Members of Local 802, American Federation of Musicians, who had voted on Saturday to authorize a strike against the producers of Broadway shows, yesterday decided to extend the deadline for four days so that talks with the producers may continue.

During a break in intense negotiations with the League of American Theatres and Producers on Saturday, 422 out of 440 musicians voted to authorize their union leaders to go ahead with a strike. The union's contract officially ended at midnight yesterday, Sunday, March 2. The new strike deadline is midnight on Thursday, March 6, and a strike could conceivably be called at any time thereafter. It this happens, Broadway musicals would either go on using "virtual orchestra" technology or performances would have to be canceled outright.

The sticking point of negotiations is whether or not the practice should be continued whereby a minimum of number of musicians is specified to be used for musical productions in each Broadway theater; the producers' league feels that these minimums should be eliminated, whereas the musicians' union wants to preserve them.

"House minimums are nothing more than old-fashioned featherbedding, the kind of thing that used to be common in manual labor unions such as the dock workers or construction trades," reads a statement from producers' league president Jed Bernstein on the organization's Live Broadway website. "They have no place in the creative arts." Yet Bernstein announced at a press conference yesterday that the producers might be willing to compromise by agreeing to a minimum of seven musicians at each of the 14 largest Broadway houses. "This is obviously a huge and dramatic shift in our position," said Bernstein, though Local 802 president Bill Moriarity described the proposal as "spectacularly inadequate."

If a strike does occur, it would not affect musicals playing Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway. Nor would it affect the Roundabout Theatre production of Cabaret at Studio 54; that show has actors and musicians playing instruments live on stage and is covered by a special contract.

Even at this late hour, industry professionals remain unsure of the likelihood of a strike, which would be an enormous blow to the theater industry in shaky economic times. During a telephone interview on Thursday, Heather Beaudoin, a spokesperson for Local 802, told TheaterMania: "We've never talked strike; it's been the producers who have talked strike. We've gone into this never wanting a strike. We've wanted to negotiate a contract." Click here to access previous TheaterMania articles on the possibility of a strike, and check in for further developments."