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Second Day of Dark Theaters on Broadway as Stagehand Strike Continues

It was a second day of dark Broadway theaters and disappointed audiences as striking stagehands reaffirmed their commitment Sunday to remain off the job until producers started acting "honorably" at the negotiating table.

James J. Claffey Jr., president of Local One, said the League of American Theatres and Producers needs to make a "constructive" adjustment to its counter offers.

"We want respect at the table," he said at a somber news conference. "If there's no respect, they will not see Local One at the table. The lack of respect is something we are not going to deal with."

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Twenty-seven shows remained closed Sunday, the day after stagehands went on strike, shutting down such popular productions as "Wicked," "The Phantom of the Opera," "Hairspray," "Jersey Boys" and "Mamma Mia!"

Among the shows canceled Sunday was a gala 10th-year anniversary performance of "The Lion King," although a party celebrating the Disney musical's decade-long run was still being held.

Producers of "August: Osage County," a play by Tracy Letts from Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company, said they may postpone its scheduled Nov. 20 opening. And the producers have offered to pay for the cast members' return to Chicago during the work stoppage.

Pickets again walked quietly in front of the struck theaters around Times Square, and few pedestrians were seen on normally crowded side streets in the area.

Eight shows, which have separate contracts with the union, remained open and did strong, often sold-out business on Saturday, a two-performance day. Among the attractions still running are "Young Frankenstein," "Mary Poppins," "Xanadu" and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," as well as four shows — "Pygmalion," "The Ritz," "Mauritius" and "Cymbeline" — playing at nonprofit theaters.

The same-day discount tickets booths in Times Square and at the South Street Seaport remained open, serving the Broadway shows unaffected by the walkout as well as all off-Broadway productions, which were up and running.

On Sunday, there were lines at the Times Square location, but it was not as crowded as usual. A sign said there were no Broadway shows available and suggested off-Broadway options.

Perry Welch, in town from Seattle, was in line hoping to get tickets to "The Fantasticks" or "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change."

"We had tickets for 'Rent,' (but) that's not going to happen," he said.

No new negotiations have been scheduled between the union and the league, and resumption of talks appears uncertain. Mayor Michael Bloomberg again offered his assistance on Sunday, saying "the city will do everything it can to help (reach an agreement)."

But both sides are standing firm, however.

"We're fighting for our lives," Claffey said at the news conference. "We're fighting for the people out there, the middle class. A middle-class job we're trying to protect."

On Saturday, Charlotte St. Martin's the league's executive director charged, "The union chose to strike — without notifying us — rather than to continue negotiations. But our members are united in their commitment to achieving a fair contract. Our goal is simple: To pay for workers we need and for work that is actually performed."

The two sides have been involved in lengthy, tension-filled negotiations since last summer. Much of their disagreements involve work rules and staffing requirements, particularly rules governing the expensive process of loading in and setting up a show. The producers want more flexibility in hiring; the stagehands don't want to give up what they say are hard-won benefits without something in return.

Claffey has enlisted the support of other theatrical unions, including those representing musicians and actors.

Said John Connolly, head of Actors' Equity Association, "We regret these theaters are closed. We are sorry we are not where we want to be: on stage, entertaining our audiences. That's what we do, that's what we live for. We didn't shut the theaters. We didn't make $100 ticket prices. We did not say it is our mission to re-fashion the economics of the theater industry. The employers did that."