Monday, December 24, 2007

So Much For Holiday Cheer

Paul Krugman has an Op-Ed piece in the NY Times today.

But what really happened is that beginning in the 1970s, corporate America, which had previously had a largely cooperative relationship with unions, in effect declared war on organized labor.

Don’t take my word for it; read Business Week, which published an article in 2002 titled “How Wal-Mart Keeps Unions at Bay.” The article explained that “over the past two decades, Corporate America has perfected its ability to fend off labor groups.” It then described the tactics — some legal, some illegal, all involving a healthy dose of intimidation — that Wal-Mart and other giant firms use to block organizing drives.

These hardball tactics have been enabled by a political environment that has been deeply hostile to organized labor, both because politicians favored employers’ interests and because conservatives sought to weaken the Democratic Party. “We’re going to crush labor as a political entity,” Grover Norquist, the anti-tax activist, once declared.

If the past is prologue then how did the body politic of the New Deal change into Neo-Conservatism? In a book published in 1995, The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics Dan T Carter argues that the George Wallace tapped into the growing white backlash against the civil rights movement that was sweeping the country and blaming godless liberals for ruining our American values. Wallace, who consistently gathered favorable poll results of 8% outside the Deep South and gathered 30% to 43% of the votes in early primaries in 1968, represented a deep feeling of helplessness that many working and middle class Americans felt in the 60's. He also represented a threat to Richard Nixon's support among Republican voters. Nixon used an IRS investigation to force Wallace to run in the Democratic primaries instead as an independent, which would have drawn off Nixon voters.

While Nixon viewed Wallace and the sentiment he represented as a threat, Ronald Reagan saw this helplessness as an opportunity to restore and improve upon the Conservative Coalition that brought together the conservative Republicans with Southern Democrats and had ruled Congress from 1939 through 1964. The Southern Coalition was against Communism, atheism, unionism, liberalism and stood as a bulwark against the Civil Rights movement. When Reagan campaigned for President in 1980 in Philadelphia, Mississippi, he used the racist code phrase “I believe in states’ rights,” When he did, he picked up Wallace's flag in the city where civil rights workers were killed, using the language of the "Old South”, the money of supply side corporations and the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation with it's attacks on the "liberal media". Thus when Gingrich took over for Cheney as Republican House Whip in 1989 and with Reagan in the White House, the union movement was stopped in its tracks. The support unions had from the government in 1935 with the passing of the Wagner Act (NLRB) had turned hostile in 1939 with the Conservative Coalition and the passing of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947. With Reagan and Gingrich, the conservatives and the business community were out to destroy organized labor altogether and roll back the Civil Rights movement.

Today it's not politically correct to openly racist but saying "damn, there sure are a lot of illegal immigrants, let's build a wall" " is perfectly acceptable. A wall for New Mexico and not Minnesota.

Today it's not politically correct to criticize the globalization of the economy, which sends American jobs overseas, but it is all right to blame unions for sending those jobs to places where workers can be exploited.

Today it's politically correct to support the troops in Iraq and be against the war while at the same time it not correct to point out that the majority of those volunteers who have been killed in Iraq come from the Rust Belt in the upper Midwest and the poorest sections of Texas, California, Virginia, Georgia and Florida. In places where there used to be jobs other than the military. Good union jobs.

That's enough for now. Have a better New Year.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Hucksterism and The Religious State

You know, I want to like Mike Huckabee. He and I agree on at least one topic and that's the need to greatly increase arts spending in the schools. He's the only candidate talking about creating an educational system that teaches young people to be able to create content in the digital age and not just be data processors for the digital mill. At one appearance in Iowa, he got on the stage with the school band, put on a bass guitar and played "Louie, Louie" and "Sweet Home Alabama". How cool is that? He wants to create "instruments of mass instruction" in order to challenge some of the 6000 students that drop out of school each day. At least one of the candidates is talking about the subject.

However, being a musician, he is, as is wont with musicians, subject to some pretty daffy ideas. On the subject of evolution, he apparently not only disputes the theory of evolution but that "anyone who wants to believe that they are descended from primates is free to do so". I guess that when asked the old multiple-choice question about if he's animal, mineral or vegetable, his response is "none of the above".

I work with musicians and I was married to a musician so I’ve seen and talked to quite a few of them. Sweet people but I’ve learned three hard and fast rules about them. Don’t let them dress you, decorate your house or balance your checkbook.

As far as Huckabee being a minister I have far fewer qualms about that than the whole subject of religion in politics in the US. Dwight Eisenhower was a Jehovah’s Witness and Richard Nixon was a Quaker and we survived that administration, Red Scare and all. If Huckabee were elected, I doubt that we would start seeing baptisms in the Reflecting Pool but it will give some credence to the recent talking point that has been developed by the Religious Right that this country was founded on “Christian Principles.” If that were the case then I think that we would be seeing a lot more of “feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick and freeing the imprisoned”. Driving the moneychangers from the temple is pretty low on the order of priorities today.

When you go back and look at the historical data you find that among the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the majority of them were Anglicans. When Constitution was signed there were none. Why? Because the head of the Church of England was also the King of England and he expelled them for being treasonous rebels to the State and heretics to the State religion. Thus the majority of signers to the Constitution were newly created Episcopalians who had to form their own church as a result of the excommunication. Also bear in mind that this was The Age of Enlightenment and thinkers everywhere throwing off the shackles of the Roman Catholic Church, the official religion of many European states and kingdoms. Read in this light the Bill of Rights takes on a whole different context. The Freedom to Assemble, the Freedom of Speech and others Rights speak more to freedom from a religious state and the subsequent religious intolerance than the creation of a “Christian” state.

I think that the founders of this country were religious and spiritual men and women who were determined from their past experiences to keep a wall between the clergy and the government. Pretty wise people, our founders. Even if not one of them played rock and roll.

Monday, December 17, 2007

And Now For Something Entirely Different

Over here on the Right Coast, we've got that whole New Yorker magazine cover thing going on. Things diminish in importance the get further away they get from the Hudson River. So one wonders about the whole WGA strike thing with it’s lack of progress in contract negotiations and the catfight that’s going on with all the unions out there. There’s a continuing turf war going on and somehow they seem to think that this is going to benefit organized labor in some way.

I drove through Los Angeles one day back in the early 70’s in a VW van on my way to San Francisco so I’m not really up to date on the subtleties of labor relations out there. But I have done a little reading about it. For an interesting historical perspective I can point you in the direction of a book called “Class Struggle In Hollywood 1930-1950 Moguls, Mobsters, Stars, Reds and Trade Unionists”.

