On Saturday, Oct. 1, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts canceled all performances at the Kimmel Center, Academy of Music and Merriam Theater. The cause for the disruption was a work stoppage by IATSE, Local 8, the union that represents ushers, box-office personnel, stagehands and wardrobe employees. The Kimmel Center’s contracts with the union expired at midnight Sept. 30. Although no new contract agreement has been reached, the union and Kimmel did manage to agree on Oct. 1 to a one-week “cooling off” period. During that time, performances will continue at the Academy and Merriam as well as the Kimmel’s Verizon Hall, Perelman Theater and Innovation Studio.
What happens next however is anyone’s guess. Kimmel Center President and CEO Anne Ewers issued a statement that the “Kimmel Center leadership is optimistic that the renewed negations will be productive.” In an interview by phone on Monday night, Kimmel Center Senior Vice President Thor Steingraber described the Kimmel as being at a “critical time.” According to Steingraber, the funding the performing-arts center receives from the state of Pennsylvania was reduced from $2 million for the 2010-11 season to $150,000 for the 2011-12 campaign.
Wages and benefits are at the heart of the disagreement. Asked to characterize the talks, Steingraber says the two sides remain apart on both the length and the terms of a new contract. “Taking a long-term contract would be irresponsible for us to do at this time” says Steingraber, pointing to the uncertainty surrounding the Philadelphia Orchestra’s bankruptcy as one reason the Kimmel is seeking a shorter deal than the five-year contract Steingraber said the union proposed. For the time being all performances at the Kimmel Center’s three on site venues as well as the Academy of Music and Merriam Theater are scheduled to proceed as usual. When the two sides do resume negotiations (most likely on Mon., Oct. 10) the Philadelphia Orchestra will be mere days away from their opening night (Oct. 13) followed by the launch of the Orchestra’s new season on Oct 14. Steingraber said that on Oct. 1, the Kimmel alerted patrons of the cancellations and offered to refund or exchange tickets for the canceled performances. Steingraber said that the Kimmel is prepared to do the same in the event of any future cancellations. He also reported that in the event of a work stoppage, the Kimmel may look into staging events at alternate venues around the city. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees represents about 1,000 workers at the Kimmel Center, Merriam Theater and Academy of Music.