One of the sticking points of the contract talks is the issue of "minimums," a union rule which sometimes obligates producers to have a minimum number of players in the pit, even if not needed. Minimums are seen by the union as a way to prevent producers from dictating orchestral needs, such as using synthesizers or two pianists in lieu of a full orchestra. Producers say minimums make producing more costly.
Local 802 of the Associated Musicians of Greater New York issued a statement of support from 35 of Broadway's leading composers, orchestrators, conductors and music directors. Among the signed are John Kander, Jason Robert Brown, David Shire, Jonathan Tunick and Andrew Lippa.
The statement read, in part: "We, the undersigned... Are gravely concerned about efforts to reduce Broadway orchestras, or even eliminate them entirely. The demands being made by the League of American Theatres and Producers will not, as claimed, protect composers from the dictates of the Musicians' Union; it will instead take away our means of expression (live musicians) in exchange for increased profits. Our jobs are not at stake: what we stand to lose is artistic in nature. And our loss is also the public's loss."
The resolution comes as some producers are reportedly preparing to rehearse their musicals with mechanized music. Local 802's Bill Moriarty told Playbill On-Line he had heard that Thoroughly Modern Millie would rehearse with a virtual orchestra next week, an account he said was partly confirmed by Actors' Equity. While a spokesman for Millie could not confirm any such plans, several cast members of the Tony-winning show have been informed of the possibility of a rehearsal with canned music next week.
The musicians' union contract with the League of American Theatres and Producers expires on March 2. As previously reported, theatre producers are preparing for a possible strike by exploring the use of recorded music in Broadway shows should issues such as minimums not be solved. Local 802 has spotlighted this possibility in their print and radio ads. The League has objected to these ads. "They're using the idea that we're trying to use recorded music to deflect from the real issue, which is minimums," argued a League spokesperson, citing the long-standing contract requirement that sometimes makes a Broadway musical employ more musicians than the show needs. "The stance of the League is: It is the right of the composers and the creative team [not unions] to determine how many people are needed to play a particular show."
However, the new petition would seem to contradict the League's argument that composers and orchestrators object to minimums.
Kander told the New York Post, "I have never been forced to have more musicians than I wanted because of union minimums. Quite the reverse. With many producers, they will only give you an orchestra that is the minimum, even when you want more."
The union contends that minimums are needed to ensure the presence of live orchestras on Broadway. The thinking goes that the potential exists for a producer to say only a handful of musicians is needed, and the musicians chosen might then be keyboardists working at synthesizers creating a larger sound — a sound that would normally be created by 20 or more people.
A complete list of the signed artists follows:
Henry Aronson (music director for Rent) *
As previously reported, Broadway producers have begun an advertising campaign to counter the one recently waged by musicians union Local 802. The series began with an ad in the Feb. 7 New York Times. The League of American Theatres and Producers is currently looking into further spots, including possible ads in Playbill.
William Moriarty of Local 802 told Playbill On-Line that no progress had been made on minimums or any other contract issue.