Another good book is Hollywood's Other Blacklist: Union Struggles in the Studio System . Neither one paints my union in a very flattering light but labor history is rarely as good as it’s painted nor as bad.

One side of why things are the way they are (at least with cartoonists) can be found in a recent post by Mark Evanier in the second “WGA Stuff” entry.

The other side is in a business article in the LA Times . It tells of the relationships and history of the Animation Guild the WGA and the networks.

In keeping with our self-criticism theme, here is a post with a view from the outside of the fray about certain labor leaders in Hollywood. In the Open Left Matt Stoller takes a dim view of the proceedings with When a Labor Union Goes Rotten It’s an unfortunate title since he’s talking about the leadership and not the 115,000 people, who make up the entertainment union.

You know, I feel like taking a shower.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Medium Is The Message

Many in the business world or right wing nut jobs (not that they are mutually exclusive) would have you believe that unions are an anachronism of a past Industrial Age. Hate to have to tell you this but collective bargaining and action are alive, well and seemingly getting stronger.

First there was the recent unpleasantness on Broadway. The "New Economy" and its adoration of the investor met an old-line craft union. Generations of relationships with the direct employers and the people who make them their money were tossed aside in pursuit of short term profit by, in essence, the renters of the employers property. The Producers resented the symbiotic relationship required of everyone in the communal art form that is theatre. Wharton School of Business doesn’t have a theatre department, which would have taught the students that Gordon Gecko was a fictional character in an art form designed to create illusions, the movies. Or perhaps it’s a knee jerk reaction to the liberal part of liberal arts. But I digress.

For those “New Economy” folks, what has happened in Times Square this week could be even more foreboding than an old union winning a strike against concessions. The creative types that Viacom exploits to sell its teen oriented products got tired of being punching bags for the bottom line and took to the streets in collective action. The use and abuse of those employees defined as freelancers, part time, independent contractors or long-term temps is an aspect of labor relations that the “New Media” relies on. Workers are viewed as a drag on profits and a managerial headache. Not only are office workers not viewed as a valued employee or even as a human but rather a disposable component of a multinational whole.

On Monday Viacom and MTV employees demonstrated a new willingness to take on the boss when Viacom bean counters, chasing the corporate mantra of getting more for less, starting another round of swapping around benefit plans in order to get less for less. The result would be that these permatemps would have to wait even longer for benefits. Oh, and another new paper employer, Cast and Crew that would keep the workers at a legal arms length. This kind of employer is a service common in the entertainment business where events are short term affairs and the contractor allows the service to do the back office tax and payroll duties. Large corporations, however, use them as a way to avoid paying benefits and reduce their own back office staff. Contract Out Everything 101 is a freshman requirement at Wharton.

While the anger is real and the needs great, the lack of several generations of protest and organizing became evident at MTV. This generation may have music videos, the Internet and You Tube; the loss of schooling in the history of social upheaval became evident, as did the fear that controls the work place. Where the stagehands refused to talk to the press it was because of the their personal knowledge of how the press twists the truth to fit a preconceived message that the front office wants to hear (every go to a show in preview and then read the review?). The writers and animators and assistants where not giving their names out of fear of retribution. “You want benefits and job security? I can hire the next college kid that walks in the door who would love to work here. What are you some kind of troublemaker?” So they demonstrated on their lunch hour.

Freelancers Walk Out at MTV Networks

But it worked. They attracted a get deal of attention; keep the pressure up and Viacom caved.

MTV to Let Freelancers Stay on Its Insurance

Anyone from the Sixties could have told them they would. They would know that it is people on the streets that get attention and not this load that was issued by Viacom.

"As you know, we’ve been holding information sessions over the past several days to discuss our freelance and temporary employee benefits. We’ve had many insightful conversations and heard a number of your specific concerns.

As a result of the input you’ve given to us directly through the sessions and your managers, we want to announce the following changes:"

Information sessions, my ass. It was your employment practices in the spotlight that did it. Left to your own devices nothing would have changed.

With entertainment being the second largest export today and the inability of the owners to ship out the culture to Asia, the “New Media” worker today have much more untapped power than they are aware of. It’s not the bosses who allow workers to organize into a unit; it’s the workers decision. They may be digital mills rather than steel mills or cotton mills or paper mills but to office workers they are mills nonetheless. And where there’s exploitation, there’s going to be unions.
Freelancers Union

Monday, December 10, 2007


I've been holding off posting anything about the strike and the contract until it was ratified. There is a superstition in the business that you don't talk about a contract until it is signed because you could jinx the deal. As with any superstition it is more about fear than reality.

Having gone over the changes there's positives and negatives that, unless you're really in the business and understand how we work, are probably going to be to arcane to go into. There are changes to work rules that at this point don't seem particularly practical but the League fought for them and got them. Changes to lunch hours, changes to rehearsal requirements, show staffing, load-in staffing and more. Some of what has been codified has been in practice for many years and the new crop of Producers were unaware of what they could do. There was chronic problem during the negotiations of the League not understanding technology and terminology. The role of the flyman in particular was difficult for them to understand. After several explanations of how shows physically load-in, the League's negotiators still kept trying to remove the role of the flyman altogether. Several times they wanted the flyman only come for the electrics prehang and do the points later, which is a little like wanting to have the drywall hung before the carpenters have put up the studs.

For me I think that the biggest change occurred when the local theatrical community stood together to protect itself. This clearly defined to me the need for members to have a strong involvement of their Local, not just in the negotiating process but also in the activities of the Local on a day-to-day basis. It is the members who really understand how their work happens and should control the voice at the table if progressive improvements and adaptive changes need to be made. Union administration needs to be from the bottom up if members are going to be protected on the job. The further an officer gets from the load-in door, the more their focus is going to be on getting the deal done so he can move on to the next task/contract. We in Local One were very fortunate to have officers that have day-to-day contact with members and venues and value their input. This wasn’t always true in our Local but that changed. Nor can I say that is true the further up the food chain you go. It’s important that the employers understand what happens to their employees and this can only be done when we negotiate for “our” terms and “our” conditions. Outsiders most often just muddy the waters or worse, have their own agendas.
So if you’re a member of a union, get involved. Join a committee, be it a negotiating, safety, pension or any of the others. Understand how the process works. If you want good people to run you Local, start by running it yourself. Bring the needs of the members to the union and not the needs of the union to the members.

