Monday, March 3, 2003

Broadway musicians headed for strike

Talks go on to keep live performances

By Michael Kuchwara
The Associated Press

NEW YORK - The union representing Broadway musicians set a strike deadline of midnight Thursday in its battle with theater producers over the thorny issue of minimums - the number of orchestra players required for Broadway shows.

"The parties continue to be very far apart, and there's not going to be a settlement tonight," Bill Dennison, an assistant to union president Bill Moriarity, said Sunday. "We have set a strike deadline for Thursday midnight March 6."

Dennison said the producers have proposed the number of musicians required for the large Broadway theaters be reduced to seven. The minimums at those large theaters currently range from 24 to 26.

The producers would like to do away with minimums altogether, calling them "featherbedding," or requiring them to use more players than are actually needed.

The union, which currently has about 325 musicians working in 19 musicals, says the minimums are essential to keep live music from disappearing on Broadway.

Representatives of Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians and the League of American Theatres and Producers met throughout the weekend in an effort to solve the impasse.

The contract between the two groups was to expire at midnight Sunday.

The musicians had voted Saturday to give their union authority to call a strike if necessary against theater producers.

Such a walkout would affect virtually every musical on Broadway.

Last Monday, casts began rehearsing with computer-generated virtual orchestras, which producers vow to use if the musicians walk out.

That move prompted Moriarity to call for the strike authorization vote.

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