Broadway Resolves Strike, $5m Lost at Box OfficeDate: 11 March 2003
The musicians' strike that silenced Broadway this past Friday (7 March) has now been resolved (See News, 10 Mar 2003), with all 18 affected musicals - including blockbusters such as Mamma Mia!, 42nd Street, Hairspray, Aida, The Producers and Chicago - due to resume performances this evening after four days of dark theatres.
Negotiations between theatre owners and union officials on behalf of the musicians, who were disputing orchestra quotas, began last night at 9.00pm and continued for some 12 hours at Gracie Mansion, the home of New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who became personally involved. A compromise was reached this morning, with new four-year contracts agreed as well as a ten-year commitment to the new staff minimum.
The crisis was sparked off after the expiration last week of the musicians' previous contracts - negotiated by their union, the American Federation of Musicians - which set minimum numbers of anywhere from three to 26 musicians on a musical, according to the size of an auditorium and the history of the venue.
When the contracts ran out, show producers wanted them renegotiated and, critically, pushed for an abolition of quotas. Musicians protested, saying they needed to protect jobs as well as the Broadway tradition of live - as opposed to pre-recorded - music. Under the new agreement, the largest houses will be required to retain no fewer than 18 to 19 musicians, somewhat more than the owners’ previous offers of first seven then 15.
Commenting today at a press conference held in New York, union leader Bill Moriarty said that, by securing a minimum, "we have preserved live Broadway. We will continue to provide the best music you will ever hear in your life".
Even once strike was declared last week, producers confidently planned to continue with normal performance schedules, using "virtual" orchestras conducting computer-generated music. However, the musicians' industrial action was supported by actors and backstage staff who refused to cross picket lines. At 7.00pm on Friday evening, the League of American Theatres, which represents theatre owners, announced that all that weekend's performances would be cancelled.
The only Broadway musical that continued performances throughout was Sam Mendes' long-running production of Cabaret at Studio 54, where a separate contract had been previously agreed. The strike also disrupted rehearsals for upcoming productions of Gypsy, also directed by Mendes, and Nine. Plays have been unaffected by the strike, except, in a positive way, by experiencing a box office rush from theatregoers unable to get into musicals as planned.
Aside from a mere two days of darkness on 11 and 12 September 2001 in the wake of the World Trade Centre terrorist attacks, Broadway hasn't shut down in 28 years. The last time it did so was in 1975, also at the hands of a musicians' strike. During this weekend's industrial action, some $4.8 million was lost in box office revenues, while ancillary businesses - such as hotels and restaurants - estimated their combined losses to be as high as $7 million.
- by Terri Paddock