We did it and it works.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


When the money runs out, so do we.

It would appear that the League took the old stagehand joke seriously. They burned through their $20 million in 2 1/2 weeks and promptly folded. And the deal went down along the lines that the Union had said, a fair exchange for work rules but no concessions.

Was a strike necessary? Evidently in the minds of certain Producers who seem to reflect the contemptuous attitude towards working people found among some bartenders, yes it was. There was going to be blood in the streets, one proclaimed.Literally, no. There were 500 people a day walking the picket lines in front of 27 venues for 10 hours a day for 19 days and, to my knowledge,not a single summons. But there was a tremendous display of solidarity from local unions inside and outside of the theatre community as well as support throughout the US, Canada and Europe.

If there was blood on the street, it flowed out from under the closed Box Office doors as productions hemorrhaged from lost ticket sales. If there was blood on the streets it was from restaurants, vendors, delis, hotels, cabs, novelty stores and other small business men and women who lost sales in order for some to gain more flexibility.

As business men and women who have an intimate knowledge of profit and loss statements (sometimes filed under fiction),the primary question will be when will they recoup what they've spent? I don't know the details of the changes in the contract or the potential impact on future productions but from what I understand, it will take a long, long time. Was it worth the disruption to the city? Was it worth the damage to the brand name that is "Broadway" that those of us who actually work in the theatre have struggled for years to attain and maintain?

It late, I'm bone tired and I have a show tomorrow. I don't have any answers to these questions nor is it even my place to try to answer them. There will be experts and pundits who will throughly discuss this in great detail and analysis right up until the start of the next news cycle.

Me, I'm just a stagehand who spends most of his time in the dark. And I'm going back to work.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Interlocking directorate? Who, me?

Over at Alternet there's a terrific piece on the strike and the MSM connections to it. Many of our members were shocked by the factually wrong information that was printed about them. Perhaps this article will explain why it happens and how the corporate culture effects them.

Broadway Corporations Like Disney Make Millions as Stagehands Strike to Save Homes, Jobs
By Nancy Van Ness, The Wip. Posted November 20, 2007.

While the commercial media obsess about tourists who can't see the Grinch, striking stagehands struggle to have their voices heard.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Prop Man At The Last Supper

One of the best ways to demonstrate that the League has miscalculated Local One and it's membership was best summarized by a merchant on 46th St. He was reported to have said that by walking the picket line the members of Local One were working harder than they had in years. While this may have more openly shown the contempt that many of the aspiring nouveau and faux riche have for working people, it also demonstrates a lack of understanding of the inner strength that workers today need to have in order to survive today. They need that strength in order to survive downsizing and real estate inflation and diminished buying power of their wages and having their sons and daughters put in harms way. They need that strength in order to keep a household together when both parents have to work.

Walking a picket line with so many people and locations keeps a person from hearing all the stories of support given to the strikers but one story I heard stands out. At a meeting held the other day, among the things discussed was a need for volunteers in the office manning the phone bank. It was hoped to avoid a reoccurrence of the unfortunate loss we suffered earlier in the strike by protecting some of the older members from the inclement weather. As I’ve said earlier, we are accustomed to working in these kinds of conditions, unloading trucks and doing outdoor events but being in a union also means we protect our own.

There were no takers. The old timers felt that their presence on the line was more important than staying comfortable. Someone was quoted that being with my friends, protecting our jobs, keeps me warm.

So the League has gone to war with the stagehands over a philosophy of more. They need more flexibility, more profit and quicker returns to the investors, more latitude to do away with the way of doing things that they don’t understand the why or how the situation or job condition came into being. So be it. They weighed the profit and loss that was going to happen when they were knew there was going to be a strike or lockout and felt that the idea of more was of greater importance than a sense of community in creating an art form. And while they may share the contempt for working people that the hash slinger on 46th St. has, they also did not understand the soul of a union member. They did not understand the hardness it takes to get by in this world of diminished expectations, the fierce protectiveness of each other when threatened or our strength in numbers. This is not just stagehands I’m talking about. The whole theatrical community has come together because they know that they are probably next in the Leagues game plan.

Just be aware that you are taking on the young and fit and the old and hard. I suspect that was the fatal flaw in your plans.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Forced Perspective

The more things change the more they stay the same.

“In Paris four out of every five plays produced succeed. In New York only two out of every five produced succeed. In Paris play production is an art and is done by professionals who regard their work seriously, as a legitimate enterprise. In New York play production is regarded on all sides and is spoken of by managers, authors, actors and the public, as a “gamble.”
It is, in its effect, and the attitude borne toward it by the chief players surely a gambling proposition. The manager, author or actor who engages in it enters precisely as does a player at Monte Carlo or any other systemized gambling institution- with the full knowledge that the chances are against his winning. The “house” has an even chance, so far as luck is concerned but a percentage is invariably demanded which makes the chances slightly against the individual gambler.”

From a New York Times article,
“Stealing Plays Nowadays Not So Easy As It Sounds”
December 8, 1912
By Richard Berry

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Little Ray Of Sunshine

Carajoy over at Full Force Theater Musings provides a very clear headed analysis of the recent past and present state of labor affairs on Broadway. Recommended reading.

It's also heartwarming to receive the outpouring of support on the picket line. One of the quickest ways to a stagehands heart is through his or her stomach. The local merchants and other unions have kept us going. Not just the craft truck sent by Local 52, the IATSE film local, which was great but also the food sent over by Local 6 Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union. Food and coffee from deli's and restaurants keep us going day and night. Individuals bring boxes of pizzas. It's really just amazing. I'm sure it's happening on every street where there's a picket line so if I try to thank every one individually, I'm sure to miss someone.Thank you every one.

Also a big thank you to Father Baker from the Actor's Chapel. He's been terrific with our spiritual needs. In fact, according to rumor, his support of the theatre community has threatened some of his funding. Certain folks want their ministering left to Sundays, thank you very much. I would suggest that the loss of big checks could be replaced by a whole lot of small ones. Set up an auto draft of $10 a week to St. Malachys. It won't hurt a bit, I promise. There are a lot of good programs there, every day of the week.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Yes, as through this world I've wandered I've seen lots of funny men; some will rob you with a six-gun, And some with a fountain pen”
Woody Guthrie

One of our own died last night on the picket line. He died because an irresponsible commitment to improving margins. He died because of inflammatory rhetoric. He died because of a lack of compassion and a misplaced sense of entitlement.

