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Safety Protocols for a Return to Work for Pit Musicians

From the Theatre, Touring, and Booking Division

The Broadway League announced in late June that Broadway performances in New York City will be suspended through the remainder of 2020 due to COVID-19. Returning productions are currently projected to resume performances over a series of rolling dates in early 2021. 

As we navigate through the current pandemic and the total shutdown of live theatrical performance, it is important to think ahead and consider what our industry will look like as we prepare for a return to work in the theatre pits across the United States and Canada.

For the last several weeks, I have been working with the officers of the Theatre Musicians Association—President Tony D’Amico, Vice President Heather Boehm, and Secretary Treasurer Mark Pinto—and the Director of Broadway Jan Mullen to evaluate the needs of theatre musicians for a safe return to work.

We will be faced with many challenges in ensuring musicians performing in the theatre pit environment remain safe and healthy. Below is a list of questions and issues that we believe will be important to address with our employers as we emerge from the current crisis. We offer these as a guideline for the bargaining of safety protocols for musical theatre. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or comments: tgagliardi@afm.org.

Questions to Consider While Bargaining a COVID-19 Safety Plan for the Musical Theatre Workplace:

All the items below are subject to collective bargaining and can be addressed in COVID-19 side letters to avoid opening the agreement and keep bargaining confined to safety protocols. As with any change negotiated in a collective agreement, side letters must be ratified by the bargaining unit before musicians return to work. Musicians should only return to work after the union has determined that the employer has met its obligation to provide for a safe and healthy work environment. 

All the below items should be considered for load-in, load-out, sound-check, rehearsals, and performances.

A coordinated response to health and safety procedures between the AFM, Actors Equity, and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) will ensure consistent guidelines for our workplaces. All theatres should establish safety committees and compliance officers to monitor that sanitation, ventilation, social distancing protocol, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) are in accordance with best practices and legal requirements. Employees are not responsible for establishing these protocols and should not shelter the employers from liability. No worker should sign a liability waiver as a condition of returning to the theatre or any other workplace. 

Under no circumstances should COVID-19 reopening procedures be used to change or diminish instrumentation or run of show by electronic or any other means.


