Broadway will be back in business tonight (29 November 2007). At 11.00pm in New York last night, striking stagehands and theatre producers at last reached a settlement that means performances will resume this evening following 19 days of a strike, and numerous breakdowns in negotiations, that cost the city an estimated £17 million per day.

Specific details of the “tentative agreement” between the League of American Theatres and Producers and Local One, Broadway-based chapter of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, have not been released. However, in a statement, the League's executive director Charlotte St Martin said: “The contract is a good compromise that serves our industry. What is most important is that Broadway's lights will once again shine brightly, with a diversity of productions that will delight all theatre-goers during this holiday time. We look forward to celebrating the season and welcoming our talented stagehands, and the theatregoing public, back to Broadway.”

Local One president James J Claffey, Jr. added: “The people of Broadway are looking forward to returning to work, giving the theatregoing public the joy of Broadway, the greatest entertainment in the world.”

The strike affected 75% of Broadway productions, with 26 shows – including big musicals such as The Phantom of the Opera, Hairspray, Chicago, Jersey Boys, Mamma Mia! and The Lion King - shut down completely since 10 November when the walkout commenced. The 27th show affected, a limited Christmas season Dr Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, was the first to be shut down, its 11.00am matinee on 10 November halted, but the was also the first to reopen, on 23 November, after producers filed an injunction with a State Supreme Court judge.

Three plays, Aaron Sorkin’s The Farnsworth Invention, Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer - starring Jim Norton and Conleth Hill, who starred in its premiere last year at the National Theatre – and August: Osage County were forced to postpone their openings, as was the Disney musical The Little Mermaid, while a Brit-led revival of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming, starring Eve Best, Ian McShane and James Frain, has delayed its previews.

The strike was called by members of the Local One, who have been working without a contract since late July. The stagehands had been disputing new rules that theatre owners and producers wanted to introduce limiting the number of stagehands necessary on a production and required lengths of employment, particularly during the load-in period of a new show. Members of Local One now have ten days to vote to ratify the new agreement, but in the meantime, will return to work immediately.

Although this is the first Broadway stagehands’ strike in the union’s 121-year history, another strike – by Broadway musicians and its union, the American Federation of Musicians – crippled New York’s Great White Way for four days four years ago (See News, 11 Mar 2003). Prior to that, Broadway had not closed for business in some 20 years, except for two days after 9/11.

- by Terri Paddock

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