But he also died because of his own drive to see the fight thought to the end. He died because of his commitment to improving the life of his natural family, his extended family and his community. He died for all the right reasons and all the wrong reasons. We, as his coworkers and fellow union members are filled with sadness at his loss, his loss for all the wrong reasons. We are also filled with admiration for his care, his love, his drive.

Black armbands had spontaneously appeared on the line throughout the day. Most were made of nice pieces of velour from the ladies of the wardrobe union. Some made from duvateen from television studios and other sources. Duvateen is a simple black cloth that is used for masking sets, a tool. Today that simple tool was turned into a symbol of mourning and resistance.

Tonight we gathered by his stagedoor. It was a brief time for him and for us. The solemnity of the moment was marked by its quietude. We, as a group, tend towards volubility, a love of talk, chat, gossip and verbal gymnastics. There was none of that in the breezeway tonight. His loss fundamentally changed the nature of our struggle. This fight stopped being a fight over money and became struggle for our dignity.

Our Pastor, who has stood by us, said the classic prayers. There were a few words from union leaders and we quietly drifted away.

Whatever happens with the contract, whatever happens to the conditions and the money, his loss and how and why it happened will be remembered for a generation.

Normally we would expect this event to simply end up on a paragraph in the back of the tabloid with a headline, ”Stagehand Dies In A Fight Over Money”. But his passing and how it happened will be written large for us for a long time. It will be burned into our hearts and taught to those who follow us.

Friday a stagehand died in a fight over money. Don’t ever forget.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

League, Thy Name Is Hubris.

"League officials said that the current contract was far out of line with industry practices in the rest of the country and that they would not sign another one with these provisions."

This doesn't exactly sound like something I'd be bragging about. Imagine a stagehand anywhere seeing this contract detailed for the first time. If the stagehands in NYC have provisions that protect crew size, that have provisions that protect the safe operation of the theatre, that have a viable middle class wages with benefits and I was a stagehand at a venue in a smaller market and I didn't have these things, I'd be pretty honked off. Right to work state or not, ticket prices aren't scaled back that far in most of these tour barns. What do you mean I can't have what the Local One in New York City has? Why the hell not? I’m doing the same work and you’re charging New York prices. The lowest guy makes $1200 a week and I’m making $800 for the same hours? Screw you! Overtime after eight. You bet. You mean that they can’t break the yellow card early? I want that. An extra hour just to mop and so we don’t have to do preset on a wet deck? Not anymore! And they’re getting all that support from the other unions. Maybe I’ll go talk to the Equity deputy and the musicians and see what we can do together”

The League may have just set its world on fire.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Clearly Channeling a lot of crap.

From comes a story that is sounding a little familiar.

"For 34 years, Bill Trowbridge was a sign hanger, one of those guys who puts up billboards."

"Five years ago, the media conglomerate Clear Channel bought the company and tried to make a profitable business more profitable. They offered buyouts that cut the 48 employees in Local 391 of the sign workers in half. But that wasn't enough.
Last March, Clear Channel told the remaining workers that they were unilaterally changing their hours, wages, and benefits. Men who were making $24 an hour, working a 40-hour week, were told they would be paid $15 per sign and would have to hustle to do as many signs as they could, safety be damned, with work hours set arbitrarily by management."

In 2004, the AFL-CIO commissioned a report on Clear Channel by Cornell University, It said, "The study also details at length Clear Channel’s growing web of influence in the political arena, a troubled history of adversarial labor relations and pattern of scofflaw behavior that has resulted in Clear Channel being sanctioned by federal and state agencies. Chelli Penigree, president of Common Cause, singled out the report’s examples of the Clear Channel money trail “which details a carefully crafted, money-driven development of insider connections not only with George W. Bush but with the rest of the Republican-controlled federal government as well.”

The entire report can be found at Clear Channel Final Report. In the Labor Relations section on Page 28, it says that "Clear Channel's business model is based on providing low cost media and entertainment services. The company typically seeks overall labor reductions by consolidating operations and eliminating positions, introducing labor saving technologies, concessionary bargaining with unions, and even pursuing union decertification. These strategies have a negative impact on employment and labor standards in the industry segments where the company operates. "

Are you a Springsteen fan? You won't hear his new album on a Clear Channel. From Fox News. "Bruce Springsteen should be very happy. He has the No. 1 album, a possible Grammy for Best Album of the Year for "Magic," an album full of singles and a sold-out concert tour.
Alas, there’s a hitch: Radio will not play "Magic." "In fact, sources tell me that Clear Channel has sent an edict to its classic rock stations not to play tracks from "Magic." But it’s OK to play old Springsteen tracks such as "Dancing in the Dark," "Born to Run" and "Born in the USA." He's being "Dixie Chicked"

What;s this to do with our little set to? Want to know who's driving this bus? IBDB has the list of shows Clear Channel has done on Broadway, either it or SFX. The SFX that was started by, sold by and bought back at fire sale terms by,Bobby Sillerman. NYT. "Grosses? You don't need no stinkin grosses." This from the NY Times article about the sale. "David Miller, an analyst at Sanders Morris Harris, said the executives had stated on conference calls and in visits with investors that "they were committed to the entertainment business for the long term."Mr. Miller added that "ultimately, what did them in is, the Clear Channel Entertainment brand name doesn't hold a lot of good will in the live entertainment community." This guy Miller has a degree in understatement.

My guess that Clear Channel is quite comfortable with fellow Texan, Charlotte, fronting for them. And just as comfortable that we're out on the street.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Tiger's heart wrapped in a Player's hide.

The labor dispute on Broadway reveals again just how far we as a society have gone from in putting the needs of the moneyed ahead of all else. The wealthy piously speak of a need to get a good return on their investment at the expense of the society around them and demand that this outlook should form our own. We are told that our core as humans is about commerce rather than community.

What is art? Is it an experience or an investment? The actors in The Lord Chamberlain's Men had shares in the company. Did they create Shakespeare’s greatest plays for profit or the joy of storytelling? Did Pirandello take over the Teatro d'Arte di Roma because he was a Fascist or because Fascism and Mussolini allowed him his self-expression?

Bertolt Brecht believed that it was the duty of theatre to educate. "It is the noblest function that we have found for 'theatre'". He wrote "The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny" because he thought operas had become too full of ritual and bereft of substance. Yet could he have come to that conclusion if he had not lived in decadent Weimar Germany? Could he have survived in East Germany if he did not have the income from the Berliner Ensemble?

