President’s Report

The History of Broadway Theatre Minimums

Volume CII, No. 5May, 2002

Bill Moriarity

Due to the hit-or-miss nature of Local 802 records and an absence of specific information in Allegro articles prior to 1983, the background and history of theatre minimums has been difficult to obtain with any accuracy. However, by piecing together the information that is available from these sources, the following partial chronology was created. A brief comment on the subject follows the chronology.

The earliest CBA the local possesses covering work in the Broadway theatres is dated Sept. 2, 1963, and has a term of three years. The minimums provision reads as follows:

(a) Where the theatre has between 1,000 to 1,100 seats, the orchestra shall consist of a minimum of 16 men.

(b) Where the theatre has over 1,100 seats, the minimum shall be 25 men.

(c) Where the theatre has less than 1,000 seats, the minimum number of men shall be fixed by the union’s Executive Board. (“Man” was the term used in agreements of that period; the term “musicians” is now used.)

The agreements for 1966-69 and 1969-72 could not be located and the sketchy summaries published in Allegro for that period contain no references to modifications of the minimums. However, changes may well have taken place during those contract terms, since the 1972-75 agreement requires the following minimums:

  • Uris, Broadway, Majestic, Minskoff, Imperial, Lunt-Fontanne, Winter Garden, St. James, 46th Street, Shubert and Palace – 26.
  • Alvin and Martin Beck – 20.
  • ANTA, Broadhurst and Billy Rose – 16.
  • Longacre, Ambassador, Music Box, Eugene O’Neill, Lyceum, Belasco, Cort, Plymouth, Royale, Brooks Atkinson and Ethel Barrymore – nine.
  • Circle in the Square, John Golden, Booth, and Ritz – Executive board of the union to decide in negotiation with the producer involved, but no more than six.

(The Uris is now the Gershwin, the 46th Street is the Richard Rodgers, the Alvin is the Neil Simon, the Billy Rose is the Nederlander, and the ANTA is the Virginia. The Helen Hayes, Morosco and Mark Hellinger theatres no longer exist.)

1975 was the year of the 25-day strike. All of the musicals, a total of nine, closed down while the League and Local 802 fought a battle over orchestra size. With the involvement of then-mayor Abe Beame and the direct participation of federal mediator Vincent McDonnell, the following minimums were put in place, in a contract which was to expire in early September 1981.

  • Broadway, Majestic, Imperial, Shubert and Palace – 26.
  • Lunt-Fontanne, Winter Garden, St. James and 46th Street – 25.
  • Minskoff and Uris – 24.
  • Alvin – 20.
  • ANTA, Martin Beck and Billy Rose – 16.
  • Broadhurst – 15.
  • Biltmore, Longacre, Helen Hayes, Ambassador, Barrymore, Morosco, Music Box, Eugene O’ Neill, Lyceum, Belasco, Cort, Plymouth, Royale and Brooks Atkinson – 9.
  • Circle in the Square, Golden, Booth and Ritz – To be determined by the Executive Board of the union in consultation with the producer involved, with a maximum limitation of six.

The 1975-78 agreement also contains the following language regarding “Electronic Musical Set-Ups.” This was to be of importance at the next major negotiation during which minimums would be addressed, in 1987.

Electronic instruments such as the Moog, RCA Synthesizer, etc., shall not be used without the express permission of the Local 802 Executive Board. Such permission shall be granted if use of electronic instruments does not displace or diminish the earning capacity of any musician.

In 1987, at negotiations conducted several months before contract expiration, agreement was reached providing for a broadening of the producer’s right to utilize electronic musical instruments:

Recorded music or electronic instruments such as the Yamaha DX series, Moog, Roland, Oberheim, Fairlight, Kurzweil, and Synclavier, and other devices now known, or which shall hereafter become known, may be used in performances of musical shows provided that the minimum numbers of musicians specified in Article V of this Agreement are engaged.

By this, control of the use of electronic instruments was given over to the producers. It was done with the further provision that: “The parties have agreed that the minimums as currently stated in the collective bargaining agreement shall not be the subject of bargaining until September 7, 1993. The Marriot Marquis Theatre has been added to the agreement with a minimum of 24 musicians.”

