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Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Stage Addiction Special: Inside The Strike

Safely back from my vacation, and now entrenched in the battle lines of Broadway (where I work), I put my ear to the ground and spent most of the day trying to get the real stories behind the headlines of the Broadway strike. Amy at NewYorkology and Steve at Steve on Broadway have been doing a magnificent job of keeping up with the day-to-day news, and if you're looking for some background to the issues discussed here, I suggest you take a side trip and read their essential sites.

Here's what I discovered:

It's worse than you think. In almost every conceivable way. A number of my sources say that the producers (represented by LATP, or the The League of American Theatres and Producers) are the ones holding up negotiations, not Local One of I.A.T.S.E., the stagehands' union. There's a minority among the producers that would like to settle; the majority, however, do not. Some see the future of their business hanging on this issue (which seems extreme to me...this is about greed on both sides, not the future of the art form). One particular producer, in fact, has been overheard in a public restaurant saying that he'd rather see many Broadway shows close rather than giving in.

And that may be exactly what happens. Most shows will be able to survive, in one way or another, until December 2nd; after that, many struggling shows (who were planning on holiday business to refill their advance sale coffers) will find the bank accounts bone dry, and the serious bleeding begins. Already there are seven shows in serious jeopardy, according to the most knowledgeable person I know in these matters: Avenue Q, August: Osage County, A Chorus Line, Curtains, The Drowsy Chaperone, Hairspray, and Rent. (To be fair, however, the closing of Chaperone was imminent anyway, and Rent, Avenue Q and Curtains were all struggling before the strike, too.) Some of these could announce closings as early as Monday, but most will try to hang on until December, praying for a break in the negotiations. A seventh show, Les Miserables, was already scheduled to close on January 6th.

There is some good news, however. Eight shows are unaffected by the strike, due to different contractual relationships. They include The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Mary Poppins, Xanadu, Young Frankenstein, and the four nonprofits: Cymbeline at Lincoln Center, Mauritius at Manhattan Theatre Club, and Pygmalion and The Ritz at the Roundabout's two Broadway spaces. And thanks to some smart marketing and direct mail offers, the healthy advance sales of many shows will help them weather the strike for a little while, including The Seafarer, The Farnsworth Invention, Rock 'n' Roll, The Little Mermaid, Grease, Is He Dead? and possibly Cyrano de Bergerac. The long-running tourist attractions are also safe, even if the strike lasts all the way to the new year...so those of you who haven't seen The Phantom of the Opera, Jersey Boys, The Lion King, Wicked or Mamma Mia, don't worry. They're like cockroaches, you can't kill them.

But some can't last forever. The big question are the weakening shows, suffering from age, shrinking audience size, and a diminishing profit margin...how long can they afford to be dark? Can Spring Awakening manage to hold out? The Color Purple, especially when Fantasia wraps up her run in January? Spamalot? Legally Blonde? If I were one of their producers, I'd be on edge these days....especially Blonde, which has yet to recoup.

The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades. No one I spoke to today expects the strike to affect the winter and spring openings...which means that those soon-to-be-empty theatres can find new tenants pretty easily. If you've already got tickets for A Catered Affair, November, The Homecoming, Passing Strange, or have booked a flight for next spring to come see Cry-Baby, Thurgood or The Country Girl, you'll be fine. And those Billy Elliot and Equus tickets for next September are as good as gold.

Even the famous people are mad at the producers. I managed to speak to a well-known actress today who requested I keep her identity private, because she's in a current Broadway show (that's closed for the strike) and she was a Tony Award nominee last May. I asked her how she was holding up, and her loyalty went completely to the stagehands. "This is really an attack on the middle class theatregoer," she said. What did she mean by that? "Gabriel, do you really think the LATP, if they succeed in reducing the stagehand fees, are suddenly going to drop ticket prices because they've saved money? Not on your life. I love [my producer], but I'm not a fool. This is about more money for them, and less money for you, me, and the stagehand."

The saddest rumor I heard today, and I heard it from two separate people: the producers of August: Osage County have already sent the actors back to Chicago, where the show came from. Not good news for what is undoubtedly the best show of the season...and it won't win any Tonys if it closes, because it never officially opened (the strike struck first).

The predictions: I asked ten industry colleagues today when they thought the strike would end. 3 said next week; 5 said by the beginning of Christmas Week; 1 said by New Years' Eve; and 1 said February.

More to come...

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Mod Fab - Can you explain why a show would have to pack it in while the strike is on? What expenses do they have - other than rent - and I assume that since the theater owners are on their side they may cut them a break.

(Not being a dick, really asking...)



11/20/07, 7:57 AM  
Blogger ModFab said...

John, it's mostly that there's no money coming in...and they've spent ahead. Plus, they've got to pay box office staff to sell tickets during the strike, company management staff, general management staff, continue their advertising (many shows spend six figures a week), direct mail, promotions, administrative offices, publicists, etc. It's a huge drain IF you're having to refund entire houses every single night.

The LATP has a reserve fund to help shows weather the blow -- about $5 million, I've heard -- but that will run out in about two weeks.

11/20/07, 10:32 AM  
Blogger T$ said...

there's also the additional fallout for charities like broadway cares and TDF losing money during the big holiday season...this needs to stop soon!

11/20/07, 11:49 AM  
Blogger paul @ www.thezapping.com said...

gracious - thanks for explaining it so well. I didn't realise things were so dire :(

11/20/07, 2:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks the the info. I've already missed one show (August Osage County) - had tickets for last week...

11/21/07, 8:47 AM  
Anonymous RLewis said...

Gab' where's the pool? What's the ante? I want in. I'm taking January 8th just to challenge Cara Joy's optimism who'd probably be picking something in Nov'.

11/23/07, 11:45 AM  

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