Protecting Musicians’ Interests When a Broadway Show Moves

President's Report

Volume XCIX, No. 11December, 1999

Bill Moriarity

Elsewhere in this issue you will find the text of the agreement between Local 802 and B.V. Theatrical Ventures, Inc. (Disney) settling disputes over the move of Beauty and the Beast from the Palace Theatre to the Lunt-Fontanne.

I believe that the terms and conditions of this agreement are fair to all the involved parties and can form a basis for resolving similar situations, should they arise in the future. The circumstances of this move – and the similar move of The Scarlet Pimpernel from the Minskoff to the Neil Simon – probably could only occur with producers who possess the financial resources and long-term outlook of Disney, Cablevision or SFX, three major new players on Broadway.

So far as I have been able to learn, these are the first instances of producers attempting to extend the lives of shows which are either in decline or failing, by closing for several months, downsizing the cast and production, and then trying to resume Broadway performances with what would have been described in the past as a “road version” of the show. While such a move reduces the show’s operating costs, the immediate expenses necessary to refit and move it would likely have been beyond the means of producers of shows which have peaked and declined in the past.

The union was faced with two primary problems. First, how to address the “run-of-the-show” rights of the 25 musicians who were performing in Beauty and the Beast, in light of the producers’ “closing” of the show at the Palace. Second, but related, what to do about payment for the 10-week period during which there were no performances.

Both parties expressed confidence in their contractual positions – Local 802 relying on the contract’s “run-of-the-show” and “temporary closing” language, and Disney sure that it could demonstrate that the show at the Palace had indeed – formally and appropriately – closed and, therefore, that no obligation to the show’s orchestra members existed. But both were reluctant to leave a final and binding decision on these critical contractual elements in the hands of a third-party labor arbitrator, our only alternative under the Broadway agreement.

The new agreement, which represents a settlement of the grievances filed by the union in this matter, was reached after numerous discussions with the employer, the rank-and-file Theatre Committee and the orchestra members. It contains several important provisions, one of which is unique to this show.

First, run-of-the-show is guaranteed for all 25 musicians. While this may seem a pro-forma move, I can assure you that it was not. Although it is probably true that no show would be foolish enough to replace an entire orchestra, it is also probably true that those in charge of any Broadway show might like to replace a small number of musicians in that show. This agreement precludes any such replacement.

Second, payment for the period takes two forms: a continuation of health benefits and hospitalization insurance during the dark period, and a settlement payment of two weeks’ salary plus vacation monies. This latter payment was, of course, a negotiated amount and has been a subject of much discussion among those of us involved. Total cost for this settlement was somewhere between $80,000 and $85,000. As I said earlier, I think this is a fair payment for this situation.

Third, and somewhat unique to Beauty and the Beast, the three most offensive pyrotechnic effects have been removed. The air quality problems at this production have been the worst of all the shows on Broadway for the orchestra and have been blamed in great part on the pyrotechnic smoke. In releasing the producer from “past, present and future” liability it should be understood that there was no “present” liability (since the show was not running) and that there would be no “future” liability from these three effects (since they would not exist). As to the past, matters of this kind are normally addressed under the workers’ compensation insurance system – a route several of the show’s musicians have pursued – or by means of other avenues of legal redress, such as litigation. This agreement does not close those avenues. Nor does it prevent the union from pursuing complaints about air quality at the Lunt-Fontanne that may arise from the use of other atmospheric effects.

The lock-in period was agreed to because the show is being re-reviewed. The non-precedential clause is there because neither party wished, at this time, to reach an agreement binding on all future situations of this kind.

As to The Scarlet Pimpernel, Local 802 will need to have further talks with that production based on this new agreement. Unfortunately, the two theatre moves are dissimilar in one important aspect. Both the Palace and the Lunt-Fontanne, the two theatres involved with Beauty and the Beast, require orchestras of 25 musicians. The Neil Simon, where The Scarlet Pimpernel is now playing, requires a 20-member orchestra – four less than the Minskoff, where the show previously played. Four musicians were dismissed as a result of the move. Local 802 has insisted that these musicians must be re-engaged with back pay. I am not, at present, confident that this can be accomplished without resorting to arbitration.

However, discussions with the producers, with the Theatre Committee and with Local 802 legal counsel will continue in an effort to resolve this problem in a satisfactory manner.