League and Musicians Union Hold Dueling Press Conferences Feb. 25 While "Virtual Orchestras" Tune-Up

News   League and Musicians Union Hold Dueling Press Conferences Feb. 25 While "Virtual Orchestras" Tune-Up As a March 2 contract expiration fast approaches, with the threat of a strike by Broadway musicians looming, the League of American Theatres and Producers and Local 802 of the Associated Musicians of Greater New York presented dueling press conferences at noontime Feb. 25.

Both sides are currently embroiled in contentious negotiations over the terms of a new pact guiding the employment of Broadway orchestra members. They presented their impressions on how talks stand. The union press conference occured at 11:30 AM at 226 W. 47th Street, the offices of the League. The League conference happened inside its offices one half hour later. The two bodies then convened for another round of talks.

Meanwhile, many Broadway musicals are coordinating rehearsals with so called virtual orchestras—technological accompaniment with which, according to the union, producers intend to replace them. Union spokesman Heather Beaudoin told Playbill On-Line that Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, Thoroughly Modern Millie, La Boheme, Chicago and other shows will hold such rehearsals at various times throughout the week. Actors' Equity has informed its members that they may be requested to rehearse with the synthesized orchestras.

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 last week issued a statement of support from 35 of Broadway's leading composers, orchestrators, conductors and music directors. Among the signed were John Kander, Jason Robert Brown, David Shire, Jonathan Tunick and Andrew Lippa.

At the press conference, the union announced that such Broadway tunesmiths as Sheldon Harnick, Jerry Bock, Jerry Herman and Cy Coleman have since attached their names to the petition. It also revealed the use of two new radio spots, one featuring Tony-winning actress Audra McDonald, the other "Conan O'Brien" music director Max Weinberg, each extolling the virtues of live music on Broadway. The ads begin running on 1010 WINS on Feb. 25. Producers announced to appear at the Tuesday League press conference were Barry Weissler (producer of Chicago), Thomas Viertel (one of the producers of The Producers and Hairspray) and Kevin McCollum (of Rent and La Boheme).

No negotiations are planned beyond Feb. 25. Beaudoin said the parties are scheduling dates "as we go." Local 802 called for a strike authorization vote last week in response to the rehearsals with virtual orchestra. The vote will be held on Saturday, March 1, the day before the current contract expires.

Variety pointed out the current conflict doesn't affect Cabaret. The Roundabout Theater Company, which produces the show, has a separate contract with Local 802.