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Off-Broadway Shows Buoyed by Stagehand Strike


The stagehands strike on Broadway has shut down more than two dozen theaters, but it's actually helping some smaller shows in New York, as Jeff Lunden reports.

JEFF LUNDEN: Carol Weisberg(ph) got up early on Saturday morning to come in from Allentown, Pennsylvania to see "The Drowsy Chaperone" with her two daughters. But when she found out the show was cancelled by the strike, she went over to the half-price tickets booth to see if there were any other shows playing.

Ms. CAROL WEISBERG: Somebody recommended "Forbidden Broadway" or "The Perfect Crime." I know nothing about either one. I'm just taking recommendations from people.

LUNDEN: Both of those shows run off-Broadway, in theaters of between 100 and 499 seats scattered around Manhattan. And with over two dozen shows shuttered by the stagehands strike, many more tourists are discovering them.

Ken Davenport is producer of "Altar Boyz," which plays just a few minutes away from several Broadway theaters.

Mr. KEN DAVENPORT (Producer, "Altar Boyz"): This weekend we expect it to be a decent weekend anyway because it was a holiday weekend, but what we found is we sold out a lot faster. We found that tourists were calling to get their tickets as fast they could because they wanted an alternative, live entertainment alternative in Times Square.

LUNDEN: Davenport's experience was typical for last weekend.

Beverly MacKeen, executive director of New World Stages, an off-Broadway venue with five theaters, says they played host to a lot of people who never would have ventured off-Broadway.

Ms. BEVERLY MacKEEN (Executive Director, New World Stages): It was interesting, especially the Brownie group from New Hampshire that had saved money from the Girl Guide cookies to try and come and see a Broadway show, so we gave them lots of attention. The Brownie group ended up seeing "The Gazillion Bubble Show." They had a great time.

LUNDEN: And they saved their cookie money. While Broadway tickets can cost as much as $120, off-Broadway is still something of a bargain, with tickets going from $20 to $75 full price, says Ken Davenport.

Mr. DAVENPORT: Everything that we have, to be honest, is a little bit smaller than Broadway. Our houses are smaller than Broadway. Our casts are smaller than Broadway. Our advertising budgets are smaller than Broadway.

LUNDEN: Off-Broadway shows use union actors and musicians, but non-union stagehands.

George Forbes, president of the League of Off-Broadway Theatres and Producers, says there's a lot of overlap.

Mr. GEORGE FORBES (League of Off-Broadway Theatres and Producers): This is a very small community, and there really is no differentiation between the off-Broadway producers and the Broadway producers, the off-Broadway actors and the Broadway actors. All of the people in the theater work crossing this border, this imaginary border, if you will, very regularly.

LUNDEN: And producer Ken Davenport says there is always the possibility that theatergoers can discover a show before it moves to Broadway.

Mr. DAVENPORT: "Spring Awakening," "Avenue Q," "Rent" - all of those shows began their life off-Broadway.

(Soundbite of song, "Mama Who Bore Me")

Ms. LEA MICHELE (Broadway Actress): (As Wendla Bergman) (Singing) Mama who bore me, Mama who gave me.

LUNDEN: Davenport hopes tourists don't cancel their trips to New York because of the strike. Instead, he hopes they'll take in an off-Broadway show.

Mr. DAVENPORT: Work stoppages are not good for anyone, but for the moment the little brother is getting some attention. And we think it's a tremendous opportunity for audiences to see that that little brother has got a lot to say.

LUNDEN: Most of Broadway remains dark and no further negotiations have been scheduled. But one producer's pain is another one's gain.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jeff Lunden is a freelance arts reporter and producer whose stories have been heard on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, as well as on other public radio programs.