Monday, November 12, 2007
I've seen the lights go out on Broadway
I felt the need to comment on the current Stagehands strike which has shut down all but 8 Broadway shows. I don't know the exact details of their negotiations, so I won't go too far into my own opinions, but it is amazing that this has happened. (For details, go to playbill.com.) Union rules are extremely clear on who can do what on a show, and without these folks, the show truly cannot go on. My union does not allow me to touch any props, costume pieces or set pieces during a performance. If I want to move something or re-set it, I have to go get a stagehand. They do all the scene shifts, whether manually or computerized. They are our electricians, our sound operators, our dressers, prop and set crews. I'm interested to see how long the strike goes on. There are currently 8 Broadway shows not affected (they are non-profit theatres, like Lincoln Center, who have different agreements with the unions) but over 2 dozen who will remain "dark" until the union reaches an agreement with the producers.
I can't help but think about how this has been affecting the people in my union, Actors Equity Association (the union for actors and stage managers). I read today that there is a small strike fund and if it goes on, the union will pay actors and stage managers the weekly maximum for unemployment insurance until the fund runs out or their unemployment benefits kick in. (It takes 7 weeks for unemployment to kick in, by the way.) Now, $405 is the weekly maximum for unemployment insurance. This is not even half of what the lowest paying contract on Broadway, say for a chorus dancer in his/her first show, makes. It's scary to think that these people who are in long-running shows, even on smaller contracts, may be faced with such a small weekly salary so soon. A lot of "chorus folks" stay in smaller roles because of the job security and use the nice paychecks to buy their first apartments in the city. I can't help but think of how those folks will be affected. I"m glad it ain't me.
On a nicer note, there is a fundraiser scheduled for tonight at the Marquis Theatre (home of Drowsy Chaperone) to benefit a home for mentally disabled children. Rather than force the producers to cancel the benefit, the stagehands have agreed to cross the picket line and come in to work this event, but to do so free of charge so as not to affect their current negotiations. I appreciate that they are donating their time to a worthy cause.