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Stage Hands Strike
New York City
November 10, 2007

Written by Wendy R. Williams
Photographed by Angelo Rivera

Yesterday Broadway Local One (the stage hands union) went on strike and a huge number of Broadway shows are now dark. This strike plus the WGA's (writers) strike does not bode well for a Merry Christmas season in New York.

While everyone here at New York Cool has lots of sympathy for the hard working stage hands who are facing an unemployed Christmas, the union rules that they work under do seem archaic i.e. the number of stage hands a Broadway producer is required to hire for a production is determined by the size of the theater, not by the requirements of the show. So a producer wishing to produce a one man show is required to hire enough stage hands to create an unneeded complicated set. Ditto for the musicians union; if a producer wants to produce a show that consists of one man wandering around an empty stage accompanied by one violinist, the producer is forced to pay salaries for an orchestra commensurate with the size of the theater even though these musicians never report for work because the show does not require an orchestra. And of course, this empty stage production must pay salaries for the number of stage hands the union contract requires to be used for any production in that theater.

When you look at the lights of Broadway with hit show like The Producers and Lion King which have had smashing success and decade long runs, it is hard to remember that the vast majority of Broadway shows (who are easy to forget because they closed instantly) never recoup their initial investment and some close without recouping one dime. For every Hairspray there is a Dracula, for every Mamma Mia a Bombay Dreams.

Three years ago, I took the Commercial Theater Institute's three day course for prospective Broadway producers. They told us that it costs SEVERAL HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS dollars to load a show into a Broadway theater (because of union rules) and the same amount to unload (regardless of the size of the set). When I asked where I could find investors who would be willing to invest several million dollars up front for a show with no guarantee that there would be any payback whatsoever, they told me to look to my friends. Well, I immediately realized that I would never be a Broadway producer because I did not know a single soul who would be willing to make such a risky investment and I still don't.

So here's to the hard working stage hands and also to the besotted-theater-loving-Broadway-producers who foolishly (and with little hope of return) throw their money down the well of creativity that is Broadway. Let's all hope that cooler heads prevail and the producers and union are able to find a solution that is equitable for all parties including the tourists who travalled to New York City from all over only to find that their shows have been cancelled.

For more information on the strike and how it is affecting theatergoers and the city's economy, log onto nytimes.com (you will need to get a user name and password, but it is free) and MSNBC.com (no password required).

 

 


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