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November 1, 2022IM -
Broadway reed doubler Kristy Norter of Local 802 (New York City) is quick to start off an interview by pointing out two things. First, she is careful to give props to the other female contractors who came before her and laid the groundwork for her success on the job. And second, she prefers the term “coordinator” to contractor.
“Being a contractor can mean hiring personnel for a wedding band, for a one-off jingle session, or a concert,” says Norter, originally a Rochester, New York, native. “Contractors hire personnel and handle communication for an event. But with Broadway shows and tours, ‘contractor’ is a bit narrow in describing the job.” Hiring, says Norter, is only 1% or 2% of her job. “There’s so much more to it: working with the union and show producers, calculating payroll, sorting out rehearsal schedules.”
That Norter does all this on top of actually playing in a Broadway show as a chairholder herself is a testament, not only to her natural talents, but also her organizational skills.
Asked if she comes from a musical background, Norter chuckles, “I’m from a math family. Most everyone else has a business degree or works as an accountant.” While she initially looked at University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music, she wanted to attend college further away from home. Norter did her undergrad in jazz studies at Indiana University, followed by a master’s degree at the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music.
“My very first show was Chicago,” she recalls. “I subbed for a fantastic doubler named Ken Hitchcock [also of Local 802], who recently passed away.” A reed doubler can be required to play most reed instruments on a show, covering everything from saxophone to clarinet, flute, and piccolo.
“Ken was the first person who gave me a chance to do this,” says Norter. “He was an experienced musician and great mentor who saw that I was a kid in my 20s and needed to be taught how to do the job of a Broadway musician. Ever since then, I have been a firm believer in the concept of mentoring and apprenticing.” She has since subbed in the pit on dozens of Broadway shows and is a chairholder and music coordinator on the upcoming musical, Some Like It Hot.
Mentoring has also figured into her growth as a music coordinator. “There are a few other women doing this work, and I look up to them so much,” she says. “They were doing this before there was a push to have other women do it. They are so kind, and I talk to them frequently.”
Norter says coordinating can be a natural progression for people who have had their own regular Broadway chairs in New York City pits. “You’re actually a mini-contractor when you’re a chairholder, booking people to sub for you and making sure they understand the pay and work rules. So, it’s a gentle entry to contracting.”
From that small start, Norter says she got curious about how things really worked. “I started asking lots of questions, and I was eager to learn. I also got interested in spreadsheets, payrolls, and contracts.”
She gives a special shoutout to fellow music coordinator and Local 802 member Georgia Stitt, a founder of Maestra (www.maestramusic.org), an organization dedicated to providing support and training for women and nonbinary people in the musical theater industry. “Georgia has been doing wonderful work raising awareness and bringing more women into theater work, especially in leadership roles.”
Currently, in addition to her Broadway chair, Norter is also the music coordinator for the musical Six, an all-female production. She holds firm to the idea that apprenticeship helps others meet the same challenges she faced.
“I want to set people up for success, so I work a little harder to make sure the people I hire have the training to succeed.” With that in mind, Norter draws on her own experience of working her way up. “That’s for the musicians’ benefit, as well as for the production,” she says. “I like to bring in younger, newer players as subs, and provide them the experience of what it’s like to work in a pit. It’s how I was brought into the career field, so I want to help people be brought in the same way.”
Norter says hiring for a Broadway show can be a daunting task, considering that some people hold the same chairs for decades. “Phantom of the Opera is closing soon, and some of the pit musicians have been there since the start, 35 years. It’s like a family. In hiring new musicians, part of it will be reputation, both playing and personally. But I’m also trying to achieve a balance of diversity. Not just in terms of gender or race, but also age, and level of experience.”
She says one of her aims is to try to create an environment representative of NYC. “A melting pot, in other words.” Broadway pits, Norter believes, should reflect the level of musicianship for which the city is known—but also reflect the community’s multiplicity.
Asked about the most surprising aspect of her job, Norter declares with zero hesitation: “The amount of spreadsheets. I’m a big Excel nerd; I play with spreadsheets all day long. I refer to it as my new double,” she laughs, adding that a spreadsheet is one of the best ways to learn about an AFM agreement. “Broadway agreements are complicated. Spreadsheets let you figure out formulas for payroll, all itemized to make sense, and everyone who looks at them can have the same understanding.”
Norter says she consults with the AFM almost daily, a lesson learned earlier in her career. “As a player, I was involved with a long-running TV show. After a while, I got to thinking things weren’t quite right with the pay.” Norter reached out to Pat Varriale, the AFM’s previous Electronic Media Services Division director, who passed away earlier this year.
“As it turns out, the show agreement had been filed incorrectly because the person involved was new at the job. Had I not been curious, and also found someone like Pat with the patience to talk me through this stuff, I wouldn’t have gotten what I was due,” she says.
Norter believes that musicians have common misconceptions about what it means to play on a union job. “It’s not just about the money—it’s about reuse protections and control over your product. With a non-union job, the employer owns whatever you do. You only get what you earn the night of the engagement, which means you’re losing out on potentially thousands of dollars in residuals.”
Beyond that, she says, working union jobs also means holding a standard for all of us. “It’s important for Broadway musicians to have conversations with the AFM and Local 802 so that they understand what the union contract does for them, and how to approach potential employers.” Accordingly, she adds that such conversations are equally important for Broadway producers. “In most situations, it’s not that they don’t want to work with the union—they often just don’t understand the parameters.”