  1. How will the special challenges of placement in the pit be resolved?
    1. Protection against contamination from singers/dancers above the pit.
    2. Ventilation challenges in close quarters.
  2. Will musicians and staff, as well as vendors and anyone else entering the workplace, be trained in the agreed-upon safety protocols?
  3. What must change with regard to sanitation?
    1. Placement of hand sanitizer and/or disinfectant wipes.
    2. Containers/absorbent material for wind and brass condensation/spit and proper disposal of same.
    3. Prohibition of food and drink in shared spaces.
    4. More frequent cleaning and sanitizing of all facilities.
    5. For more info, visit: www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf
  4. Will employees receive health screenings prior to entering the workplace?
    1. Testing, for either infection or antibodies.
    2. Temperature screenings.
    3. Local musicians who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 should inform their union steward, contractor, and local union officers. Traveling musicians shall inform their union steward and company management.
    4. Anyone who has symptoms consistent with COVID-19 should stay home and get tested. No musician who stays home due to symptoms should lose wages, sick pay, or sick leave. This should apply to subs as well as chairholders. In the US, the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA) provides for paid leave in these and other circumstances. More information here: www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic/ffcra-employer-paid-leave.
    5. Anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 should remain at home, away from the workplace, until cleared to return to work by a medical professional. The employer should assist in contact tracing to identify any other employee who may have been exposed to the infected worker. The AFM local, union steward, and company management should be informed immediately of any infection that occurs in connection with the workplace and any potential exposure.
    6. If a family member of a musician or other worker contracts COVID-19, the individual should stay at home and quarantine until it is clear they have not become infected. The FFCRA provides paid leave in the case of employees.
    7. In the circumstances of the pandemic and community spread, employers are permitted to ask employees about their symptoms and perform certain temperature and health checks on employees. The employer must continue to keep all employee health information confidential and store it in a file separate from other personnel records. More information can be found online here: www.eeoc.gov/wysk/what-you-should-know-about-covid-19-and-ada-rehabilitation-act-and-other-eeo-laws.
  5. How will the employer provide support allowing musicians to travel safely to and from the theatre, particularly in cities where public transportation is the normal mode of travel or when company housing is farther than one-half mile from the venue? Will employers secure free or discounted parking in close proximity to the theater, so as to allow musicians to avoid public transportation or ride share services?
  6. Will masks be required of everyone in the workplace?
    1. Will the employer provide PPE (masks and gloves)? What kind?
    2. When will brass and wind players remove masks to play?
    3. Where will masks be kept when not being worn?
    4. Will new masks be available to musicians on double service days?
  7. Will visitors be prohibited from entering backstage/pit areas?
  8. How will musicians and others in the workplace maintain proper distancing offstage from their arrival to departure? How will traffic flow be managed, and workplace capacity limited, in all of the following areas:
    1. Parking Lot • Entry to the theatre/Stage Door • Security checks • Backstage/Onstage/Pit areas • Hallways • Green rooms and lounges • Dressing rooms • Locker rooms/Instrument storage room/Trap Room/Case storage • Restrooms • Offices
  9. Where will musicians place their cases?
  10. Where will musicians warm up?
  11. How will food and drink be handled?
    1. Water fountains? Bottled Water? • Eating in shared spaces? • No communal food?
  12. How will music be prepared and distributed safely?
    1. Adjustments to rental and touring music distribution procedures to protect performers.
    2. PDFs of advance books.
    3. Touring librarian safety in handling returned parts and rental parts.
    4. Encourage iPad or EStand technology.
  13. How will musicians be physically spaced for rehearsing and performing?
    1. Routes for travel to the performing/workspace.
    2. Spacing in performing/workspace.
    3. One person per stand, even for strings.
    4. Barriers between musicians—plexiglass or other materials.
    5. Barriers between workspace and audience.
    6. Conductor placement.
  14. How will musicians document and report instances of discrimination because of ageism, immunocompromised status, caretaker status, or personal comfort level?
  15. How will normally shared equipment be managed to avoid contamination?
    1. Chairs • Music stands • Percussion equipment • Keyboards • Books/Parts • Headphones • Avioms or other personal audio monitoring systems • Laptop rig/Mainstage • Shared instruments for subs.
  16. When large instruments, travel cases, and other equipment are moved who will move them? What will be done to protect against contamination of people and instruments?
  17. Will normal timing of rehearsals need to be adjusted?
    1. To limit time exposed to others in the same space.
    2. To extend break time to allow safe (staggered) use of restroom facilities.
    3. To create breaks to allow for proper and complete ventilation of rehearsal and performance areas.
  18. Will the theatre need to be updated or retrofitted?
    1. HVAC and air filtration • No-touch door opening • Elimination of blowing hand dryers • Installation of hand sanitizing stations.
  19. What restrictions must be in place for the audience and front of house in order to protect workers?
    1. Distance from the front of the stage to the audience.
    2. Audience members and ushers required to wear face masks.
    3. Suspension of onstage/backstage tours and pit visits.
    4. Temperature checks or other screenings for audience members.
  20. Will you need to address travel-related concerns for out-of-town musicians?
    1. Ability to travel across borders (state or national).
    2. Housing (single vs. double occupancy) in hotel or with company.

On the Road with Musicians of Disney’s The Lion King

lion-kingAt any given week each year, there are an average of 150 full-time AFM musicians touring throughout the US and Canada, in 20-plus musicals and three circuses. In addition to these traveling artists, touring shows provide part-time employment to hundreds of local musicians. Most productions travel with only a small core group of musicians, and they fill out the rest of the score with a “new” orchestra of local homegrown talent in each venue. Along with peer unions Actors’ Equity and The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the AFM has theatrical touring agreements that address short-engagement tours, which play primarily in smaller markets, as well as big budget blockbusters booked in major cities for weeks on end. Main employers—members of The Broadway League and Disney Theatricals—are signed to the AFM’s Pamphlet B Agreement, which also incorporates the Short Engagement Tour (SET) Agreement. Smaller nonsignatory producers sign single-project touring agreements, which largely mirror the AFM’s SET terms. Touring under the Pamphlet B agreement, Disney’s The Lion King is reigning king of the road musical jungle, having traveled continuously since 2002 and given more than 5,000 performances. For the most part, the 13 musicians traveling with The Lion King consider themselves fortunate to have full-time, well-paid, secure jobs in music that allow them to see the country. However, the life of a traveling musician is also wrought with unique challenges. In this article you will meet seven AFM musicians who travel with The Lion King, and learn about their lives on the road. Unlike their counterparts on the orchestral podium, conductors are covered employees in the unionized workplaces of musical theatre and circus productions. They often rise to the post through their work as pit keyboard players—and some are required to play and conduct at the same time. Their role of preparing the music for the show takes on increased importance considering the need to rehearse a different set of musicians to play complicated scores, in a limited time, every time the show changes venue. The Lion King score calls for six local musicians, in addition to the 13 who travel with the show.

Rick Snyder,Conductor

lion king

Conductor Rick Snyder makes final score notations before the evening’s performance.

