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Broadway Stagehands, Producers Agree to Break in Negotiations

Striking Broadway stagehands and theater producers agreed early Monday to a 12-hour break in negotiations aimed at reopening darkened theaters.

Bruce Cohen, a spokesman for Local 1 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, announced the adjournment about 6:30 a.m. He offered no details on the talks that began Sunday evening and lasted through the night except to say that progress had been made.

The two sides are trying to resolve a thorny labor dispute that threatens a third week of mounting box-office losses. More than two dozen plays and musicals have been closed since Nov. 10, when the stagehands walked off the job.

Earlier, Cohen had said that the fact that both sides were together was itself progress. "You can't make a deal if you are not negotiating. We're still negotiating," he said.

The walkout was particularly felt during last week when most shows and theater-district restaurants do strong business during the Thanksgiving holiday. Not so this year, when only nine productions, including the newly reopened "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas," were playing, and 26 others were shut.

A settlement was believed to have been in the works Nov. 18 after a marathon weekend of negotiating, but the talks ended abruptly with producers walking out.

The complicated contract dispute has 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 producers want a flexible number; the union wants a set number and ample compensation for any concessions made.

The negotiations have been protracted. They began last summer, with each side preparing for the worst.

The producers set up a $20 million strike emergency fund, taking a couple of cents out of each ticket sold over the past several years to pay for it. The money was to help struck shows struggling with the costs of a shutdown.

The union, too, has its own fund -- benefits of more than $4.1 million for its members, as well as another $1 million allotted for members of other unions affected by the walkout.

"Grinch" came back to life Friday after its reopening was ordered by state Supreme Court Justice Helen Freedman.

The judge said she believed the show's production company would be irreparably harmed if the $6 million holiday musical wasn't permitted to resume its limited run, which ends Jan. 6.

Seven other shows, whose theaters have separate contracts with the league, remain unaffected by the walkout: "Pygmalion," "The Ritz," "Cymbeline," "Young Frankenstein," "Mary Poppins," "Xanadu" and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." An eighth, "Mauritius," finished its regularly scheduled limited engagement Sunday.