domingo, 11 de novembro de 2007

Stagehand Strike on Broadway Leaves Theatergoers in the Dark

Emotions Run High as Many Plays, Musicals Are Canceled

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 11, 2007;

NEW YORK, Nov. 10 -- Tears, confrontation and confusion reigned in the Times Square theater district Saturday as a sudden strike by stagehands closed down more than two dozen Broadway plays and musicals, leaving would-be theatergoers outside the darkened halls.

The stagehands, who work behind the scenes to create the lights, sounds, special effects and glamour of Broadway, began picketing late-morning matinees after contract talks broke down between their union and theater owners and producers in a dispute largely over work rules.

Paula Jager, of Montvale, N,J., comforts her daughter Angela, 4, after a Dr. Seuss musical was canceled by the strike.

Paula Jager, of Montvale, N,J., comforts her daughter Angela, 4,
after a Dr. Seuss musical was canceled by the strike.

(By Diane Bondareff -- Associated Press)

"They canceled the show, honey," said Kim Fraioli, a trauma therapist from Bedford Corners, N.Y., breaking the news to Kaylee, 5, that she would not be able to see "The Little Mermaid" and its lead character. "I'm so sorry, and I promise you will get to see Ariel later," she said as her daughter's eyes welled with tears.

Grown men and women who had waited months, traveled distances, and paid hundreds of dollars to see Broadway shows also came close to tears in front of the picket lines.

"I can't decide whether I might cry," said Robert Wilson, 18, of New Castle, Pa., who had driven to New York with eight friends, one of whom displayed a tattoo of Ariel on her hip.

"Why are you doing this now, when I come to see the show?" one woman yelled at the picketers.

Scott Crawford, 33, a university administrator from Akron, Ohio, had waited months to see "Avenue Q" because it's "raunchy and hilarious," he said. "In Ohio, we have raunchy, and we have hilarious, but we don't have them together."

Other popular shows that were shut down included "The Phantom of the Opera," "Rent," "Les Miserables," "Mamma Mia!" "The Color Purple" and "The Lion King."

It was the first time Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, a 121-year old union, had called a strike on Broadway. A four-day walkout of musicians in 2003 was the first Broadway theater strike in two decades.

Befuddled crowds jammed the 46th Street TKTS discount ticket booth, hoping to get into shows that were still running, because their theaters have separate contracts with the union. They included "Mary Poppins," "Mauritius," "Pygmalion" and "Young Frankenstein."

In an auction-like atmosphere, full-throated theater promoters touted the shows that had not yet sold out, describing them one by one:

"Jump": "They do a lot of acrobatic kung fu stuff, crazy stuff with families."

"Altar Boyz": "It's a musical. These guys are getting an epiphany from God to start a boy band."

Comedy club promoters also found themselves attracting unaccustomed interest.

Julius Donat, who plies 7th Avenue selling comedy tickets, said on most days, people pass him right by. "We're too good, we want to go to Broadway," he said, mimicking people who had disdained his offerings in the past.

"Now look at you," he said of his newfound customers.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said he had spoken with theater owners and the union and hoped they could resolve their differences quickly to avoid a severe impact on an industry that brings in nearly a billion dollars a year. "While this is a private labor matter, the economic impact is very public and will be felt far beyond the theaters closed today," he said in a statement.

Local One had been working without a contract since July while negotiating for months with the League of American Theatres and Producers, but talks broke down.

The old contract sets formulas for how many stagehands must be called to work, what kinds of tasks they are allowed to undertake, and how long they may work. Theater managers want more flexibility in deciding how many stagehands are needed.

On Thursday, after days of difficult talks, Local One got permission from its parent union to strike.

"It is a sad day for Broadway, but we must remain committed to achieving a fair contract," Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the League of American Theatres and Producers, said in a statement. All disappointed theatergoers will get exchanges or refunds for their tickets, she said.

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