Dear friends, family, and colleagues:
The following information was compiled by Local 802 of the American
Federation of Musicians in New York City in an effort to familiarize as many
people as possible with the issues that Broadway's musicians are facing in
the upcoming negotiations. If you have received this e-mail, chances are you
are either a Broadway musician yourself, a friend or family member of a
Broadway musician, or some more "distant relation" of a Broadway musician.
We ask that you forward this e-mail to as many sympathetic people as you
possibly can, even people who are not involved in the business in any way,
and even people whom you think may already be aware of this information. We
also ask that people who receive this e-mail write letters to their local
newspapers so that people all over the US can be made aware of the threat of
Broadway's live musicians being replaced by computers playing what is
essentially recorded music.
TO SIGN OUR ON-LINE PETITION TO SAVE LIVE MUSIC ON BROADWAY, GO TO
AEA and IATSE members, especially those currently working on Broadway shows,
we ask you to read this information particularly carefully. And we encourage
you to talk to the musicians at your shows about any questions that you have
regarding these issues.
On March 2, 2003, the agreement between Local 802 and the League of
American Theatres and Producers covering Broadway's orchestras expires.
From the earliest days of musical theatre, every Broadway house has been
required to present musicals with a minimum number of musicians. There are
no minimum requirements for dramatic shows. The minimums were mutually agreed
upon and evolved over the years largely based on the size of the theatre and
the need for appropriate musical projection.
Over the last two decades, Broadway has seen a wide variety of musical
genres presented on stage with varying musical needs. In a few cases it led
to orchestras larger than needed and musicians on staff who were not
required to perform each night ("walkers"). In response to that, in
1993, Local 802 and the League reached agreement on language making those minimum orchestra
sizes flexible depending upon the musical needs of a show. A panel of
prominent orchestrators, arrangers, and musical directors was put in place
to arbitrate any disputes over these artistic issues.
Since 1993, Local 802 and the panel have approved sharply reduced
orchestras for a number of shows, including Smokey Joe's Cafe, On the Town,
Footloose, Chicago, High Society, Swingin' on a Star, Civil War, Swing,
Aida, Mamma Mia, Movin' Out and Amour. Over this 9 year period, the
system put in place has worked. There have been no "walkers". Musicals have been presented
with a wide variety of orchestra sizes, and Live Broadway has flourished.
What then are the issues in these negotiations?
The employers want the right to further reduce and/or eliminate
orchestras. They claim they need the "artistic discretion" to decide on the
musical needs of a show.
Who should be making the musical decisions about a show?
Decisions about the musical needs of a show are properly made by the
composer, arranger, orchestrator, and music director, often in consultation
with the director and choreographer. These are the people involved in making
these decisions, and they have made clear to Local 802 that their ability to
do so depends upon the minimum orchestra requirements in the Local 802
contract. Without these minimums, they would not have the latitude to
continue to create the musical theatre that has made Broadway so successful
over the last several decades.
If it's not about "walkers" or artistic discretion, what is the issue? Why
are they making demands to change something that seems to be working?
Broadway producers believe that the technology exists to replace many,
if not most, of the orchestra members with synthesized or digitally recorded
(sampled) musical sounds. Saving the cost of these musicians' salaries would
mean greater payoff to investors and theater owners. Their demands have
nothing to do with "walkers" or "artistic" needs. Their demands are purely
It's interesting to note that the musicians, who are the people who make
a Broadway musical a musical, represent a small percentage of the average
ticket price, ranging from a low of 2.1%($1.76) to a high of 11.4%($6.35),
with the overall average 6.1%, based on the latest information from the
League. Consumers should ask themselves two questions: is it worth this
small amount to have real musicians instead of machines providing the music in
this apex of live theatre?; and if the producers were able to eliminate some or
all of the musicians, would they pass this savings on to the ticket buyers?
Is Broadway in trouble? Do they need financial help?
Broadway grosses have set new box office records in each year of the
last decade, the one exception being 2001 when the impact of 9/11 was felt.
However, with the help and sacrifice of all the employees on Broadway, by
the summer of 2002, Broadway had bounced back and is now once again reporting
record grosses. The profits of long running shows, particularly long running
musicals, are measured in the billions of dollars.
What if the producers got their way? What would happen to Broadway Theatre?
We believe that audiences view Broadway Theatre as the pinnacle of this
art form. Broadway is about quality: quality design, quality live
performance, quality technical work, and quality live music. New York is the
destination for those who want to see the highest caliber of live musical
theatre. Half of our audiences are tourists who come to NYC just to attend
the theatre. Why would they continue to come if the same caliber of show
could be seen in their local theater or concert hall? In the quest for short
term profits, producers seem willing to kill the goose that lays the golden
egg eight times a week in Broadway theaters.
Could they possibly be that short sighted?
We hope not. However, we know the kind of short term economic
decision-making that is so prevalent in the business world today. Certainly
Broadway producers are not immune. But we can't allow a few misguided
employers to turn midtown Manhattan into Las Vegas or an entertainment theme
park. Broadway Theatre is an important economic engine for the city of New
York. Cheapening our product could not only threaten all of our jobs and
futures, it could also do serious damage to the NYC economy. We all have a
stake in protecting the quality of live musical theatre.
Once again, TO SIGN OUR ON-LINE PETITION TO SAVE LIVE MUSIC ON BROADWAY
AND FOR MORE INFORMATION, GO TO http://www.savelivebroadway.com . Thanks for your time.