An Open Letter to Michael Riedel: I've Seen the Lights Go Out On Broadway

Mr. Riedel - 

It seems you've struck a chord at the end of your August 16th, 2013 article, "Those lazy days of summer," with your chiding of the lack of coordination and/or participation when honoring the passing of important Broadway personalities by dimming the marquees at Broadway theatres. But you've also (surprise, surprise) gotten some comments that you probably didn't expect. While I would concede that coordination of the dimming of marquees could use a little more organization, I take issue with the follow up in your August 21st article,"A bright idea: Dim the lights on cue," and I believe a correction is in order, although I'm not expecting one.

You mentioned three specific theatres on 45th Street: The Booth, The Schoenfeld and The Jacobs in your experience. While I don't know what the situation at The Jacobs is, the Booth and Schoenfeld are currently dark. The marquees are on timers and since the theatres are dark, the house electricians are not in the building at the time. This is a major fact that weakens your argument. Hopefully it was just an error of omission or naiveté.

You failed to mention another 45th Street theatre, The Imperial - which is also dark, but perhaps you were too busy at the Jacobs demanding satisfaction to notice. The Marriott Marquis? Dark. And I can guarantee you that at least six other theatres did not dim their lights: The Cort, The Belasco, The Brooks Atkinson, The Broadhurst, The Roundabout's American Airlines and The Lyceum - all currently dark.

I can understand your disappointment at the stunning revelation that it's possible that all theatres don't dim their lights, and it's really a shame that it's something you finally took notice of when specifically looking for the tradition in relation to your friend. But the times change, technology advances, and the preference of a theatre owner to have their marquee lights on timers to make Broadway bigger and brighter is their prerogative. It has absolutely nothing to do with house electricians not being "dutiful" in their responsibilities, as you claim your misinformed "backstage worker" noted. 

Another sign of the changing times are the League contracts with the Stagehands' Union. "Back in the old days" house electricians were typically not given as many responsibilities on the actual run of the show in order to be on hand to take care of house matters including box office power issues or perhaps blown lamps or tripped circuit breakers in the restrooms just to name a couple of examples. Nowadays, more often than not there is only the house electrician for those duties and now they are additionally responsible for the run the lighting cues during the show, effectively leashing him/her to the lighting console. What happens to that theatre marquee in the event of a traditional 8pm dimming of the lights when their show begins at 7pm? It most likely will remain lit.

Now if, as you report, The Broadway League and their leaders are truly concerned about this storied tradition, perhaps Local One, New York City's stagehand union, can address it at their next contract negotiation - all due to your encouragement, of course - and state that in order to ensure all Broadway marquees are dimmed at the appropriate time and to fully implement the tradition, all house electricians should be called in at the designated time to dim the lights... and the League can foot the bill. Then we'll see how "concerned" the leaders of the Broadway League really are.

Broadway Carl


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