I’ve been waiting backstage for over two hours,” cracked Broadway diva Lea De Laria, striding on from the wings, “And that’s the most applause you got for me?”
The audience, in attendance at a new musical, “Roller Derby,” roared their approval and gave De Laria, in a cameo role, the biggest hand of the evening.
De Laria was among a coterie of established Broadway stars that mingled with a larger pool of young, unsung actors and musicians as part of this year’s New York Musical Theatre Festival, the fourth in as many years.
Local 802 reps and dedicated volunteers were there as well, sitting in the audience and scoping out the best ways to get backstage after the show to chat up the orchestra members.
Many of the musicals were of a particularly high caliber, and some — about one in five — will be expected to go on to commercial runs.
Local 802 was an industry patron of this year’s festival. Moreover, the union’s Theatre Committee organized a campaign to reach out to festival musicians, in which several Local 802 reps participated.
Senior Organizer Marisa Friedman attended five different productions, and was able to make contact with orchestra members in a variety of ways.
“I usually just approached them after the show was over, and tried not to frighten them too much,” Friedman told Allegro. “But seriously, what we really want the musicians to know, especially the ones who aren’t in the union, is that there’s work out there, and that they can make real, lasting contacts through 802. They also can gain access to benefits through membership. It’s a win-win.”
“I’m proud of what we were able to accomplish,” said Principal Theatre Rep Mary Donovan. “We created a strong presence, and many of the musicians — both members and non-members — later came to our annual ‘Meet and Greet’ on Oct. 10.”
The “Meet and Greet” allowed younger players who are less well known to rub elbows with some of Broadway’s most active and busy contractors and to other working Broadway musicians.
Donovan, who worked directly with festival organizers to reach out to musicians, sees the festival as an essential tool in engaging young players in a positive way.
“They need to come in, and know that they can actually talk with people who can help them to find work. We hope to now — or later — see them as 802 members.”
The visits were generally well received. Concert Rep Karen Fisher visited several shows.
“It was heartening that they reacted to us in such a positive way,” Fisher told Allegro. “They really appreciated and understood that we were there for them, and will be there for them, whether the house holds 150 or 1,500.”
This year’s festival had new shows in dozens of venues in Midtown Manhattan, and 802 reps and volunteers attended more than half of them.
Standouts were “Sherlock Holmes,” “Back Home: The War Brides Musical,” “Love Sucks” and “Mud Donahue and Son.”
Outreach to performers, conductors, musical directors — and even producers — was a way of sending a strong signal to festival participants.
The 802 message: “A bigger — and better paying — audience awaits you.”
Mary Donovan, Karen Fisher and Marisa Friedman contributed to this story.