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Back to Work on Broadway

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Broadway musician’s strike ends – ten more years of live music on the Great White Way:

    Broadway’s producers and striking musicians — immediately responding to a request from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to meet with a mediator Monday — bargained through the night, reaching a tentative new four-year contract Tuesday morning. The agreement ended a four-day walkout by the Great White Way’s musicians, supported by actors and stagehands, that had cost millions of dollars.

    The League of American Theatres and Producers could see the immediate impact of the strike in its weekly financial figures, released Tuesday. For the week ending Sunday — which included the 18 Broadway musicals that were closed Friday-Sunday — Broadway grosses were $5.2 million, compared with a gross of $13.1 million for the same week last season.

    ….by the time the two sides broke for a news conference Tuesday morning, they finally had reached agreement on the contentious major issue of minimums, the number of musicians required to play at different Main Stem houses. Producers came into the talks wanting to scrap the minimums, saying that they shouldn’t have to pay for musicians who aren’t actually needed. The union said the producers’ plan was to replace all live Broadway musicians with the “virtual orchestra,” or synthesizer technology.

    The new pact provides for 18- and 19-musician minimums for the larger theaters that, under the old contract, had minimums of 24-26. The new minimums will remain in place for a decade, which Beaudoin referred to as “a 10-year commitment to live music.”

    ….Said a weary but relieved Jed Bernstein, president of the League of American Theatres and Producers: “For any negotiation to be successful, you have to leave something on the table and get something in return. And it’s true in this case. The unions were reassured that, with the number of musicians, Broadway musicals will have the sound that they’re philosophically committed to. Producers feel the new minimums and the changes in the special situations will provide flexibility and a better appeals process.” [Hollywood Reporter]

I am totally smpathetic to the plight of musicians, whose services have been on the decline since the invention of the phonograph, then radio, television, home recording, and the final boot out the door, digital music creation and reproduction.

You can codify an anachronism into a contract for another ten years, but this si the real crux of the matter:

    The two sides had built into the expired contract a section allowing producers to request special situations in which they can use fewer musicians than the minimums allow. A musicians’ union committee would review the request, then send it to a “mixed” committee, which included neutral members of unions who were not musicians. The mixed committee could permit the reduced number of musicians.

    Bernstein said the new agreement provides that the producers’ requests bypass a Local 802 committee and go straight to the mixed panel. Also, if producers aren’t pleased with the panel’s decision, the new pact includes an arbitration feature, but Bernstein didn’t specify what that process involves. Beaudoin said the mixed committee would consist of individuals with no financial connection to either side. She said the arbitration process was still being written into the agreement memo.

You’re going to see a lot of “special situations” over the next ten years. Live music will never go away, there is a special energy of being in the room with live interacting performers, but you are going to see the audience come to pay a premium for live musicians, and eventually a lot of musicians will be replaced with electronics.

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