President’s Report

Keep the Audience Coming

Volume CVIII, No. 11November, 2008

Mary Landolfi

As I write this article, the news from the national stage is not good; in fact, it’s downright alarming. In the midst of our presidential election cycle, we are experiencing an economic upheaval not seen in nearly 80 years. On Sept. 29, the stock market dropped 777 points, the largest point drop in history, and the stock market continues to be volatile today.

Worse yet, that is not all of the bad news. Unemployment has shot up; there is little doubt that we are either in the midst of or heading into a recession of unknown depth and duration. It does not take much imagination to visualize the effect of these events on fundraising for nonprofit employers, capital investment in commercial productions and ticket sales in general.

Against this backdrop, the union is being asked to consider a proposal from the Broadway League concerning promotional use of captured material from rehearsals and performances. The producers would like us to discuss changing our media provisions to better mesh with those found in the new Equity agreement.

Under the new terms of the Equity contract, which was enthusiastically endorsed by 93 percent of that bargaining unit, actors will get 1, 1.5 and 2 percent additional salary increases over three years for the promotional use of captured material.

It would also allow greatly expanded Internet promotion, “making of” documentaries, lobby loops and promotional features for airlines, each including up to 15 minutes of captured show material.

It would not replace payments for the broadcast of entire shows or income-generating projects.

The idea, apparently, is to do the kind of mass promotion for individual shows and Broadway in general that is already being done for motion pictures, thereby increasing demand for tickets. 

Although the Broadway committee has agreed that the union should at least agree to receive a specific proposal from the League, the reaction among committee representatives to this proposal has been mixed.

Some view the idea with suspicion, asserting that any willingness on the part of the union to consider mid-term changes to the contract is a sign of weakness. They assert that we will be able to demand more for promotional media at the end of the contract than we will gain now.

Others have reacted more positively, believing that they, as well as the producers, will benefit from increases in ticket sales that this initiative should generate and anticipating that the Equity structure would result in fewer disputes with the producers over payment than the current terms of our contract.

I find myself more in agreement with the latter group.

In my mind, it would be foolhardy for us to respond to this idea with a knee-jerk “no,” particularly in the current economic climate. We should realize that the instinct to automatically respond in the negative is a reaction rooted more in anger, or perhaps fear, rather than reason. Acting on the basis of either emotion does not lead to good decision making. Instead, I think we should move beyond the idea that if the employer is in favor, we must be against any idea.

In some contexts we have mutual interests with employers; we should learn to recognize those instances and act accordingly. Furthermore, keeping our contract in sync with the other theatrical unions, particularly Equity, should receive due consideration.

Of course, we have to do the work necessary to be able to analyze the League proposal and make sure that it is or can be made to be economically beneficial to us before we respond. The Theatre Department is currently preparing a show-by-show review of media payments over the last three years so that we will be able to make a direct comparison between the payments that the proposed deal would provide and the payments that have been received in the past before any decision is made. 

By the time you read this, we may be on the way to a resolution of this question. If we are fortunate, the proposal will be one that makes sense for us as well as the producers. In the end, the current economic situation will likely require greater efforts to attract audiences or it will not be possible to maintain the levels of employment we have enjoyed in recent years. We should keep that thought in mind when deciding how to proceed. 


Don’t trust anyone over 40? The New York Times published a story on Sept. 24 in which the composer of the new Broadway musical “13” said he preferred the “specific energy” of teenage musicians, who will be playing the music in the show. That prompted the following reply from President Mary Landolfi.

To the Editor:

While I, along with many in the theatre community, am looking forward to the innovation represented by the new musical “13,” I take exception to the following statement by the show’s composer, Jason Robert Brown (“Making the Band, the Broadway Edition,” Sept. 24): “I knew what the show would sound like if it were played by a bunch of union guys in their 40’s…”. 

Whether it is the lush sounds of “South Pacific” or “Phantom” or breakthrough hits like “In the Heights,” professional musicians spend their lives learning the skills that allow them to bring the concept of the composer to light for the public. And our members, regardless of age, deliver the goods in spades — eight times a week.

Their union, Local 802, ensures that they can support their families with a living wage and healthcare, and that they have a pension upon retirement. Suggesting that the musicians of “Rent,” “Spring Awakening” or “Hairspray” can’t rock out because they are over 40 is absurd and amounts to nothing more than ageism. 

Local 802 supports and protects all its members. Mr. Brown should realize that he doesn’t build up his young hopefuls by tearing others down. Should “13”’s young band expect to hear the same comments directed at them in 24 years? Mr. Brown’s new creation can stand on its own merits without him disparaging the artists who perform in other Broadway productions.

— Mary Landolfi
The writer is president of Local 802 of the
American Federation of Musicians.