Virtual Music Not Welcome at Lincoln Center’s Newhouse Theatre

Volume CIV, No. 7/8July, 2004

Mary Donovan

Local 802 and Lincoln Center have reached a collective bargaining agreement that includes a ban on virtual orchestra machines. At the same time, an independent producer has agreed to ban virtual orchestra machines for a new production at Gramercy Theatre.

The Lincoln Center agreement will cover musicians working at the 299-seat Mitzi E. Newhouse theatre for all productions there over the next year. Currently running at the Newhouse is “Barbara Cook’s Broadway.” Upcoming are “Nothing Is Forever” and “The Ballad Of Dessa Rose.”

It is not the first time Local 802 has reached an agreement with Lincoln Center for a musical production, but it is the first time the union has won a full-season agreement.

And although Local 802 has achieved agreements with other employers banning virtual orchestra machines, the fact that Lincoln Center was willing to sign such a prohibition indicates that not only are smaller theatrical companies willing to sign such a ban, but larger companies as well.

Local 802’s fight for live music is out there and not unknown to even new producers. Lee Summers, the producer of “From My Hometown,” recently reached an agreement with Local 802 to ban virtual orchestra machines. Even though new to producing, the employer was around during our Broadway struggle last year and is a member of Actors’ Equity. The message that live music is important did not fall on deaf ears.

“From My Hometown” started rehearsals in July and goes into the Gramercy Theatre — a 499-seat house.

The understanding by these employers of the importance of maintaining the integrity of live music is encouraging.

These are the sixth and seventh contracts 802 has achieved that ban the machine and guarantee live musical productions. The Lincoln Center theatre’s voluntary signing of the ban is particularly significant considering that past productions in its larger house, the Vivian Beaumont, have included the 2001 production of “Contact,” which was performed to taped music.