Bloomberg News

Times Square Burlesque Cabaret Stirs Up Union Protesters

May 22, 2012

James J. Claffey Jr., president of Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, outside ``Spiegelworld Empire'' on May 22. To his left is James Claffey, his father and a retired stagehand. Photo: Philip Boroff/Bloomberg

James J. Claffey Jr., president of Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, outside ``Spiegelworld Empire'' on May 22. To his left is James Claffey, his father and a retired stagehand. Photo: Philip Boroff/Bloomberg

As nonunion workers struggled to move a huge sack into a makeshift theater near Times Square, picketing union members offered their version of a Greek chorus.

“You guys need a hand with that?” shouted Mickey Fox, a business agent with Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employeees. “Join a union.”

The demonstration’s target was “Spiegelworld Empire” a burlesque cabaret with roots in 19th-century Belgium and a debut as “Spiegelworld” in New York, at the South Street Seaport, in 2006.

Tonight it starts previews in a wooden 440-seat theater on a lot on West 45th street owned by Related Companies and Boston Properties. (BXP:US) Things may get noisy.

The 70 or so picketers displayed a New York City Police Department “sound device permit” to generate 85 decibels, which is comparable to city traffic.

“We’re out here to exercise our legal rights,” said James J. Claffey Jr., the union’s 48-year-old president.

Ross Mollison and David Foster, the producers of the show, said in a statement that “this is not a Broadway show,” and “we don’t charge Broadway prices.”

Entering the theater this morning, Mollison declined to speak to a reporter.

Most off-Broadway theaters don’t have contracts with Local One, whose members install, construct and operate lighting and sound equipment, among other tasks. “They’re too small to sustain the union,” Claffey said. “This is not your typical off-Broadway production.”

‘VIP Ticket’

He cited its $89 top ticket. A “special VIP ticket,” which includes a glass of champagne, goes for $129. As it happens, off-Broadway’s “Old Jews Telling Jokes” has a $125 ticket. “Rent” off-Broadway has a $175 ticket.

Neither “Rent” nor “Old Jews” has a Local One contract, said Bruce Cohen, a union spokesman.

Frank Connolly Jr., secretary treasurer of Theatrical Teamsters Local 817, whose members load and unload sets and equipment in and out of theaters, noted that his union dates back to 1926 and the stagehands’ union was organized in 1886. He said “Spiegelworld” producers declined to negotiate.

“I don’t think it would add very much to their costs,” he said of hiring Teamsters, who also picketed. “They can’t just walk into ground zero of the theater district to operate without talking to anybody.”

Claffey arrived at the 11 a.m. press event at 12:20 p.m. He said he’d been coordinating picketing among his 3,185 members and was prepared to have stagehands outside until the run ends on Sept. 2.

“If that’s what it takes,” he said of a contract. “We’re only talking two or three stagehands.”

To contact the writer of this column: Philip Boroff in New York at pboroff@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.


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