The Lion King lead conductor is Rick Snyder of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL). Snyder has toured off and on since the early ’90s. His first show was Phantom of the Opera. He joined The Lion King in 2003 as associate conductor and keyboard player, and he’s played the current show roughly 3,000 times, since 2009. Snyder considers himself fortunate to be playing the show full-time. “First and foremost it’s a good, steady job. I’m very lucky to be working as a professional musician on a job that, for me, is always totally engaging—and getting paid pretty well too,” he says. Then adds, “I get to visit many interesting cities and meet interesting people. For me, it makes me happy that I can do this job and provide for my family.”

Doug Reed, Keyboardist/Assistant Conductor

Doug Reed of Local 285-403 (New London, CT) plays keyboard for seven shows per week and conducts one. He’s previously toured the US with Jesus Christ Superstar, Dreamgirls, Oklahoma, and Man of La Mancha. Reed says he maintains his enthusiasm for the show by taking note of the audience. “I sometimes go out and watch the audience members coming into the theater all excited,” he says. “I find conducting the show exciting—huge excited audience; great orchestra; big, beautiful show.” “As a conductor, one can infuse energy with phrasing and tempo and feel,” he explains. “As a keyboard player, I like to do things perfectly, and musically. That requires attention!” Reed enjoys traveling around the country. He feels fortunate to work with so many great musicians around the country  and for such an artistically unique and long-running show.

Jamie Schmidt, Keyboardist/Associate Conductor

Jamie Schmidt of Local 802 (New York City) has conducted The Lion King about 500 times and played all three of the show’s keyboard chairs. He has also worked as associate conductor for Ragtime at The Kennedy Center and Broadway, conductor for Liza Minnelli’s symphonic tour, and has been music director and conductor for several Kennedy Center gala concerts. “The opening number is still a thrilling experience for the audience of all ages; turning around from the podium to see grown men crying still brings tears to my eyes. Having a 20-month-old child has certainly made me a more vulnerable, sensitive human being as well, and I often see the show through his eyes,” says Schmidt. “It is magical.” Schmidt says that it’s not difficult to keep the show “fresh” when it is performed in a different city and theater nearly every month. “Change keeps coming, and this keeps us ever on our toes,” he says. He travels with his wife and son, so they face a special challenge when it comes to finding safe housing for an ever-curious toddler. “We consider our lifestyle ‘urban camping,’” he adds.

Reuven Weizburg, Percussionist

lion king

Left: (L to R) Stefan Monssen, Rueven Weizberg, and Mike Faue with a set of conga drums and some of the many percussion instruments used in the show.

Reuven Weizburg, a member of Local 802, has been playing with The Lion King tour for almost seven years. His musical path was not typical—he never went to a conservatory or music school, instead he apprenticed to noted West African and Latin drumming artists. He’s previously played with African music and dance ensembles and pop bands around New York City. He was a sub for The Lion King on Broadway for two years (2006-2008) before joining his first tour. “It’s exciting and inspiring to play to sold out crowds of 2,500 to 3,000 people, eight times a week. Being in the house, and not in the pit, makes the show exciting every day. I get to be a part of the show, watch the show, and watch the audience reaction to the show, all at the same time. It’s a unique perspective,” he says, adding, “I am lucky enough to work on a show that connects with audiences of all walks of life. People are moved by the story and the incredible South African music.” Weizburg says the job is challenging because every house they play has different acoustics, plus the sound engineer has to mix the two “house percussionists” with the rest of the orchestra. “A big part of the job of the house percussionists is to mark the dancers, and sometimes the puppets and shadow puppets,” he explains. Weizburg travels with his family: a wife and two daughters, aged two and six. “We are together all the time, and get to see so many amazing parts of the US and Canada,” he states, adding that finding housing is always a challenge, as is medical care for the children. “We literally pack our entire lives into a minivan and head for the next city. My downtime is spent with my family, homeschooling my oldest daughter, and exploring the cities we play.”

