapped around 6:30am Monday, which yielded positive signals for the first time since the labor dispute over stagehands’ compensation began. Following the extended discussions at a midtown law firm, negotiators called for a 12-hour break, with talks resuming at 7 p.m. Monday.

Reps for the striking stagehands’ union, Local One, and for the League of American Theaters and Producers both have agreed not to discuss terms of the negotiations with press, for fear of jeopardizing a still-delicate situation. However, Bruce Cohen, the spokesperson for Local One, commented that the two sides were getting closer to an agreement.

The last round of negotiations had ended bitterly the previous weekend, prompting producers to cancel all perfs for the shows affected by the strike through the Thanksgiving weekend. As talks began on Sunday, Herschel Waxman, head of labor negotiations for the powerhouse Nederlander group, said he was confident a deal would be reached.

City officials have estimated that the strike, which has caused more than 25 productions to halt performances, is costing New York $2 million a day, pegging losses for the 17 days since the dispute began at $34 million. The League maintains that losses are north of $8 million per day, insisting they will climb considerably higher if the stoppage continues through the lucrative holiday period.

In addition to lost box office, theater district businesses including restaurants, souvenir stores and parking lots are hurting, while unofficial sources also say the city’s tourism and hotel revenues are being impacted by vistors canceling their New York trips.

Also suffering significant losses is industry charity org Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, which runs the largest of its two annual fund drives during this period, with actors soliciting donations from audiences and making front-of-house collections after each performance. Executive director Tom Viola estimates that the strike has cost the charity as much as $350,000 per week in donations.

Making up a portion of the shortfall, the cast of the Broadway revival of Harold Pinter’s “The Homecoming,” which was scheduled to begin previews Nov. 23, staged a free benefit rehearsal Sunday, during which close to $4,200 in donations for BC/EFA was collected.

In one of the first signs that Local One was vulnerable to pressure building due to the union’s holdout position, the org sent out an appeal letter over the holiday weekend to its “brothers and sisters” of Actors Equity, calling for continuing solidarity through the difficult and divisive negotiations. The letter cited the League’s attempt to drive a wedge between stagehands and thesps, with Local One pledging to support Equity should the actors find themselves at the negotiating table with producers in the future.

With grosses for the Thanksgiving week totaling a little more than a quarter of box office for the same frame last season, the entire Gotham legit sector now appears focused on putting differences aside and getting shuttered shows up and running again.

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