“Newsies”‘s a Snoozie but Stagehands’ Union Stops the Music at Carnegie Hall

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May be Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbank would have been perfect for the roles of Katherine Plumber (nom de plume of Ms. Pulitzer) and Jack Kelly in the Broadway Musical, Newsies. As is, the acting and the dancing are energetic and the stage decorations are quite good, but the music and the lyrics are sadly forgettable (something loud about unions, and strikes, and the awesomeness of Brooklyn).

Ironically, those attending the “Newsies” show last night, Oct. 2, 2013, woke up to the news that the powerful stagehand union Local 1 called the “first strike in the history of Carnegie Hall” in protest to Carnegie’s efforts to wrestle some control over the new educational wing out of the union’s reach.  As reported by the NYT, the strike forced a cancellation of the opening-night gala that would have featured the Philadelphia Orchestra and the ever-popular violinist Joshua Bell.

Unionized stagehands belong to Theater Stage Employees Union. They are thought to be one of the best compensated employees in the nation. Members include those who “construct, install, maintain, and operate the lighting and sound equipment, the scenery and special effects which thrill and delight audiences attending Broadway shows, concerts at Radio City Music Hall, Madison Square Garden and Carnegie Hall, the magnificent, spectacular productions at The Metropolitan Opera and throughout LIncoln Center, and the many entertaining broadcasts from CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, and PBS. We work at numerous cable TV studios and make possible the presentation of major corporate industrial and special events.”

Union formation efforts and resulting labor novation in America are more than 100 years. Pickford and Fairbanks were at the avantgarde of union formation for the actors and by extension those affiliated with the film and theater production. They helped launch the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, which, when it was set up, was to be a company union, among other things, designed to keep larger actor’s unions out of Hollywood.

Contract renegotiation in the performing arts are complicated. While Carnegie will not reschedule its opening-night concert, negotiations between the union representative and Carnegie have been reported as resumed.

Sources: Michael Cooper, “For First Time, Strike Shutters Carnegie Hall,” The New York Times, Oct. 3, 2013; Kerry Segrave, Film Actors Organize: Union Formation Efforts in America, 1912-1937 (2009).

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