Who will inherit the mantle of O’Neill, Miller, Mamet or Shepard, the hard, American playwrights? What investor will step forward and say that the duty of theatre is to teach and create a collective experiment for both the artist and audience? We have our own wars, dispossessed populations, people making hard choices about family and life and death. Who is telling those stories? And why aren’t people watching? Or is that they simply cannot find an outlet?

I would be a lot more willing to make the sacrifices that I’m being told to make if the stories that were being told had meaning beyond a return on an investment. If audiences came out of the theatre with a different outlook on life instead of with a smile and some merchandise, then I could feel that I’m involved with something resembling art.

I’ll help sell your tickets and help promote your entertainment but your cause is not my cause. You may hire me as and consider me to be no more than menial labor but I spend far more time in a playhouse than you and consider its forms. This is my home and I have seen the power of the performance so ephemeral that it disappears with the first burst of applause. I've felt the audience respond with rapt attention and an explosion of joy.

The power of the art form is in the message not the profit. Speaking for myself, your cause is not my cause.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

We will do whatever it takes for as long as it takes.


That's not just a word to the Broadway theatrical community. For the second time in this decade, we have felt it and lived it. And each time that solidarity is tested, we become stronger for it, individually and as a community. You, the Producer, do this. We rediscover that part of the human spirit that we have been alienated from, the power of the group, the tribe, the union. This is a sense that can only be found during times of mutual trial.

Today started with a sense of solemn commitment. We were beginning a course of action that was not one we chose but rather one that was forced upon us. There were no cheers when the crews walked out of their theatres. There were no cheers when those out on the street refused to pick up their tools and instead picked up picket signs. We had to break our first commandment, “the show must go on.”

It was a trial. As a group, we had to call on those skills most commonly found inside of the theatre, not outside of one. We had to organize ourselves into action, with an aim and a goal. The groundwork had been laid and we had been given our new tools but we had to learn how to really use them. Some started to walk right away and some defiantly stood their ground. Through the long morning and afternoon some of us discovered we had not dressed warmly enough. All of us have worked in the cold, the heat, and the rain so weather is not something we are unaccustomed to. We just need to be prepared. Some of use got foot weary. All of us have spent hours upon hours on our feet, in grids, on trucks, on studio floors. This not something we are unaccustomed to. We just need to be prepared. Now we know what to expect. It will be like any long load-in, hour upon hour on our feet, in the cold. This not something we are unaccustomed to.

The late afternoon was the hardest. We were alone on the line. We were tired, cold, sore and determined.

Then they started to arrive. The other members of our theatrical community joined us on the line and spirits lifted. Where there were a few determined people trudging along, now there were many. Now there was cheering when passing cars honked in support. Matrons of a certain age, union members for decades, carried signs and smiled. House Managers, Box Office Personnel, Chorus Members, Dancers, Actors, Musicians, union members all, walked and carried signs in support of our common struggle. And we did what we knew best. We had a big finish.

You have united us as a community.

We will do whatever it takes for as long as it takes. This not something we are unaccustomed to. We’ve put your shows on. We have worked long hours and not seen home but briefly, for weeks at a time. Sacrifices come with the entrance into this community. Sacrifices you now seem to be unaware of but we know intimately. And now that common strength is united against you and we will not fail.

We will do whatever it takes for as long as it takes.

Friday, November 9, 2007

I are a riter.

Those Left Coast folks sure can go out on strike good. Websites, podcasts, Youtube, so cool.
Actually this dispute is doing a great deal of good for organized labor. These highly creative types are using every available media to get their message out and I think the rest of us can take quite a few lessons from them. As someone who has just started blogging (learning to create a link was a big deal), their use of podcasts to just talk about the reasons for the strike, their use of Youtube to show off the real people behind the dispute and even graphics to reveal arcane financial information is terrific.

To help understand the basics behind the dispute, go to Why We Fight and don't miss the Frank Capra reference in the title.

For information from Hollywood picket lines (and all you favorite stars), go to United Hollywood an unofficial blog started by a group of strike captains from the WGA.

And for a very human look at writing in Hollywood and television, go to the samandjimgotohollywood and listen to the entire podcast Show #35 because they reference the recent rallies, being conservative, scabs, residuals.

Many of my Brothers and Sisters in IATSE are losing quite a bit of work because the strike but I think I speak for any union worker in this country. Any group of people that are risking their livelihoods in order to improve their voice at work, deserve to be supported. There are new ways to help spread the union message and we have to use all of them, all the time.

Thanks WGA, your fight is our fight.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Life Backstage

Here's a blog from a compatriot in the television side of Local One. The Humble Nailbanger is an excellent writer and observer of the human condition.

Here's a blog from a Boston member of IATSE Local 11. The site is primarily photos and video from follow spot perches. If you have a fear of heights, Behind The Beam is not for you. If, on the other hand, you want to see what a lot of us see, check it out.

As more of our members use the Internet, I'll link to them. Every one of us has a voice and deserves to be heard.

Who's Driving This Bus?

According to a Crain's New York article about Charlotte St. Martin the head flack for the League of American Theatres and Producers, she is bewildered and surprised.

“I am surprised that with the number of hours we’ve been at the table together, we haven’t made more progress in really developing a new contract that’s more representative of business conditions today,”

So are the stagehands.

“[We] are trying to improve the future of the health of the industry so Broadway will continue to survive in times that aren’t as healthy as today,” Ms. St. Martin said. “When you fill as many seats as we’re filling and still have losses every night, you have to have new business conditions.”

Now the problem is the new business conditions (don't look at the grosses) and not the lack of quality scripts.

So the PR campaign has taken a new tack. The League of American Theatres and Producers is trying to save the industry from it's own success. Let me see if I can get this straight. Times are good so Local One and the theatrical unions have to tighten our belts so that when times are bad, Local One and the theatrical unions can tighten our belts. And you're surprised that the League hasn't made more progress at the table?

An insight into the lack of awareness that the Producers have about the day to day workings of a theatre can be found in a CNN transcript of an interview with Jonathan Tisch chairman of the Loews Hotel chain and Ms St. Martins former boss.

He spent a couple of days working in one of his hotels for a short lived TLC show called "Now Who's Boss? Should Ms. Martin have been paying attention she might have gotten some insight into the inner working of show business. The show only lasted for 5 episodes. Hello Unemployment. I can only presume they cleared the illegals out of the hotel before the TV crew got there.

