Monday, November 19, 2007

Day 9: What will become of us?

On Friday, I was not as optimistic as some of my counterparts. They thought Disney magic would make it all go away this weekend. I hoped with all my heart they were right. Sitting in the Westin Hotel today before talks broke down, I sensed dread, yet I still hoped that some progress was going to be made. When I heard talks broke down I just thought: "So now what?"

Really. That's my question. The League announced that shows would be cancelled until Sunday, November 25, meaning Broadway theaters will surely be dark through Thanksgiving, one of the most profitable times for the industry. Prior to the announcement, while I didn't honestly think we'd be seeing a re-opening by Thanksgiving, I held out a tiny little hope that somehow the mayor would bang his way in and do something. That hope is now gone.

The pertinent part of the statement read as follows: "Out of respect for our public and our loyal theatergoers, many of whom are traveling from around the world, we regret that we must cancel performances through Sunday November 25." I have a little issue with this statement. Lets start with the first part--do we really believe anything about this whole mess has to do with "respect?" I think not, but, moving on...

Supposedly the announcement was made so that tourists could make alternate plans, but that doesn't make sense to me. I don't really have a better justification; I just think it's crap. If, lets say, Mr. Alabama is flying to NYC with his family and part of their plan is to go see Wicked on November 23--if Alabama cancels now and decides to stay home, he is going to be charged extreme airline fees, so that isn't very practical. So, Alabama is coming anyway--what kinds of alternate Friday night plans is he making? He is going to make a later restaurant reservation based on this info? Now, of course, some notice to Alabama is better than no notice. But is giving him this notice really worth 100% guaranteeing that no progress will be made in the next few days?

Also, "we regret we must" is very misleading. They didn't have to cancel performances through Sunday. They could have waited to see if something happened in the next couple of days, they chose not to do so. At least own up to it as a choice.

My question remains--why make this choice? I don't know the answer. Did they do it so Thanksgiving weekend could no longer be held over their heads? Was it to get a leg up in the public perception war? (I can see the coverage now: "Stagehands force League's hand and ruin Thanksgiving.") I mean I can see it being like a "we'll show you"-type thing... But isn't that where my grandmother would use the "cut off your nose to spite your face" expression? I just don't get it.

Plus, I think, and this is pure speculation, this might cause an odd salary wrinkle. The producers don’t think they have to pay the actors because of this clause in the League contract: “If the company cannot perform because of fire, accident, strike, riot, Act of God, or the public enemy, which could not be reasonably anticipated or prevented, then the Actor shall not be entitled to any salary for the time during which Actor's services shall not for such reason or reasons be rendered…” Look at the “could not be reasonably anticipated or prevented” worded. Well, last week, the producers probably couldn’t have “reasonably anticipated or prevented” the strike in the legal sense. But, given this announcement from the League, what about the coming week? Just something to think about.

Anyway, my source from the negotiations this morning told me he was "bored" in the room. I assume that is because both sides feel like they're hitting their heads against a wall. From both sides I heard tonight: "We made concessions, we had a good plan, and they won't meet us." Well, that seems like the same thing I've been hearing for weeks. So no wonder it's boring. The Disney guy apparently didn't hurt negotiations, but both sides said he wasn't as helpful as they'd hoped (which is obvious at this point). So now what?

I wish I felt like anyone was dealing at a rational level at this point. All the union guys I speak to feel like the producers are treating them like they are stupid. The League thinks they are being bullied. As I believe I've previously said on this blog, I believe the producers' tough-talking rhetoric from the beginning was a mistake. This is not a union you want to piss off--this is not a union (like some of the others we have in this industry) that you can bully. On the contrary, I think this might have been a time that the producers could have attracted more flies with honey. (Though I have no idea why you'd want to attract flies, but, still.) Apparently in the room this weekend the producers again claimed the Broadway failure rate was attributable to the union. On the other side of the table, a union guy said to me today: “Well, you have to understand, these people are rich.” So? That doesn’t matter. What does that have to do with anything really? I just don't see how those kinds of things are helping anyone. It just makes both sides dig in. So we have a bitter stalemate. It’s a situation where, in a way, an average observer sort of can’t be pro either side, you have to be anti both. The issues are so confusing I can barely follow them and both sides seem sort of ridiculous. That’s bad for us. And until the posturing stops, we’re not going to have a solution. And we need one. Soon.

Speaking of soon, it's in The Times that The Grinch producer is saying that his show will be up and running again on Tuesday because of some special arrangement The Grinch has with Local One (needed due to its souped-up schedule). This makes no kind of sense to me. I understand the sort of "We're already paying them more, so, our deal isn't the one they are striking over" aspect of it and, yet, still, overall, it doesn't make sense to me.

