- Associated Press - Thursday, June 9, 2011

NEW YORK — A labor dispute is threatening to make a mess of the Tony Awards, forcing actors to cross picket lines to attend the red carpet for Broadway’s biggest ceremony.

Hundreds of members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees plan to gather with a giant inflatable rat near the Beacon Theatre on Broadway where the award show will be held Sunday evening.

The stagehands have traditionally set up the red carpet and tent outside the annual event, but this year the awards show has been moved to a new theater and the red carpet has been moved a block south, outside the perimeter where the union is assured jobs.

Bruce Cohen, a spokesman for the union, said Thursday some 400 stagehands from Local One will be picketing the red carpet area, putting actors in a difficult spot. “The question really is will celebrities cross the picket line and greet the media on the red carpet? I doubt it,” he said.

If no deal is made, the deployment of the union’s super-sized inflatable rat — on its hind legs and bearing fangs — will add theatricality to the already theatrical event.

Some of the big names invited to the Tonys include Daniel Radcliffe, Alec Baldwin, Christie Brinkley, Matthew Broderick, Whoopi Goldberg, Kelsey Grammer, Joel Grey, Samuel L. Jackson, James Earl Jones, Chris Rock, Brooke Shields, Robin Williams, Vanessa Redgrave and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Nick Wyman, the president of Actors’ Equity, which represents performers, issued a statement Thursday that attempted to hit a hopeful note: “We have great faith that these two organizations will come together with a reasonable and appropriate solution by Sunday because this is a time to focus on celebrating the work of this extraordinary Broadway season.”

Tino Gagliardi, the president of Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, said his union members will honor the picket line — if it comes to that. “If Local One puts up a picket line, 802 will not cross it,” he said, though he pointed out that most of his members will be working elsewhere.

The change in the Tony Awards venue this year has put stress on producers. The ceremony was forced to leave its longtime home at Radio City Music Hall because Cirque du Soleil took over the art deco theater for its new show and Tony producers picked the 3,000-seat Beacon Theatre on the Upper West Side, which has only about half the number of seats as Radio City.

Producers of the Tony Awards issued a statement saying space limitations forced them to position the red carpet on a neighboring block and they tried to work out a deal with the union. “Unfortunately, neither party could reach an agreement. As a result of the budget, an outside crew had to be assembled,” it read.

Mr. Cohen said stagehands, whose contracts are with the theater, have offered “many concessions to keep this work union.” He stressed that the show itself will not be disrupted and that stagehands and other union members will be working, and attending, the Tonys. He said the stagehands are angry not with the Beacon Theater but with the Tony Award producers who are considering having non-union workers in the red carpet area.

“The pickets will only be for the non-union worked red carpet tent, not the Tony show,” he said. “We would expect union people not to cross our picket line and enter the red carpet area.”