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Talks Between Striking Broadway Stagehands, Producers Collapse

Talks collapsed between Broadway stagehands and theater producers, leading to the cancellation of more than two dozen shows through Nov. 25 — the lucrative Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Negotiations broke down Sunday after a weekend of marathon meetings between Local 1 and the League of American Theatres and Producers.

"We are profoundly disappointed to have to tell you that talks broke off tonight, and that no further negotiations are scheduled," Charlotte St. Martin, the league's executive director, said in a statement.

"Out of respect for our public and our loyal theatergoers, many of whom are traveling from around the world, we regret that we must cancel performances through Sunday Nov. 25," she said.

Bruce Cohen, a spokesman for Local 1, the stagehands' union, said that before the talks broke off, the producers informed the union that what the local had "offered was simply not enough."

The union declined further comment.

The canceled performances of 27 plays and musicals during what is traditionally one of Broadway's best weeks represent millions of dollars (euros) of lost income. Some of the biggest hits, such as "Wicked" and "Jersey Boys," regularly gross over US$1 million (euro680,000) each week.

Yet the dark week could have an even more devastating effect on shows that are struggling at the box office, such as "The Drowsy Chaperone," or on new productions, which were in previews and had not officially opened when the strike began Nov. 10. They include such plays as "The Farnsworth Invention," "The Seafarer" and "August: Osage County."

One of the shows that would be particularly affected by the canceled week is the limited-engagement holiday musical, "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" The musical has 15 performances scheduled for Thanksgiving week, and would be seriously hurt if it was forced to remain dark.

"It's been really difficult for our show," James Sanna, the "Grinch" producer, said last week in an interview. "Most of the people who buy tickets for our show are families. They plan in advance."

Sanna, who is not a league member, said he was hoping to reopen the musical this week, but prospects remain uncertain.

The stagehands — who include scenery and prop handlers, carpenters, electricians, and lighting and sound technicians — have been working without a contract since the end of July. Negotiations have focused on work rules — how many stagehands are required to open a Broadway show and keep it running.

Before Saturday, the two sides had not talked since Nov. 8, and the weekend talks were reportedly tough and unyielding.

"We presented a comprehensive proposal that responded to the union's concerns about loss of jobs and earnings and attempted to address our need for some flexibilities in running our business," St. Martin said. "The union rejected our effort to compromise and continues to require us to hire more people than we need."

Eight shows, whose theaters have separate contracts with the league, remain unaffected by the walkout. They include four productions — "Pygmalion," "The Ritz," "Mauritius" and "Cymbeline" — playing at nonprofit theaters, and four other shows: "Young Frankenstein," "Mary Poppins," "Xanadu" and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." And all off-Broadway productions are open, too.