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Volume 68, Issue 109, Wedenesday, March 12, 2003

Arts & Entertainment

Broadway musicians, producers compromise

By Tara Mullee
The Daily Cougar

After a four-day walkout, musicians finally reached a compromise with theater producers during a 12-hour bargaining session Monday night in New York Cityis mayoral mansion.

The strike began Friday in response to a dispute between producers and the musiciansi union over the minimum number of musicians required for a Broadway orchestra. The Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians feared the League of American Theatres and Producers would slash minimums to save money. The union's stated belief is that staff minimums protect artistic freedom.

In the agreement announced Tuesday, the union agreed to reduce certain theatersi minimums to 18 or 19 from about 25 musicians. As with most compromises, neither side got exactly what it wanted ­ the producers must adhere to the minimums, but the musicians had to agree to lower their requirements.

During talks before the strike, producers initially wanted to have no minimums. When the union protested, the producers proposed several minimums, starting with seven and then raising their offer to 15. The union turned down each proposal until the overnight negotiations with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Bloomberg brought the two groups together to talk because they had not spoken over the weekend, leaving many disgruntled ticket-holders lining up for refunds, and because of economic concerns. The four-day hiatus reportedly cost the city $7 million in lost business and $4 million in box-office losses. Broadway's economic contribution to New York City is estimated at more than $4 billion yearly, The Associated Press reported.

It wasnit just the absence of musicians that shut down all but one of Broadwayis 19 musicals. When the walkout began Friday, theater producers initially planned to use computer-generated virtual orchestras to replace the musicians.

However, actors and stagehands refused to cross the line of musicians picketing outside the theater houses, saying they did not want to work unless the union musicians were in the orchestra pit. The only production to stay open was <I>Cabaret<P>, now starring Deborah Gibson and Neil Patrick Harris (of <I>Doogie Howser<P> fame).

The shows affected by the walkout included <I>The Phantom of the Opera<P>, <I>The Lion King<P>, <I>Hairspray<P> and <I>Mamma Mia!<P>

The last Local 802 strike on Broadway was almost 30 years ago, in September 1975, but it lasted much longer than this one ­ nine musicals were shut down for 25 days.

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