That set the stage for the 1993 negotiation. The League entered this negotiation stating that the 1987 language quoted above meant that minimums modifications were now guaranteed. After a tension-filled negotiation, the following orchestra sizes were agreed to, until March 8, 1998. (All figures include leader.):

  • Broadway and Majestic – 26
  • Palace and Lunt-Fontanne – 25
  • Gershwin, Imperial, Marquis, Minskoff, Richard Rodgers, St. James, Shubert and Winter Garden – 24
  • Neil Simon – 20
  • Virginia and Martin Beck – 16
  • Broadhurst – 15
  • Barrymore, Brooks Atkinson, Music Box, Eugene O’ Neill, Plymouth and Royale – nine
  • Longacre and Nederlander – five
  • Ambassador, Belasco, Biltmore, Booth, Circle in the Square, Cort, Golden, Walter Kerr and Lyceum – three

This was also the contract in which the Special Situations provision first appeared, a provision which will be discussed in a future report. The term of the 1993 agreement was 4½ years. There were no changes in the minimums provision in the 1998 agreement, which had a five-year term and is set to expire in March of 2003. At that point, these minimums will have been in effect for 9½ years – from September 1993 until March 2003.

In reviewing this 40-year history, two aspects are of particular importance. The first is the uncoupling of the orchestra size from the number of seats in the theatre – a separation that occurred sometime between 1966 (the last year of the ’63-66 agreement) and 1972 (the first year of the 72-75 CBA). The second, in the ’63-66 contract, is the demarcation of three classifications of theatres: one for larger houses with an orchestra of at least 25 musicians, one for small theatres with orchestras of nine and fewer, and a third category between these two consisting of theatres with orchestras of 16 musicians.

If the seating capacity information outlined in the 1990 publication “Stage Specs” is applied to the classifications set forth in the 1963-’66 CBA, of the 31 theatres now in existence, eight (the Ambassador, the Brooks Atkinson, the Cort, the Ethel Barrymore, the Eugene O’Neill, the Longacre, the Plymouth and the Royale) would require 16 musicians and 17 (the Broadway, the Broadhurst, the Gershwin, the Imperial, the Lunt-Fontanne, the Majestic, the Martin Beck, the Minskoff, the Nederlander, the Neil Simon, the Palace, the Richard Rodgers, the St. James, the Shubert, the Virginia and the Winter Garden) would require at least 25 musicians. The remaining six (the Belasco, the Booth, the Golden, the Lyceum, the Music Box and the Walter Kerr) have less than 1,000 seats and would be at the discretion of the Local 802 Executive Board.

When, sometime between 1966 and 1972, the seating/minimum nexus was broken, a number of theatres were placed in smaller or larger classes not in accordance with their previous requirements. The Alvin (Neil Simon), Martin Beck, ANTA (Virginia), Broadhurst and Billy Rose (Nederlander) were all assigned minimums of 20 or 16 musicians, even though they had seating capacities of 1,100 or more. On the other hand, the Ambassador and Longacre were assigned orchestras of 26, despite having seating capacities of less than 1,100. Six theatres obtained minimums of nine, although their seating capacities were more than 1,000. Obviously, serious negotiation took place when these numbers were being set that gave consideration to factors other than capacity – possibly physical location and history (some of the houses, I believe, had traditionally been considered “drama” houses).

The controversial changes made in 1975 consisted of reducing the orchestra in four theatres from 26 to 25 and in two other houses from 26 to 24. In addition, the Martin Beck minimums were reduced from 20 to 16 and the Broadhurst’s from 16 to 15.

Also, in what may have been perceived as a very drastic change, five theatres – the Biltmore, the Longacre, the Helen Hayes, the Ambassador and the Morosco – were reduced from 26 to nine. It should be noted that two of these theatres were soon demolished to make way for the Marriott Hotel. A third, the Biltmore, has been in a state of disrepair for over a decade and, therefore, not available for use.

In 1993 the Imperial minimum was lowered from 26 to 24 (this has not taken effect yet, since the then-current minimum for all shows running in 1993 was “grandfathered” in for the run of the show. Les Miz is still in that theatre). The Shubert suffered the same loss. The Palace minimum went from 26 to 25 and the St. James, the Richard Rodgers (46th Street) and the Winter Garden went from 25 to 24. One of the medium-sized houses, the Nederlander (Billy Rose), was lowered to five from 16. The League argued successfully that its location, condition and history (no musical had performed there since approximately 1980) should lead to the conclusion that it was no longer a desirable theatre.

In another action, surprisingly uncontroversial, many of the less utilized, older, two-balcony theatres had minimums lowered to five or fewer musicians – many are now at three – with the expectation that some less traditional musical performances might be attracted to those houses. (Most older “two-balcony” theatres have fewer orchestra seats and, therefore, usually less gross earnings potential.)

As I indicated earlier, no minimums changes have been put in place since 1993. For information on how the theatre business has fared in this same period, please click “next article” below to see the article by Bill Dennison, which we are reprinting from the last issue of the Broadway Theatre Committee newsletter, The Pits.