On March 31, the contract between the AFM and the League of American Theatres and Producers covering touring theatrical musicals – Pamphlet B — expired. Preparations for the negotiation of a new agreement have been under way. Federation officials, local officers and rank-and-file musician representatives from across the country comprise the union’s negotiating committee.
The committee held its first caucus on Feb. 23 in Washington, D.C. at the offices of Federation legal counsel Bredhoff and Kaiser. A subsequent meeting took place in New York at Federation headquarters on March 29.
It should come as no surprise that one of the union’s issues of greatest concern is the protection of live music against the increasing threat of its replacement with virtual orchestra machines.
Does a real threat to live music exist under Pamphlet B? To answer that question, a little history might be in order. Unlike Broadway, the “minimums” under the Pamphlet B touring agreement do not provide the same live music guarantees. In a nutshell, although formulas have existed under the agreement that address the number of local and traveling musicians to be utilized under a variety of scenarios, they have all been subject to the number of musicians “called for by the specific Pamphlet B production” — in other words, as determined by the producer.
What Pamphlet B and New York’s Broadway agreement do have in common is the party across the table — namely the League. The replacement of live music with virtual orchestra machines is not only known to the League, they are its champion.
- In 2003, the League threatened to replace all live music on Broadway with virtual orchestra machines, and they were fully prepared to do so.
- League member Cameron Mackintosh has replaced half of the “Les Miz” orchestra in London’s West End with a virtual orchestra machine. (Mackintosh, claimed he was using the machine solely because the show was moving to a smaller venue, only later to brag to Playbill that he was “using it as a showpiece to display to producers in America.”)
- In the U.S., Mackintosh also eliminated several live musicians with a virtual orchestra machine in his financial mega-hit “The Phantom of the Opera.”
- The Nederlanders, also a League member, are presently involved in a dispute with Local 47, the AFM’s Los Angeles local, over their presumed “right” to use a virtual orchestra machine at their Pantages Theatre, claiming it to be a “musical instrument.”
- League member Ben Sprecher attempted to impose the virtual orchestra machine in one of Off-Broadway’s largest theatres — the Variety Arts — last year. (802’s rally and protest against that effort resulted in the achievement of a ten-year ban on the machine at that theatre.)
- The use of virtual orchestra machines have become increasingly prevalent in nonunion theatrical touring productions, many of which are productions licensed out to nonunion producers by the League.
The facts speak for themselves. Even if it is not the League’s present intention to utilize the machine under the current Pamphlet B agreement right now, if the continued use of the machine by these double-breasted nonunion road companies, many of which have been created by League members, continues to proliferate throughout the nation, the League will argue that it is being forced to use the machine in order to compete. Even if what they mean is they are really in competition with themselves.
The time to fight this is now. Local 802’s position on this issue has been made very clear. This fight must be taken to the national level. That is why Local 802 has submitted a resolution to the 2005 AFM convention urging the Federation and all its locals to take whatever steps necessary to impede the spread of this threat to live music and the livelihood of musicians.