"TISCH: One of the reasons I wanted to do the show was to have a better understanding of something that I knew already, which is the concept that our employees are more responsible for our success as a hotel company than in many ways I am. So to go down there, and having done the housekeeping position, and look at the 35 individuals who do this every single day on a particular shift, and also to understand that they're from 12 different nations, they speak six different languages, and somehow every single day this has to come together to turn over an 800-room hotel, and make the beds and clean the bathrooms. So I just wanted to tell them that I appreciate what they do."

I suggest that Ms. St Martin, the investors and the producers jump in on the next load-in. "Hey Charlotte, take off your heels and drop these points from the grid." 'Hey Trust Fund Baby, run these feeders from the basement to the jump and make it neat." "Yo, Max Bialystock, the trucks are here."

Friday, November 2, 2007

No Moving Lights, No Tony

WARNING: If you think that a moving head is the same as a bobble head, you may not want to continue reading this post.

Part of the misinformation campaign that the League has waged is to take proposals about staffing and twist them out of context in order to make Local One look like a bunch of fat, lazy, union guys out to that do nothing and get over-paid for it. Granted there is a kernel of truth in it. The percentage of people who work like that tends to be universal. Theatre management is not immune to the person who drifts through work, having little ambition and taking up space.

One of the most convoluted of these issues is the one where "In some instances up to three electricians have operated the board that controls light, projection and sound cues -- a job that can be handled by one electrician." Ignoring for the moment that this is a work rule the League already has, consider what kind of machine is that can do all these things. Lighting, projection and sound. For somebody who started in the business when rotary dimmers and 6x9 Lekos were the norm, I stand in awe at these what has happened in the course of my career in terms of technology.

When "Chorus Line" opened in 1975, Tharon Musser was the first to bring a computer board to Broadway to control lighting cues. When Vari-lites first came out, their proprietary systems were so protected that techs had to open them up and work on them under a sheet or drop in order to keep prying eyes away.

In today’s world lighting designers say "no moving lights, no Tony." Everyone who has read this far has seen a Vari-Lite in action even if they don't know the proper name for them. But far fewer are aware of the newest equipment that this contract issues revolves around.

The extraordinary High End Systems has a line of units that are outstanding. The DL-2 digital lighting unit that has enormous capability. I won't go into the details but it lights, it projects, it sees in the dark and it can record video. High End also has a terrific range of other products such as the Whole Hog 3 board and the Showgun luminaries.

There are some terrific Strand boards that are radically different from the the older boards. There is also a line of LED washes from Color Kinetics that can create milions of colors and consume very little electricity. The Color Blast and the Color Blaze line are really going to change the future of theatrical lighting.

It takes a pretty sophisticated programmer and operator to be able to do all this and the Local has several. This is the future and we, as stagehands, embrace it. So when you hear the Producers complain about costs, look at the type of equipment we run and the dollars that this equipment and its operators earn them.

Darpa Geek Stuff

Tomorrow is Darpa's Urban Challenge, a race designed for autonomous vehicles. The vehicle must complete a 60 mile closed course in six hours, following California traffic laws and mixing with 50 human driven traffic.

“Vehicles competing in the Urban Challenge will have to think like human drivers and continually make split-second decisions to avoid moving vehicles, including robotic vehicles without drivers, and operate safely on the course. The urban setting adds considerable complexity to the challenge faced by the robotic vehicles, and replicates the environments where many of today’s military missions are conducted.”

-Dr. Norman Whitaker, Urban Challenge Program Manager

Wired has been covering the run up to the race in it's Danger Room blog.

I love this kind of stuff. The entertainment business has gotten technologically more complex and computer driven. Many stagehands now come into the business with a love of spectacle and technology and are terrific engineers and programmers.

The race will be webcast, starting at 7:30 AM, PST.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Accidents as a way of life

I like to read because it's a look into life on the road and it's a little different world than Broadway. We do exactly the same things(set up stages, lighting, sound) and often in the same kind of lousy weather. However in NYC, we (the local crew) get off work, get on public transportation and sleep in our own beds. The roadies live their lives from arena to hotel to the bus and back.

One of the things often overlooked in the recent dispute with the League is the quality of the Local One crews. Since we do this work regularly, incessantly, we're pretty damn good at it and pretty fast. It's that whole NY minute thing. And we're safe at it. I recently spoke with a Onesie who is out of town. He told me that he was appalled that the Local Crew he was working on took 4 hours to set up part of an opera. "It would have taken an hour at the State and we would have gotten yelled at for taking to long!" Opera is a way of life in NYC. Not so much in other places, so it takes a little longer.

Rarely do we have problems like the canopy collapse at the Akon concert at Emory. In reading the blog about it on, it seem that this is the second time in two years that this has happened to this particular company.

In Spain, three stagehands are killed in a collapse at a Stones concert.

And for anyone who deals regularily with issues of public assembly, be it backstage or FOH, this Great White Fire video should be required viewing at least once a month, as a refresher. It's long and very difficult to watch so be forewarned. Go to the second entry for a link that skip the pop-ups.

In Local One, we've had our share of accidents, regretfully. Most can't be avoided. The causes can vary from exhaustion to carelessness to poor planning. We work to avoid them. The premise is that if I look out for my coworker, they will look out for me. This still holds true for us.

One other place I recommend is Bill Sapsis's site. Devoted to riggers, it promotes safety and technology.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Pigs, Lipstick, Producers and the Press

In The Playgoer post about Linda Winer’s complaint about the Producers of “Walmartopia” and "Grease" pulling quotes, he cites a made up word to describe the situation, contextomy. Here is an example of just what I was describing in my previous post about the stagehands that complain about the press publishing the “lies” that the League of American Theatres and Producers are putting out about Local One without the context. Readers tend to accept on the surface what is printed or published but when a writer is personally involved, they’re shocked that the news bears little semblance to the truth. The Critics Circle wants to create a “commission” to research ethical breaches in the area of theatre reviews. A lot of research has already been done about the whole lack of quality journalism at FAIR or Project Censured. I would suggest that Howard Kissel, who is to run the Commission, start searching for ethical breaches on the front page and work his way back to the sports pages.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Swiftboating On Broadway

Regularly, in discussing the contract dispute with my fellow stagehands, I’m always startled when they complain of what they view as the lies being put out by the League of American Theatres and Producers. I respond by saying that if this is how your story is being reported in the mainstream press, a story that you know more intimately than any casual reader, imagine that this is happening with every story that they read in the press. The supposed facts are being twisted and the Local One is being cast in the worst possible light. Now imagine someone in each story is being demonized for the benefit of someone else’s purpose.

