Broadway talks to resume

Stagehands, producers back in to negotiations

After two marathon negotiation sessions this week failed to yield an agreement, Broadway stagehands and producers head back to the table today to thrash out what many hope will be the final issues.

Talks between stagehands union Local One and the League of American Theaters and Producers adjourned around 5 a.m. Tuesday after 13 hours of discussions at a midtown Manhattan law firm. That round followed a 20-hour session that continued through Sunday night.

Unlike in the previous round of talks, however, which hit an impasse before Thanksgiving and prompted the league to cancel all performances of strike-affected shows through the holiday weekend, both sides are indicating that significant progress has been made this time.

Local One rep Bruce Cohen, who has revealed a fondness for baseball terminology in his comments to press during the negotiations, called the break in talks a “rain delay.” The league was more terse in its statement, saying only that the two sides had been unable to reach an agreement and that talks would resume at 10 a.m. today.

However, the league’s announcement that performances would be canceled only through today’s matinees offers an indication that an end may be in sight to the 19-day-old strike that has darkened more than 25 Broadway theaters.

Neither side is disclosing the results of negotiations so far, but sources say crucial questions regarding load-in (the period during which stagehands install scenery on new shows) have been resolved. However, sticking points in the dispute over stagehands’ compensation remain.

Box offices losses over Thanksgiving week alone are estimated at $20 million or more. And while the city estimates the strike is costing New York $2 million a day in lost revenues, the league places that figure north of $8 million.

Theater insiders, as well as restaurant and hotel workers and other theater district businesses, remain hopeful that a resolution will end the stoppage, now in its 19th day. Even if a settlement is reached, it could take two or more days to get all the shows up and running again, depending on their scale.

While robust box office performers like “Wicked,” “Jersey Boys” and “The Lion King” are expected to regain momentum swiftly once performances resume, some shows that had been playing to dwindling houses, such as “The Drowsy Chaperone” and “Rent,” may have more difficulty finding their feet again. Many pundits are expecting a wave of hastened closing notices and deep discounting to lure back audiences.

While Thanksgiving week and the Christmas-through-New Year frame are the most lucrative periods of the Broadway season, the interim weeks can be tough, with ticket buyers focusing attention elsewhere on shopping and holiday parties. That stands to make post-strike recovery more difficult.

What’s more, rescheduling of delayed openings is likely to create bottleneck problems, not to mention the lost momentum of advance ad spending and editorial coverage. “The Farnsworth Invention,” “The Seafarer” and “August: Osage County” all have seen their scheduled opening nights come and go during the strike period, while Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” was set for a Dec. 6 opening but has been postponed until further notice.

Transfer productions paying costly per diems for actors from out of town or abroad, such as “August,” from Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater Company, or Brit imports “The Seafarer” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” are especially hurt by the prolonged interruption.

The last time Broadway was shuttered by a strike was in 2003, when musicians walked out. That stoppage lasted only four days.

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