Stagehands, producers reach tentative settlement in Broadway strike; shows to go on Thursday

By Michael Kuchwara

NEW YORK – Broadway stagehands and theater producers reached a tentative agreement Wednesday night to end a strike and almost immediately return to the stage most of the two dozen plays and musicals that have been shut down for more than two weeks.

The settlement came after two days of marathon, all-night sessions and months of negotiation between Local 1 and the League of American Theatres and Producers. The walkout, which began Nov. 10, has cost the city and theaters millions of dollars in lost income.

Bruce Cohen, a spokesman for the union, confirmed the agreement ending the 19-day work stoppage.

“We’re glad there’s a deal, and everyone should go back to work and the public should go see a Broadway show,” Cohen said.

Most shows were expected to resume performances Thursday, the league said.

Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the league, called the deal “a good compromise that serves our industry.”

“What is most important is that Broadway’s lights will once again be shining brightly with a diversity of productions that will delight all theatergoers during this holiday time,” she said.

Negotiations had moved slowly Wednesday as both sides struggled with what apparently was the last hangup, the issue of wages – how much to pay stagehands in return for a reduction in what the producers say were onerous work rules that required them to hire more stagehands than are needed.

Much of the talks had focused on how many stagehands are required to open a Broadway show and keep it running. That means moving scenery, lights, sound systems and props into the theater; installing the set and making sure it works; and keeping everything functioning well for the life of the production.

Renewed efforts to end the strike came after the usually lucrative Thanksgiving holiday week, normally one of the best times of the year for Broadway. Not so this year.

Both Local 1 and the league had been under pressure to find a solution to the conflict as box-office losses climbed – such big hits as “Wicked” and “Jersey Boys” regularly gross more than $1 million each week – and other Broadway unions, such as Actors’ Equity Association, began to feel the effects of no paychecks.

Theater-related businesses were hurt, too. City Comptroller William Thompson has estimated the economic impact of the strike at $2 million a day, based on survey data that include theatergoers’ total spending on tickets, dining and shopping.

The end of the walkout will mean a scramble for new opening nights for several shows that were in previews when the strike hit. They include Aaron Sorkin’s “The Farnsworth Invention,” ”August: Osage County” from Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company and an adaptation of an unknown Mark Twain comedy, “Is He Dead?”

Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” already has announced it would push back its scheduled Dec. 6 opening – with a new date still to be set.