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Curtain Goes Up on Broadway; TV Airs Reruns

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Kim Masters reports on how striking writers are using the Internet on <em>Morning Edition</em>

The curtain will go up Thursday on most of the Broadway shows that have been closed for 19 days by a stagehands strike.

Stagehands and theater producers reached a tentative agreement Wednesday night that has kept more than two dozen shows in the dark.

The stagehands settlement came after the third day of sessions between Local 1 and the League of American Theatres and Producers.

Most plays and musicals that were closed during the walkout were expected to be up and running Thursday evening. Details of the five-year contract, which must be approved by the union membership, were not disclosed.

Negotiations Difficult

Negotiations, which began last summer, were difficult, right up to the last day, as both sides struggled with what apparently was the final hang-up: wages. The issue concerned how much to pay stagehands in return for a reduction in what the producers say were onerous work rules that required them to hire more stagehands than needed.

Until then, the talks had focused on how many stagehands are required to open a Broadway show and keep it running. That means moving scenery, lights, sound systems and props into the theater; installing the set and making sure it works; and keeping everything functioning well for the life of the production.

The strike, which began Nov. 10, could not have happened at a worse time for Broadway.

Such popular shows as Wicked, Jersey Boys, Mamma Mia! and The Lion King were shut during the lucrative Thanksgiving holiday week. That is normally one of the best times of the year for Broadway, when the city is filled with tourists and Christmas shoppers.

Strike Cost City $2 Million a Day

Financial losses were staggering. But it wasn't just producers and stagehands who were hurt. Actors, musicians and even press agents lost paychecks, too. Theater-related businesses also suffered.

City Comptroller William Thompson estimated the economic impact of the strike at $2 million a day, based on survey data that include theatergoers' total spending on tickets, dining and shopping. The league put the damage even higher.

Eight shows remained open during the strike because their theaters had separate contracts with Local 1, and they were joined by a ninth when Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! got a court order to let it reopen.

The end of the walkout means a scramble for new opening nights for several shows that were in previews when the strike hit. They include Aaron Sorkin's The Farnsworth Invention, August: Osage County from Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company and an adaptation of a long-lost Mark Twain comedy, Is He Dead?

Disney's The Little Mermaid already has announced it will push back its scheduled Dec. 6 opening – with a new date still to be set.

Writers Strike Continues

Meanwhile, the Writers Guild of America strike, which has shut down production on many television shows, continues. Negotiations will be held for a fourth consecutive day Thursday, according to a source familiar with the talks.

The two sides have met daily since Monday in their first set of talks since the strike began Nov. 5 over pay for work distributed via the Internet, video iPods, cell phones and other new media.

The guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the movie studios and television networks, have agreed to a news blackout on the talks.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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