Michael Faue, Marimba Player/Percussionist

Michael Faue is a member of Local 70-558 (Omaha, NE) and graduate of California State University Northridge. As a Los Angeles freelance percussionist, Faue performed, recorded, and/or toured with the likes of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) members Quincy Jones, Lalo Schifrin, and Al Jarreau, and has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and The Boston Pops. He first played for Lion King as a sub in 2002, was hired full-time in 2003, and has now played more than 4,500 shows. “I think there is an art to playing the same music over and over,” says Faue. “Whether you play a piece of music once or 5,000 times, take pride in performing. I feel the audience came to see a performance and deserve my best, all the time.” For any percussionist this is a great gig,” he says. “Three percussionists and a drummer is kind of an unheard of for a Broadway show. The mallet book has it all—you get great phrases but you also have some groove parts making you part of the rhythm section. I also get a little solo time in ‘Hakuna Matata,’ and the bows. My book also has quite a lot of hand percussion.” “Some of the best shows have been when Lion King pairs up with Autism Speaks and the entire audience is made up of individuals and families impacted by autism. To create an autism-friendly performance, the music is quieter, there are no loud sound effects or strobe lights, and house lights are at half. All of these changes create a judgement-free environment for thousands of people who may never have gone to any live event. Shows like these make you really understand how a single performance can change someone’s life.” Faue enjoys the travel aspect. “You see some amazing sights, hear some great music, and play with the best musicians in each city,” he says. One of the most difficult aspects is that, in an emergency, there are often no subs, says Faue, recalling how he had to play a show after slicing and chipping the bone on one of his fingers.

Woonkuo Soon, Concertmaster


Though he has played The Lion King more than 3,500 times, concertmaster Woonkuo Soon enjoys the challenge of performing with an ever-changing local string section.

Woonkuo Soon of 427-721 (Tampa Bay, FL) first began subbing for the show in 2003 and joined it full-time in 2004. Before going on tour he was a freelance, orchestra, and chamber violinist, and he is also principal second violin for the Vermont Symphony Orchestra. He has played more than 3,500 shows for Lion King. He enjoys working with local string musicians and exploring bike trails, museums, and nature parks in each city they visit. Soon finds it challenging to “always have to think of efficiency and economy of space in terms of what we can carry with us, how much we can fit in our cars (for those that drive).” “Having a Fed Ex account helps,” he adds. “It is surprisingly affordable to ship large packages across the country with an account. The savings can be substantial.”

Chris Neville, Keyboardist

Long before Chris Neville of Locals 9-535 (Boston, MA) and 198-457 (Providence, RI) joined The Lion King, he played with jazz saxophonist Benny Carter, recording eight CDs. Carter was so impressed with Neville’s playing that he helped Neville produce four CDs of his own. Neville has also played with Dizzy Gillespie, Phil Woods, Aretha Franklin, and Donnie Osmond, and toured with several Broadway shows before The Lion King. The Lion King has been his longest tour. He was hired as a local when the show was in Boston, and then committed to a six-month tour. Ten years later, he is still with the show and on his 86th stop (including some repeated cities).


Keyboardist Chris Neville warms up in the pit—a micro-city of cables, lights, electronics, and instruments—which is razed and rebuilt every few weeks as the show moves.

Neville plays the keyboard 1 part, which is a core rhythm section book that he says allows him a little improvisation. “Like any show, they’re not exactly the same every performance. You have to be alert for the unexpected!” he adds. He says that his main touring challenges are finding housing and getting safely to the next city. He recalls some crazy drives he’s done: Seattle to East Lansing in 2.5 days and Denver to Baltimore in 1.5 days (with a blizzard somewhere in the middle). “I’ve always enjoyed traveling; I like exploring new places,” he says. “In general, we move every four weeks. The last week in the old city, the travel between cities, and the first week in the new city are complete chaos, but then you have three weeks of being settled. I have friends all over the country; it’s always a treat to pick up where you left off.”

Stefan Monssen, Percussionist

Local 802 member Stefan Monssen has played with The Lion King since 2002, on more than 5,000 shows. He studied Haitian and Cuban drumming under master drummer John Amira. He traveled to the Gambia, West Africa, where he lived for two years with traditional Kutiro drummers, and also visited Guinea to study djembe. He’s played and studied with various African drum schools and masters upon returning. He was previously a sub on Broadway for two years. “I never could have imagined that following my passion and living in Africa would bring me to play for a Broadway show and tour,” says Monssen. “If I had to pick one show that I would never get tired of playing it would be The Lion King. So, needless to say, I feel incredibly fortunate to have followed the path of music to where it’s led me and continues to lead me.” Monssen finds challenges as well as opportunities to remaining a life-long learner on the road. “I’ve started learning drum kit, and brought a V-Drum set that I travel with,” he says, adding that he also packs his SUV with bata drums, a set of Kutiro drums, an extra djembe, and his dog, as he moves city to city. “I always try to see what teachers or performers might be in the city we are presently in and either see them perform or try to take a class.” “It’s amazing, after all these years, that my passion and love for music has only grown and I’m actually making a very decent living from it,” he concludes. “I am truly very grateful. Shows like The Lion King might come once in a lifetime, if you are lucky.”