Broadway’s Future Depends on Us
Volume CIII, No. 5May, 2003
As I write this, ratification of the new Broadway terms and conditions has not yet taken place. These terms and conditions arrived after a very difficult fight. As many know, the union was forced to consider significant lowering of the orchestra minimums – amid much controversy and with great reluctance.
The passion this has aroused stems from the fact that, while these minimums at the medium sized and smaller theatres have been consistently treated with great flexibility, at the larger theatres management has, to an overwhelming extent, used the staff minimums as maximums. Any diminishment of these numbers, therefore, is seen – correctly – as potentially affecting both quality and future employment.
Throughout the negotiations, in both its public stance (in the media) and privately (at the bargaining table), Local 802 argued that orchestras of 24 or more musicians are necessary for artistic and economic reasons.
Our position was that the success of a show – recoupment possibility, the length of its run and the length of employment for everyone involved – depends upon artistic credibility. And to tinker with the creative process is to jeopardize financial viability.
The League, of course, argued on the side of producers’ artistic discretion. Although, once negotiations actually began, the League did not deny that this was mostly about cutting costs.
Both sides said they spoke for the creative teams. The difference was that the union produced over 45 artists (composers, orchestrators and music directors) who agreed with its position while management could only counter with one – and that one was also a producer.
In the end though, after all the heated discussion had taken place, it always seemed to come back to a single issue.
The League, with its new, more militant, anti-union stance, was perceived to possess the technology to replace us and the will to use it.
Neither the union administration nor the committee, having successfully raised the public’s consciousness of the importance of live music in theatre, wanted to test this technology in performance. Our internal discussion was informed by audience reaction to similar technology in theatre and other live performance venues in other parts of the country – and by the current state of amplified or “designed” sound present in Broadway theatres. Whether the membership took this view will only be known after the ratification vote.
In making its decision the bargaining unit faces the same dilemma we did during negotiations and needs to answer the same question.
That is, do we reject the city’s mediation efforts, turn public opinion against us and, in all probability, break up the recently formed Broadway labor coalition to place all our hopes on public – and critical – rejection of the virtual orchestra technology?
Or do we, instead, accept this package and devise a way to move into a future in which we truly elevate declared concerns about “artistic integrity” to the point where that concern can replace minimums in defining orchestras?
What is increasingly clear is that reliance on the minimums for an artistically appropriate size orchestra will probably not continue to work. We, therefore, must look elsewhere.
The competing claims that both the League and the union made regarding the creative process and how decisions are made within that process should be more closely examined. The choices made on size and use of orchestras directly affect the composers, orchestrators, performers and musicians and underpin the artistic credibility of a musical production.
If minimums of 18 and 19 translate automatically to orchestras of that size, as many fear, then it’s not just the orchestras that will shrink – Broadway itself will also be diminished.
It’s up to us – along with Actors’ Equity, the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, and the Dramatist’s Guild (representing composers and lyricists) – to work together to seek ways to shed more light on a production’s creative process and, thereby, insure its artistic integrity.
We have ten years.