First of all—why didn’t he bring this special deal up to begin with? Isn't that something he would have realized? Secondly, my understanding has been, and clearly I’ve been wrong before, that the strike was sort of venue-related. So, for example, Disney is not a member of the League, but its shows in Nederlander houses are currently dark. If The Grinch in its Jujamcyn house comes back on—-why not The Lion King or The Little Mermaid at their Nederlander houses? After all, Nederlander was technically just observing in this negotiation, so shows in its houses should be more likely to get a break. Is it that when Disney went into those theaters they assumed the terms of the standard League deal but Grinch couldn't because of their schedule? And, if that is the case, what happens if Disney says "We'll give you extra money if you just reopen Mermaid"? Would that be cool? It just makes no sense to me that we’d see The Grinch on Tuesday. We might, but it would just be odd. If the union is coming back for them in their Jujamcyn house—-where does it end? This is another thing I just don’t get. I can’t even talk about this stuff anymore it’s all so ridiculous and confusing.

Last night, a Yale graduate student died striking down a set. My understanding is that the Yale practice is to have people do all-night strikes. So they were taking down the set from the Rep production of Trouble in Mind and something hit this student. It's so unbelievably sad. The person who told me about the incident said that he hoped it would draw attention to the odd and unsafe practices at Yale Rep. Except, instead, we’re all talking about The Grinch.


Rocco said...

I could read this post over and over. It the only thoughtful coverage of the strike anywhere. Thanks for making me feel like I'm not crazy for being "anti-both".

But reopening The Grinch actually does make lots of sense to me. They're running on a completely different contract than all the other shows. Whether Local 1 decided to lump them in or the producers stood by in solidarity, I don't know. But now that The Grinch (and all its crying children) has become the face of the stike, it would seem smart for the stagehands to go back to work there, since they have a valid reason to not strike on that show and it'll make it not seem like they're ruining Christmas.

However, I couldn't care less about The consider my christmas ruined.

RLewis said...

ok, I don't do Broadway, but I gotta say that I think you've been a lil' over optimistic with this strike from the start - didn't think it was gonna happen. Having been downsized 3 times in the last 2 years at my current day-gig, maybe my perspective is different. Since the econ' bust last decade almost every major industry has cut back and re-organized. Wasn't it only a matter of time before Broadway had to do the same?

Now you find T-giving week off to be overly lengthy, but by the time this is over, I'll guess this week is a very small number of the strike days total. And isn't getting the Grinch running just a clue that is thing is going into January without losing its breath?

I feel bad for the union members; I carry 3 cards myself, but times have changed, and you don't bring in someone like C.St.M. unless you're ready to do the distance. She'll go back to where she came from - unblemished - when this is all over.

My best guess has the hiring of replacement workers in January, and no new deal before Valentine's day. I hate that all the Broadway Babies like yourself must hold your applause, but feel free to come downtown and join us for some edgy thrills till this all blows over.

Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Cara Joy, I just found your site because of Rocco at "What's Good/What Blows" (my apologies for not finding you earlier).

You've pretty much summed up how I feel in a much more articulate and elegant way. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

The Yale incident is quite an unfortunate accident and I know that thoughts and prayers of people throughout the industry are with the Yale community and the young man's family.

However, please note that the activities the student was participating in were related to a load-in Sunday morning, not strike from the previous evening. The student was helping to unload a truck (and wearing a hard hat), when the load shifted as the strap was released, crushing him against the opposite side of the truck.

It is not fair to the student or the community to misrepresent what happened here.

carajoy said...

Rocco and Steve, thank you for your very nice comments. (Rocco--despite my criticism of The Grinch last year, I was actually going to go back this year, as my friend involved told me it is much improved!)

Rlewis... I may exhibit some wishful thinking. Though, again, I had no hope this weekend... But, yes, overall I do think we'll see Local One in the theater before February 14. It might not be next week, but I think it will be before cupid comes around.

As for the Yale comment, my apologies if I mischaracterized the accident. Someone called me and said it happened during the strike in preparation for the load-in, so that is what I believed. I did not investigate and for that I am sorry. The difference in timing does not change the overall point, but I’m very sorry to get the details wrong. It is unfair. And yes, as I should have stated, all condolences go out to his family. It’s just a terrible, terrible thing.

R. said...

I really appreciate your commentary on the strike. Its very insightful given the rhetoric from both sides in the mainstream media. I do, however, take a bit of issue with your characterization of the Yale Rep. I worked on many shows as a student at Yale, both at the Rep and at the university theatre, and in my experience, we were always conscientious of safety and we were rigorously mentored about safety. I learned everything I know about technical theatre there as have many others. What happened to that student is tragic, but I'm quite comfortable saying its the exception not the rule, in terms of how safely load ins and strikes are handled.

carajoy said...

Thank you for your post "r.." Know that it was a person from the program who said he believed the program's practices were "odd and unsafe." I'm not saying I believe that--I don't know enough about them. My point was just looking into them would be more worthy of examination than focusing on the crap we're all focusing on.

Anonymous said...

my God, i thought you were going to chip in with some decisive insght at the end there, not leave it with ‘we leave it to you to decide’.