Broadway producers are going to negotiate less than a week before the start of the lucrative Thanksgiving holiday weekend – the time of stage bonanza.
Negotiations will resume this weekend "at an undisclosed place and time," the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and the League of American Theatres said Wednesday. "No comment from either organization will be issued until further notice," both sides said in a joint statement.
Was there pressure to return to the talks before Thanksgiving, when New York City is filled with visitors for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and the start of the Christmas shopping season?
"It was a factor," said Norman Samnick, an entertainment lawyer who specializes in labor relations for Bryan Cave LLP. "It doesn't surprise me that this is happening. What the end-all will be, I have no idea. But somebody is going to give a little; somebody is going to take a little."
The announcement "is a very important step forward," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who reiterated his willingness "to help resolve these disagreements and let the shows go on."
The stagehands walked off the job Saturday, shutting down 27 Broadway plays and musicals.
All week, the mood along Broadway has been one of resignation and gloom - with stagehands picketing in front of padlocked theaters, actors unable to perform, and press agents, whose union supports the stagehands, told not to promote their struck shows.
On Thursday, cast members and the producers of "The Seafarer," Conor McPherson's Irish drama, will have dinner together at an undisclosed restaurant. It was to have been the show's opening night.
Aaron Sorkin's "The Farnsworth Invention" missed its Wednesday opening. The play about the birth of television stars Hank Azaria.
Also shut down in preview performances were "August: Osage County," Tracy Letts' family drama from Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company; "Is He Dead?" an adaptation by David Ives of a comedy by Mark Twain; and Disney's "The Little Mermaid." Their openings, too, remain uncertain.
The contract dispute has focused on how many stagehands are required to open a Broadway show and keep it running. Stagehands move scenery, lights, sound systems and props into the theater; install the set and make sure it works; and keep everything functioning well for the life of the production.
The existing contract requires theaters to use at least four stagehands for plays: a carpenter, a property master, an electrician and a fourth, either a sound technician, a fly man or another stagehand. A musical also requires four stagehands, and mandates a fly man - the person in charge of raising and lowering the curtain, and anything else, such as scenery that moves up or down, or from offstage.
The league wants to have flexibility in how many stagehands are hired for shows, and does not want to use four if all are not needed.