Contract talks between Broadway producers (search) and the actors' union broke down, but a strike was immediately avoided when the union said actors would keep performing.

"It's important for the city's economy and we're very, very aware that this is the tourist season and taking a strike is the last resort," said Maria Somma, a spokeswoman for the Actors' Equity Association. (search)

Negotiations faltered at about 10:45 p.m. EDT Sunday, just over an hour before the original midnight deadline was to pass, Somma said.

She said the producers abruptly left the table while an Equity representative was speaking, but Bob Chlopak, a spokesman for the League of American Theatres and Producers, said talks ended because progress had slowed to a near-halt.

"There won't be a strike," Chlopak said.

About two dozen shows, including such hits as "Wicked" (search) and "A Raisin in the Sun," (search) would be affected by the outcome of the talks. Four shows -- "After the Fall," "Assassins," "Sight Unseen" and "The Frogs" -- are not covered by the negotiations.

Somma said Actors' Equity would convene a council Monday to determine the union's next steps.

The two sides have been locked in intense and mostly secretive discussions since June 10, imposing a news blackout during the last two weeks of negotiations. The key points of contention are rising health care costs and nonunion tours of Broadway shows.

Although union tours still dominate, nonunion tours -- which are cheaper to produce -- have become more numerous, including current road companies of "Oliver!" and "Oklahoma!" Many union actors fear their jobs are being outsourced to younger, more inexperienced actors who have never worked on a Broadway stage.

Equity and the League released a joint statement Sunday that progress had been made and that the "parties... remain committed to reaching a mutually agreeable contract."

In March 2003, more than a dozen Broadway musicals shut down for four days after the musicians' union walked out, resulting in lost theater revenue of more than $5 million.