‘Tis the season to be striking: Broadway stagehands picket

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By now you’ve probably heard
about the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike. And you probably know that Ellen
DeGeneres
is catching hell from WGA East. Some of you are thinking, “Well, TV is not looking so good these days; perhaps this is an opportunity
to get out of the house and catch some live theater.”

Which is a great idea. Unless
your plan is to see Broadway theater.

Local
One
, the Broadway
branch of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, went on strike Saturday morning, effectively shutting
down most of Broadway.

That means tears for all the
tweens waiting to see Wicked.

And disappointment for the
American Idol
fans planning to see Fantasia
in The Color Purple.

And no puppet nudity in
Avenue Q
.

The strike timing appears to
have been planned for maximum impact: Although initially authorized last month, negations continued until Thursday, with the actual work stoppage beginning
on short notice approximately one hour before the opening curtain of

How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This left parents and theater professionals
to explain why the show wasn’t going on. A friend of mine who was on
the front lines all day Saturday noted, “I was one of the people who
had to break the news to them live and in person. It was absolutely
horrible.”

The Local One strike is more problematic than the WGA strike. If the blog comments are any indication, most folks are
pretty quick to rally behind the striking writers. However, people don’t seem
to see Local One as the little guy fighting for what’s right.

I asked three theater-connected
friends for their opinions, and they all came down (to varying degrees) on
the side of the producers. And the comments on the All That Chat message boards have been similarly
skewed towards the producers. Most people seem to accept that the stagehands
are fighting to maintain arguably outdated work rules.

I’m a little torn. I love theater,
and I like unions. And there’s a conflict between them right now. This
strike is going to hurt Broadway theater. Shows will close and theater
professionals will not work. (Members of the other theater unions are
generally supporting Local One.) Of course, I certainly don’t have warm
fuzzy feelings about the League of American Theatres and Producers.
It’s hard to feel sympathetic for the folks charging $111.50 per ticket
for a tired retread of Grease. As the union put it:

“Theatre owners and producers are demanding
a 38 percent cut in our jobs and wages. They have built a $20 million fund
to be used against us from the sale of theatre tickets to the public. … Cuts
in our jobs and wages will never result in a cut in ticket prices to
benefit the public, but only an increase in the profits for producers.”

The producers counter that
they’re offering to increase wages and that “the stagehands are striking
to seek to preserve their right to get paid when there is nothing for
them to do.”

The degree to which featherbedding
is a problem is certainly up to interpretation. What’s unquestionable
is that both sides are currently entrenched. No new talks are planned
and the union has rejected the Mayor’s offer to help with mediation.

Tourists who have paid for
nonrefundable hotel rooms are making the most of the situation. They’re ice skating
at Rockefeller Center, going to see the dinosaurs at the Museum of Natural
History and snapping up tickets to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
They’re also grabbing any available tickets to Young Frankenstein.

And Xanadu — as well
as to the other six Broadway shows not affected by the strike (due to
separate contracts with Local One).

Unfortunately, for me, this
kills my plan to run out after work one day to grab a cheap ticket to
Xanadu
. Alas.

But it does mean that I can
leave my Times Square office on Wednesday at lunchtime without drowning
in a sea of matinee-going tourists. But that’s really stretching for
a silver lining.

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