In today’s parlance it’s called “swift boating”.

After a political group attacked John Kerry’s military record and evoked the turmoil of the Viet Nam war era by using carefully chosen words and phrases designed to cast him in the worst possible way, Kerry’s campaign was over. The mainstream media simply went along because they had been cowed with a similar campaign painting them as having a “liberal bias.” Now, instead of having reporters skeptically asking their sources if the information is true, the vast majority of reporters will passively accept what is given them and pass it along as information. I worked for the better part of a decade at a major television network and saw this process from the inside.

Anyone who has seen their job “outsourced” or “downsized” or tried to preserve their benefits, will recognize the public relations playbook being used by the League. The carefully constructed phases have been tested in focus groups to create powerful negative images. They have dragged out “featherbedding”. They have used “archaic work rules”, “most highly paid”, “fair and balanced”, “at this critical time”, “no work, no pay”, “pay even more people to do nothing”, “hire people who don't do work”, “fair work practices”, “people who don't do work” and more. Bearing little resemblance to the actual facts, these phrases evoke a workplace of big-bellied white guys with their knuckles dragging on the floor that are keeping the poor investors from getting a good return on their money. Not a word is spoken of the skill it takes to create the illusion that is theatre eight shows a week. Nor any reference to the endurance of working eight to midnights for weeks at a time in order to get the show ready for first preview. Not a word is spoken about the time away from the family or working nights, weekends and holidays to get the show on.

But we in IATSE knew that these are the work conditions when we went into this business. We’ve adapted and embraced technology that reduces manpower but creates better illusions the audience demands. Many of these same work rules have been agreed to over the years because both sides recognized that this was a unique business that attracted a unique cast of characters.

What’s forgotten in the demonizing is that in the days following September 11th, when there was smoke still hanging in the air and Times Square was empty, this Local took a 25% pay cut in order to keep shows running. Now with the houses full and every house booked the League of American Theatres and Producers wants us to take a permanent 38% pay cut.

Now I know how Max Cleland felt.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

New Rules

So the "new rules" have been implemented and the world as we stagehands know it has not stopped spinning on it's axis. From what I've seen they're more about petulance than productivity. The guy who mops gets a cut in pay for an hour. The crews can't leave until checking with Stage Management to find out if there is "something broken". The provided lunch may consist of cold pizza. In some houses, the stagehands have to stay until the end of their call no matter how long the show has been over. "Post show work, don't need it to make you stay. Stay here until I tell you to go."

Here's Playbills article about the newly imposed work rules. Read this and decide if any of this is worth going to war over.

Anyone who has been involved with "downsizing" is familiar with the routine. Some MBA decides that the old rules are "archaic" and "inefficient" and sets about letting the market decide what's the best, new, modern way to run things. In what Joseph Schumpeter, in 1942, described as "creative destruction" a brilliant entrepreneur introduces innovation and casts aside the former giants because this will cause innovation and economic development, or as least as it is taught at Wharton and Harvard Business School. Jack Welsh, a demigod in the today's business pantheon, once said that, if he had his way, all the GE factories would be put on rafts and floated to where ever labor was cheapest. You see it's for the benefit of the investor. A modern company doesn't exist to sell products or be part of the community. It exists in order to return a profit for the investor. The investor is the key component here, the raison d'être. Kissinger used this term in one of his books to describe Cardinal Richelieu’s foreign policy in which a State acts solely in its own best interests. Here the Corporation does the same. Richelieu didn’t think the state was comprised of its people but rather of its leaders. Today the Corporation does the same.

The League of American Theatres and Producers has its raison d'être. Not to assist in creating art but to sell tickets. To sell tickets quickly in order to return profit sooner to the investors. The New Broadway Order will stop at nothing in order to accomplish this. So get used to this. The Theatrical Syndicate maintained a chokehold on this industry until the Shubert Brothers used some creative destruction to stop them. Now it’s going to be used on the Shuberts and on the working people who have benefited from the rather comfortable system the Theatre Owners have set up. The other IATSE Theatrical Locals will be next. Then Equity. And then they will turn on the Theatre Owners.

Après moi le deluge.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Class Struggle, The Post and Oxymorons

From Michael Reidel’s COST OF CLASS STRUGGLE column in the Post.

If class struggle is being mentioned in The Post, odds are the result will be at best, inane.

Rich people can be awfully sentimental about the working classes.

Actually, Mike, rich people think the working classes suck. They don’t want their smelly factories in their hometowns so they ship those nasty, damn things and their crummy unions off to overseas. There our little brown and yellow skinned friends can work in the smelly factories and become consumers themselves. The rich have convinced themselves that they have their own economy, the financial economy, separate from everyone else’s and that theirs is the ultimate expression of American might. Wait, Americanism is déclassé. Real people, our people, the wealthy, are citizens of the world, multinationals, whose expression is the ultimate example of the might of wealth. Our wealth.

Broadway has turned its back on the working and middle classes.

Again, Mike, not so much. Broadway has never really embraced the working and middle class. As a stagehand I've studied this a bit. Vaudeville and burlesque were it entertainment for the masses. Then radio and film. Then television. Now it’s the Internet. To say Broadway has turned it’s back on the working and middle class is like saying the Metropolitan Opera turned it’s back on the same audience. They were never invited to the party in the first place. The fact that the grosses on Broadway have risen so high speaks to the rise of tourism in Times Square and the loss of elitism on Broadway. An elitism the League of American Theatres and Producers is marketing and cheapening at the same time. Broadway is becoming more common rather than less. The aspiration of the middle class for an exposure to culture is main factor driving greater attendance. However, the topicality of the productions also speaks to that lack of understanding of the power of theatre.

The majority of US soldiers killed in Iraq are from the Rust Belt of the Upper Midwest. There are no jobs, no future and the only way out is through the Armed Forces or interior immigration. Hundreds of thousands of people are in the US illegally from all over the world and we don’t hear their stories? Single parent families dominate our society and commercial Broadway theatre ignores the implications. Off-Broadway and smaller spaces will take these issues on but their exposure is extremely limited. Adaptations of movies and revivals of past hits indicates the comfort level of both Broadway investor and audience is quite low to risk while the lack of new dramas and musicals telling powerful, modern stories says that audiences and investors have no appetite for challenging subject matter.

