The entertainment industry is decidedly in contractual turmoil, with a number of unions in fierce negotiations with producer groups on Broadway and in Hollywood. Chief amongst these is the current Writers Guild of America strike, which began May 2 following a breakdown in negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers over screenwriting compensation in the age of streaming, amongst other grievances. But now SAG-AFTRA, which represents screen performers, has authorized its own strike. Could that affect Broadway and the Tony Awards?
Though WGA does not represent Broadway writers, the Writers Strike has had a major effect on this year's Tony Awards. Since the Tonys are broadcast as a TV show, they usually use WGA writers to handle writing tasks for the ceremony, like host and presenter banter. When WGA declined the Tonys request for a waiver that would have allowed the broadcast ceremony to go on as normal, it looked as if Broadway's top honors wouldn't happen as a TV broadcast this year at all.
Then in a dramatic turn, we found out the Tonys are happening as scheduled June 11, following a promise from awards organizers to present an unscripted broadcast, with presenters and its host speaking off the cuff—not doing any work that normally would have been done by a WGA member. Even still, we are likely looking at a Tonys that will be missing some of its nominees, following a call from WGA for its members—including playwrights, book writers, and even Leading Actress in a Musical nominee Sara Bareilles—to sit out of the big night. It remains to be seen if any non-WGA members will sit out in solidarity—there has been a groundswell of support for WGA and its members from within the Broadway community.
As for SAG-AFTRA's strike authorization, the Hollywood actor union is scheduled to begin their own negotiations with AMPTP June 7, and their current contract is scheduled to expire June 30. A strike authorization is not a strike, it's when members of a union vote to allow the union heads to call for a strike if the need arises. So ahead of the talks with AMPTP, 97.91 percent of SAG-AFTRA's voting membership approved a potential strike. It remains to be seen if a strike will actually happen.
But because talks with AMPTP is beginning on June 7, and negotiations can take months, it makes the prospects of a screen actors' strike prior to June 30 slim to nill. This leaves this weekend's Tony Awards safe and sound.
Beyond the Tonys, a strike would not affect Broadway performers. While Broadway actors are often also members of SAG-AFTRA, stage performers are represented by Actors' Equity Association. A SAG-AFTRA strike could, however, affect actors' ability to perform numbers from their shows on TV. With late-night talk shows currently shuttered due to the WGA strike, that point is likely mostly moot, however.
Far more likely is a SAG-AFTRA strike bringing Hollywood to a screeching halt. The WGA strike has already shut down several film/TV productions and put most development of future projects on pause. The loss of actors would likely mean a near-total shutdown of filming. Industry insiders had been looking to a contract expiration between AMPTP and Directors Guild of America as an opportunity for all of the major Hollywood unions to unite in strike, but DGA ended up agreeing to a new contract with AMPTP quickly (in a surprise announcement revealed June 3). It remains to be seen how that development will affect WGA and SAG-AFTRA's negotiations.
But that doesn't mean Broadway is immune to labor issues. A similar situation is at play on Broadway as the show Here Lies Love is planning to perform without live pit musicians, a violation of the labor contract with musician union Local 802 of American Federation of Musicians. Here Lies Love is currently applying for an exemption to that contract. Should an agreement not be made by June 17 between the show and the union, the production will likely face picketing musicians at The Broadway Theatre and mounting pressure for other Broadway unions to join the picket line. So far, industry unions have stayed quiet about the struggle, though AEA did write in a tweet, "Here Lies Love is the first Broadway musical with no live musicians, relying mostly on a pre-recorded soundtrack. This choice is an attack on professional musicians."
The Tony Awards will be given out in a starry ceremony at Washington Heights' United Palace Theatre June 11. The Tony Awards: Act One, a 90-minute pre-show of live and exclusive content, will stream on Pluto TV beginning at 6:30 PM ET, with hosts and further details to be announced. The main awards ceremony will follow at 8 PM ET, hosted by West Side Story Oscar winner Ariana DeBose. The awards portion will broadcast live on CBS, and stream live (for premium-level subscribers) via Paramount+. All Paramount+ subscribers will have on demand access to the broadcast beginning June 12. For more about the Tony Awards, visit Playbill.com/Tonys.