I recently attended the Theatre Musicians’ Association’s fifth annual conference, held in Los Angeles on Aug. 28 and 29. TMA was founded to promote the respective interests of theatre orchestras and their musicians, to enhance communications among these orchestras and their local unions, and to exchange information and address problems of concern to all AFM theatre musicians. TMA members are representative of theatre and touring musicians, as well as officers of AFM locals across the country.
TMA has an almost inevitable built-in conflict of interest, by virtue of including both touring and local musicians within its membership. My hope, as the meeting opened, was that we might find common ground on the issues and challenges all AFM musicians are currently facing. And in fact the new face of multi-corporate management, the attack on theatre minimums, the threat to use recorded music, along with technological “advances” such as the Virtual Orchestra, helped us quickly find that common ground.
AFM President Steve Young gave a detailed report on the state of the union over the past year, and the challenges that lie ahead for all AFM locals. Similar reports followed from locals in Northern and Southern California, St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Toronto, Dallas and New York.
I reported on issues Local 802 has faced over the past year: These included the moves of Beauty and the Beast and The Scarlet Pimpernel; special situations requests from the producers of Aida, Saturday Night Fever and Seussical; the grievance over the minimum for the Ford Center production of Jesus Christ Superstar; the recent initiation of the cuts list at The Phantom of the Opera; and the controversy sparked by the Tony nomination of Contact for Best Musical.
While these grievances touched on a variety of issues – such as run-of-the-show, hiatus, special situations, theatre minimums and cuts list musicians, along with the threat to use recorded music – one common thread runs through all of them. There is an alarming, and increasing, effort on the part of producers to increase profit by downsizing, synthesizing and over-amplifying the orchestra to an artistically unworkable level, at the expense of the artistic integrity of live musical theatre.
I also reported on Local 802’s plans to launch a public awareness campaign. We are now producing a five-minute video that is to be part of an SFX promotional CD-ROM, which will be distributed to more than 100,000 theatre goers across the country. The focus of Local 802’s portion of this production is on educating the public about the diverse musical talents that are necessary to bring the magic of live musical theatre to life. Segments will showcase the composer, the orchestrator, the conductor and, most importantly, the musicians. “Meet the musician” will be introduced by Tony Award-winning actress Bernadette Peters, who makes an impassioned statement about the importance of live music in the theatre, and the irreplaceable role of live musicians.
Reports from locals throughout the country indicated that we are all dealing with not only the same management tactics and agendas, but in many cases with the same management. The employers we are dealing with today own theatres throughout the country. I strongly suspect that the strong-arm tactics being used against our colleagues in other parts of the country are a precursor of things to come for us. Among the greatest threats our colleagues are facing are the attack on theatre minimums and no-tape clauses, and efforts to “virtually” replace the abilities and the human spirit of live musicians with a machine deceptively named the Virtual Orchestra. Based on that fact alone, Local 802 can and should maintain its involvement in the Theatre Musicians’ Association.
I especially encourage the increased participation of touring musicians. Although the concerns of touring and local musicians may not always be compatible, issues of mutual concern require our active participation in TMA. Although it currently has 802 musicians in its membership, a New York chapter has yet to be formed. If you are interested in learning more about the organization, please contact us or visit the TMA web site at www.afm-tma.org. The Broadway Theatre Committee will also be discussing these issues in meetings during the coming year.