NEW YORK - With most of Broadway dark because of the stagehands strike, business is booming off-Broadway, especially for those theaters in the Times Square area.
No new negotiations have been scheduled between Local 1, the stagehands union, and the League of American Theatres and Producers. The stalemate has forced theatergoers, particularly tourists, to find other attractions and off-Broadway has some 48 productions now playing, according to the League of Off-Broadway Theatres and Producers.
Yesterday in the theater district, people were passing out flyers advertising off-Broadway shows, meaning productions in theaters smaller than 499 seats.
Jeramy Peay, promoting the off-Broadway musical "Altar Boyz," said some people think all theater is closed, not realizing off-Broadway is open for business. "They don't understand the difference," he said.
At New World Stages, a five-theater complex on 50th Street just west of the Times Square area, 11 weekend performances of seven different shows sold out. The theaters house an eclectic collection of productions, ranging from the children-oriented "Gazillion Bubble Show" to the campy Charles Busch comedy "Die! Mommie! Die!" to the revue "Make Me a Song: The Music of William Finn."
"We did very well," said Daryl Roth, a producer of "Die Mommie Die!" "On Saturday night, we had a large group of people (older high school students) who were disappointed to not get into the Broadway show they had tickets for. They just took a chance and they came to us."
The 3,000-member stagehands union, which has between 300-350 members working on Broadway at any given time, walked out Saturday without much notice, two days after the parent union, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, granted Local 1 authorization to strike.
Local 1 includes more than just the men and women who move the scenery and props; it also represents a show's electricians, carpenters, and sound people. They work for the theater itself and are paid for the duration of a show's run.
The dispute has focused on how many stagehands are required to open a show and keep it running. That means moving scenery, lights, sound systems, and props; installing the set and making sure it works; and keeping everything functioning well for the life of the production.
Theater owners and producers want to be able to hire only the number of stagehands they think they'll need for an individual show. For example, a play with one set might not require as many stagehands as a large-scale musical with many scene changes or special effects. The union wants to maintain its rules on how many stagehands are hired, how they work, and for how long; it wants a specific number hired for each show.
Eight Broadway shows that have separate contracts with the union remained open and did strong, often sold-out business over the weekend. Among the attractions still running are "Young Frankenstein," "Mary Poppins," "Xanadu," and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," as well as four shows - "Pygmalion," "The Ritz," "Mauritius," and "Cymbeline" - playing at nonprofit theaters.