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Musicians' strike dims Broadway's lights

Musicals halted when actors, stagehands endorse walkout

From Jonathan Wald

picket line
Theatergoers are more likely to find musicians picketing outside the theaters than playing inside them.

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- The show will not go on after Broadway's actors and stagehands endorsed a strike by its musicians.

The musicians went on strike Friday, and the Actors' Equity Association voted unanimously not to cross the musicians' picket lines. Stagehands' union local 1 also refused to cross the picket line.

"We will have to close Broadway 'til further notice," Patricia Haubner, a spokeswoman for the theater producers, told CNN.

"It's very sad," said Pat Smith, another spokesman for the producers. "It'll hurt the city, it'll hurt the economy and it'll hurt all those who have come to see a musical, many of whom have traveled across the world."

About 325 people put away their instruments when the strike deadline passed at 12:01 a.m. Friday without an agreement.

The two sides stopped negotiating Friday and did not set a date when they would resume.

The Great White Way's 17 musicals that were to have begun 8 p.m. have been canceled.

Jed Bernstein, president of the League of American Theaters and Producers, said exchanges or refunds would be available for any cancellations.

Before the actors' union announcement, producers were planning to replace the musicians with virtual orchestras.

"Different shows have adapted different techniques to provide music," Smith said. "For the most part, there would be one or two people using a keyboard to digitally reproduce the sound of the orchestra."

The virtual orchestras were to be a temporary measure and "a shield," said Bernstein, made necessary "because all of Broadway is under attack by 325 people."

The actors' union rallied around the musicians' cause. All its 650 members "made it clear that they don't wish to perform to virtual orchestras," said Patrick Quinn, president of the union.

Negotiations are stuck over the minimum number of orchestra players required for Broadway shows.

When contract negotiations began last month, producers wanted to abolish minimums.

"Featherbedding went out in the early 1900s," Bernstein said. "Being forced to hire people that you don't need to do a job -- it doesn't relate at all to the creative control that the producer should have."

Producers have increased to 14 the minimum number of musicians they were willing to accept. The minimums at Broadway's large theaters vary from 24 to 26.

But the concessions are not in tune with the goals of the musicians' union, the American Federation of Musicians Local 802.

"The minimums that the theaters have recommended is just a joke. These tiny numbers we have been given so far can't be considered orchestras," union spokesman Shawn Sachs said.

"The producers need to come up with a reasonable offer to preserve the integrity of Broadway and keep live music from disappearing altogether."

Quinn echoed the musicians' complaint: "Our members believe that live music is essential, and minimums are appropriate and necessary."

Plays on Broadway -- such as "Take Me Out" and "Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune" -- were being performed as usual, as were off-Broadway productions.

Broadway last closed in September 1975 for 25 days, when 9 musicals shut down after musicians also went on strike over the issue of minimums.

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