The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e., the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. Karl Marx

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Reducing The Odds

The League is linking shows closing to the cost of labor. Somehow "Ring of Fire" was more expensive than "Jersey Boys". "Festen" and "The Pirate Queen" were more expensive than "Spring Awakening". They all loaded in with the same size crews. The only real difference is that some were hits and some weren't. The Producers are telling each other (and their Investors) that if only we could reduce costs, we would have hits, hits and more hits. The way I see it is that this like going to a casino and telling the waitress that brings you drinks she needs to work for less because you don't like the odds at the craps table.

The head of the League, Charlotte St. Martin (formerly of the hospitality industry where they know how to treat workers. According to a Pew Study, 17% of all illegal Mexican immigrants work in the hospitality industry.) takes a chapter out the old union-busting handbook and makes illusions to what had been known as "featherbedding" (being forced to hire workers for jobs that don't exist any more due to technology). There's a saying in my business. "A lack of planning on your part does not necessarily constitute an emergency on my part." If the production team for the show doesn't have it's act together and wastes time, this is my problem how, exactly? On the shows I've worked, this poor planning is found more frequently with less experienced teams, with less experienced producers, usually in shows that are done on the cheap. Shows that close quickly but have generated income for the Producers in preproduction, at the expense of the Investors, for months if not years.

By lowering the bar for production, you'll lower the bar for production values. The Producers will take Investor's money for weaker and weaker shows (Batman, The Musical, Abie's Irish Rose, The Musical). By lowering production values, you end up with lifetime work for Producers, greater risk for Investors and a cheapening of the brand that is Broadway.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Business Of Bway

I’d be more inclined to protect these investors if the investors had a little better sense of theatre. If they knew more of David Merrick and less of Rupert Murdock we wouldn’t be loading in shows the likes of Festen, Lestat, or The Pirate Queen. Never heard of them. It’s because they didn’t last very long, They weren’t very good. As the Broadway expression goes, “people stayed away in droves.”
The investors could go to the NYC Public Library, go to the classics section and begin their theatre education there. Instead they seem to have developed their theatrical investing style out of the Daily Racing Form or the craps table in Atlantic City. Roll the dice and make big money. What they also seem to fail to understand is that while they may be risking their disposable income on a long shot, the actors, stagehands, dressers, musicians, ushers and others who make this magic happen (and no, a flying car is not magic) are risking mortgage payments, tuition payments, credit card payments, food shopping and other trivial items when we make a commitment to spend six nights and eights shows a week on this turkey for months at a time, even before it opens.
The biggest difference seems to be that we went into this transient business knowing that every show closes, there would be times when we have to scramble for work, that we would work on turkeys. When we “don’t send your laundry out.” We also make the big money possible. We run the Phantoms, the Les Miz’s, The Lion Kings, the Miss Saigon's, the Chorus Lines for six nights a week, 52 weeks a year in small, cramped, often outdated theatres. At home and on the road.
If these investors would spend as much time reading the Bard was well as Barron’s they would know that Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. Understand the business better, understand the art better and you’ll make better investments.
We know what we are, but not what we may be.

Leo, Not For Profits and Unpaid Crew

There’s an interesting blog at the Seems Leonardo DiCaprio's new doc, the Eleventh Hour, was made mostly non-union. Because, you see, it was so low budget and such a good cause that nobody who really works on the movie should pay their bills or mortgages. Particularly since Leo isn't getting any good PR for it. He's practically GIVING IT AWAY! Leo, who has four movies on the hook of which he is producing three, worked under a SAG contract for the doc. It would appear he doesn’t particularly feel he needs to return the favor and use IATSE contracts for his pet projects.
I’m always amazed that when those that use the not-for-profit dodge feel that somehow the work that is put in to create their projects is inherently different and lesser than a for-profit project. The scenery, the lighting, the camera work, the editing are the same. The skill and effort it takes to present these projects are the same as for-profits. The hours are just as long. My landlord doesn’t give a rat’s ass if I’m working on a not-for-profit, nor does the grocer or utility company.
Pay me union wages, cover my benefits and then I’ll decide if I want to kick in my paycheck. You’ll get a quality work and I too can feel good about you little happy dance.
Spread the joy. Hire Union.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Samnick The Seer

Seems this guy's crystal ball is working overtime (I wonder if that's billable hours). Hey Norm, any leader wants their legacy to be one of peace and prosperity. It's just that, unlike in boardrooms and law offices, a labor leader knows that the best way to leave a their union in better shape than before is to instill a fighting spirit. What better way than a highly publized punch-up in the middle of Times Square. And what better way to inspire the troops than to show them you have the power to close Broadway. That will leave in it's wake long term peace, prosperity and good morale. It's called a silver platter.

Some of Norm's predictions.

Published: September 15, 1993
From the Kennedy Center musicians' point of view, that is exactly what is at issue in their strike. The talks broke down when the center said it wanted to eliminate contract provisions that guarantee the orchestra's 61 players 10 weeks of ballet performances each season. "If we need 40 musicians," asked the center's lawyer, Norman Samnick, "why should we hire 61? If we have six weeks of work, why should we pay for 10?"

October 04, 2007
However, one attorney with extensive experience in labor matters said he does not believe the league is trying to send a message to the other unions. "I don't think that's the intent," said Norman Samnick, who has bargained against other IATSE chapters about 25 times on behalf of theatres and other venues around the country. "If they really mean what they say, they're going to say it, they're going to do it, and if it rubs off on the other unions, so be it. I don't think they're looking at it like 'I've got another six-shooter here and I'm going to use it on you.' "

Wed Oct 10, 5:09 PM ET
"This is a nervous time for everybody," said Norman Samnick, an entertainment lawyer who specializes in labor relations for Bryan Cave LLP. "Ultimately, it's about the first one to blink.

October 12. 2007 2:13PM
“Waiting till shows are loaded in is a good strategy,” says Norman Samnick, an attorney with Bryan Cave, who has negotiated against the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees in the past. “If the shows are loaded in, they could even operate without stagehands.”

(That is of course, if the actors and musicians crossed picket lines.)

The union is now getting ready to respond to anything the League decides to do. It is even taking steps to skirt the necessary permission to strike from Thomas Short, international president of IATSE. Mr. Short didn't return calls for comment, but theater executives say he doesn't want to authorize a strike.

“Tom is retiring next year and he doesn’t want a strike as his legacy,” Mr. Samnick says. “He doesn’t want to be known as the guy who closed Broadway.”