A play about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., opens for previews in Philadelphia this Friday, but action has already begun outside the Suzanne Roberts Theater.

The stagehands of the Philadelphia Theater Company have gone on strike. Their timing is poetic.

The stagehands voted to unionize last summer, but they have yet to secure a contract with the company. Since their temporary agreement expired in November, negotiations for a full contract have yet to bear fruit and the union felt that management was stalling.

The managing director of Philadelphia Theater Company, Shira Beckerman, says this takes time.

"Like any first contract, it's a lengthy process to go back and forth on all these different issues that we need to iron out," said Beckerman.  "So it serves everybody, so that it's fair to both the company and the employees."

Beckerman says the company's next production, "The Mountaintop," will go on, even if the strike continues.

The timing of the strike is uncanny. "The Mountaintop" takes place the the night before Dr. King was assassinated. At the time - April 3, 1968 - he was focused on worker's rights and economic equality.

"It's about Martin Luther King right after he gave his historic Mountaintop speech, while he was down there on behalf of sanitation workers, in Memphis. We're doing the same thing," said Michael Barnes, business agent for IATSE Local 8, the stagehand's union. "Why come see the show, when you can be the show? That's art, this is real life."

Most of the other stagehands on the Avenue of the Arts are unionized, including at the Kimmel Center, the Merriam Theater, the Academy of Music, and the Walnut Street theater. Barnes says a picket line will be maintained in front of the box office for "The Mountaintop."

This disclosure, the Philadelphia Theater Company underwrites on WHYY.