Keeping Broadway Working

Broadway musicians ratify new promo agreement

Volume CIX, No. 5May, 2009

Publicity helps everyone. That’s something that a majority of Broadway musicians agreed upon when they ratified a new promotional agreement with Broadway producers on April 18.

The agreement allows the promotional use of captured material from Broadway performances and rehearsals and is similar to an agreement approved last year by members of Actors’ Equity. 

In announcing the results, President Mary Landolfi told Allegro, “I want to thank all those on both sides who participated in the lively debate about this agreement and then took the time to participate in the democratic process that resulted in its approval.”

After a ratification meeting and three days of voting, Broadway musicians passed the agreement by 186 to 132.

“It was inspiring to me to watch our negotiators unify and uphold our diverse goals and expectations, and then come to an agreement with the League that should benefit all parties,” Broadway music copyist and arranger Russ Anixter told Allegro. “I hope the spirit of this negotiation will further cooperative relations between 802 and the League.”

In exchange for the promotional use of up to 15 minutes of show footage on Web sites, hotel kiosks, in-flight videos and in other new media outlets, musicians will earn an immediate 1 percent increase in base scale wages, not including premiums. This increase rises to 1.5 percent in July 2009 and to 2 percent in August 2010.

The increases arrive on the same schedule as the Equity increases, despite the fact that the actors’ agreement was reached ten months earlier.

Even as the agreement was being finalized, the employment numbers for 2009 were reflecting the current economic downturn.

Regular Broadway chairs are down from 402 in April 2008 to 332 in April 2009. The New York Times was reporting that the popular Disney shows were selling fewer tickets and that 15 out of 19 shows were reducing prices.

With an agreement now in place with both 802 and Equity, a wider range of promotional efforts were expected.

In addition to the media payments, the agreement extends the current Broadway contract without changes in any other respect for one year, until March 2011.

Similarly, theatre orchestra minimums will be frozen in place for one additional year, until 2014.

“I’ve done the math, and this new system pays a lot more money,” said Dave Weiss, who performs in “The Lion King.”

Weiss added, “The media payment will pay me more in five years compared to what I made on Broadway jingles and other promo payments in my previous 26 years of Broadway employment. I think it may be the best paying promotional use language in the whole union, period.”

Landolfi pointed out that the only uses the producers get from this media deal are promotional. “They can use it to sell tickets and hopefully keep members working, and that’s it. Should there be any commercial use of the material in any way, the producers have to pay.” 

 The new agreement keeps in place some current protections for musicians:

  • If a cast album is made or if captured material is used to create a cast album, musicians have to be paid as they have been in the past.
  • While the producers can use the cast album tracks for commercial announcements, if no cast album is made then the use of captured material for jingles must be paid as in the past.
  • If a musician appears on camera in a jingle they have to be paid regardless of the source.
  • Finally, commercials produced in separately-called sessions will also still be paid as they have been in the past.

The agreement came after several months of discussions in the Theatre Committee that included input from an outside media attorney and several meetings with League representatives. 

“I think this agreement makes sense for all,” said Theatre Committee Co-Chair Wally Usiatynski, “None of us want to negotiate in the current economic climate and this gives us a year extension which protects the contract until we hopefully reach a better bargaining climate. And they get to promote their shows in more creative ways, which will help everyone.”

“On balance, I think the deal is good,” said multi-woodwind player Martha Hyde, who served on the Broadway negotiating committee. “However, I would like to see the rank-and-file player committee process leading up to and during the negotiations improved — and I look forward to working on that.”

“I see this as a victory for us,” said veteran Theatre Committee member Ethan Fein. “Extending the minimums until 2014, protecting our contract — including our pension — for another year at a time when so many employers are asking for givebacks is a real achievement.”

“Everyone knows that the economic climate is rough right now,” concluded Landolfi. “This agreement protects musicians while promoting work.”

The new agreement goes into effect immediately.