In the Field

It's essential for union reps to visit shows in person

Volume CX, No. 5May, 2010

Mary Donovan

Local 802 discovered that the benefits and a union contract are due for the orchestrator in “La Cage aux Folles.” Photo: Joan Marcus.

There’s no substitute for a warm body. That’s why the Theatre Department continues to expand visits to theatrical productions. In addition to regular visits to long- running shows, we have visited each new Broadway production and several new Off Broadway productions during the last few months.

Field visits are very important so that the eyes and ears of the union are at the job site. They are essential in doing a proper job of contract enforcement and assessing health and safety concerns. Our representatives are there not just to say hello and spread good will, although that is important. We are also there to evaluate any situation that the union needs to be aware of.

When a new production comes to town, our plan is to meet with the orchestra during rehearsals in the studio, then when the orchestra moves into the theatre, and on an ongoing basis thereafter. Of course, when emergencies arise, we plan to be there.

Here’s an example of how field visits help musicians. We recently visited the Broadway show “La Cage aux Folles” at the Longacre Theatre and found out that there was active, new orchestration going on. The show had come from London and we had assumed that all orchestration was finished. Under the Broadway agreement, any new orchestration has to be done under a union contract. As a result, the union has notified the producers of its contractual obligations. If all goes smoothly, the orchestrator should soon enjoy the protections and benefits of the Broadway agreement, including pension, health, union scale, and access to new use and re-use payments if the orchestrations are used elsewhere.

Also at “La Cage aux Folles,” we are dealing with a potential health and safety issue. Special elevated seating has been built for the musicians to the side of the stage. Access to the “pit” is by a steep ladder that is later removed – leaving the musicians with no ability to exit in case of an emergency!

Along with addressing this potentially hazardous situation, the union will be claiming an on-stage premium for the musicians, who are very visible to the audience.

The Theatre Department is also meeting with the orchestras to elect delegates to the Theatre Committee. Delegates are the communication bridge between their show and the union. When contract time comes around, the negotiating committee is chosen from among the Theatre Committee delegates. We now have at least 16 newly-elected Theatre Committee delegates as well as many delegates who are seasoned from previous negotiations.

Finally, as part of our field work, we try to accompany recording reps David Sheldon and Diana Cohn to all the cast album recording sessions. The recording reps are adept at answering the musicians’ questions about scales, benefits and work rules.

The combined efforts of the Theatre Department, Music Prep Department and Recording Department make for better enforcement of all of our theatre contracts.

The union needs to continue its efforts in providing a strong presence in the field.