Tag Archives: Theatre Musicians Association

What TMA is Doing in Response to the COVID-19 Situation

by Anthony D’Amico, Theater Musicians Association President and Member of Local 9-535 (Boston, MA) and Local 198-457 (Providence, RI)

As in all other sectors of our industry, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe effect on the musical theatre business throughout the federation. On March 12, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered Broadway to shut down until at least April 13. National tours throughout the United States and Canada have been suspended or canceled, and cast, crews, and musicians have been sent home. Local city governments everywhere have restricted the size of public gatherings, all but closing regional theaters.

We theatre players live by the maxim “The show must go on,” yet here we find ourselves sitting at home with all work canceled. The Theatre Musicians Association (TMA) is monitoring this everchanging situation closely, and will send out useful information and suggestions to our members via The Pit Blast—our email notification system.

Many theaters and producers are citing force majeure clauses as a reason not to pay musicians for canceled work. However, it is in the musician’s best interest to look at the individual agreements they work under to confirm they are in fact not entitled to compensation for lost services. All contracts and force majeure language are certainly not alike.

The Broadway World website is a good place to keep track of the situation through a musical theater prism. This page will keep track of canceled theatre tours. They have promised to update the information as the situation changes: www.broadwayworld.com—under “Shutdown Updates” click on “National Tour Updates.”

We are in uncharted territory. While the closing of theaters and suspension of tours is certainly an extreme measure, it is necessary if we are to “flatten the curve.” Along with frequent hand washing and social distancing, staying out of the close confines of an orchestra pit is our way to fight this outbreak. I welcome any suggestions and questions you might have—I can be reached at president.tma@afm-tma.org.

Highlights From the 2019 TMA Conference

The summer of 2019 brought warm temperatures, a Red Sox team with a World Series hangover, and, perhaps most importantly, Theatre Musicians Association (TMA) officers from all over the country to Boston. Our 24th annual conference was held within the jurisdiction of my home local 9-535 on July 29 and 30. It was a chance for TMA and AFM officers to get together to attend meetings and presentations, and join in on discussions pertaining to all things musical theater. As a bonus, The Boston Musicians’ Association (BMA) and I were able to play host and show off the Hub of the Universe to our guests.

My thanks to BMA President Pat Hollenbeck and the members of the board of directors for all their assistance with our conference and helping to make it the success it was. I’d like to use the space here to fill you in on some of the highlights of our conference.
After opening remarks from myself and TMA Boston chapter president Walter Bostian, AFM International President Ray Hair took to the podium to report on the recently concluded 101st AFM Convention, the status change of the AFM-EPF, and how capturing streaming revenue is paramount to the efforts being made to bolster the pension fund. President Hair spoke about the upcoming negotiations for a successor agreement to the expiring Pamphlet B touring musicals contract and gave a short history of independent contractor laws and how changes to those laws have negatively affected the membership numbers of the AFM over the years.
AFM Secretary-Treasurer Jay Blumenthal then addressed the attendees and described the AFM’s recent move up a few floors at 1501 Broadway, and what a massive undertaking that turned out to be.
At this point, it was my honor to address the conference and give my president’s report. I began by pointing out Broadway and international touring musicals are having a record season vis-á-vis ticket revenue and attendance, and I wondered aloud how this fact will affect the Pamphlet B negotiations that are right around the corner. I spoke about my experience attending my first AFM Convention and summarized the two resolutions TMA submitted and were able to get passed:
First, to encourage the AFM to use its best efforts to influence producers of touring musical theater productions to use fuller orchestras and employ more musicians.
Second, to organize on a national level the proliferation of touring acts sometimes known as “star attractions”—the Josh Grobans, Two Cellos, and Il Divos of the world—that crisscross the country sometimes exploiting musicians with substandard wages and no benefits or protections.
Finally, I spoke about what an honor it was to address the convention and convey how proud I am of TMA, our officers and board, and all our members making first-class music in the theater pits across our Federation.
TMA Vice President Heather Boehm followed me and gave a report highlighting the recent campaign to organize the Porchlight Theatre in Chicago. Secretary/Treasurer Mark Pinto gave a report on TMA’s finances and membership numbers.
We were then treated to reports from the other players’ conferences—Paul Austin for the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), Liz Johnson for the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM), Martin McClennan for the Recording Musicians Association (RMA), and Mike Smith for the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA). Lovie Smith-Wright gave her always interesting Diversity Report.
We then welcomed out first guest speaker of our conference—labor attorney Gabe Dumont. Gabe is perhaps the top labor lawyer in the Northeast, and the Boston local has been lucky to call him our attorney for many years. His talk, titled “Organizing Musicians At Theatre Venues,” touched on voting eligibility, employee versus independent contractor status, and joint employer issues.
Southern California chapter President Paul Castillo led a panel discussion titled “Pamphlet B Issues and Solutions.” The purpose of this panel was to identify and discuss issues TMA would like to see addressed in the Pamphlet B negotiations that are just on the horizon. Participating in the panel were DC-Baltimore chapter Secretary-Treasurer Brian Butler, TMA member from Philadelphia Susan Lerner, TMA Secretary/Treasurer Mark Pinto, and St. Louis chapter Director and TMA President Emeritus Vicky Smolik.
Our busy first day concluded with a presentation entitled “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone—Hearing Health, Healing Loss,” given by Dr. Stephen D. Rauch, professor and vice chair for clinical research, Department of Otolaryngology, Harvard Medical School.
The day’s meeting adjourned, and conference participants were treated to a duck boat tour of historic Boston, followed by a meal at the Union Oyster House—America’s oldest restaurant.
The next day was highlighted by a report from Broadway director Jan Mullen on the newly ratified Broadway agreement. Finally, elections were held, and all national TMA officers were re-elected by acclamation: myself as president, Heather Boehm as vice-president, and Mark Pinto as secretary/treasurer.
It is always a pleasure to attend these conferences and meet with theater musicians from all over the United States and Canada. Whether you only occasionally play musical theater productions or you make life in the pit your full-time job, I think you will find TMA membership worthwhile. Please go to afm-tma.org to learn more about our organization or contact me at


TMA and Building Solidarity

paul castillo

by Paul Castillo, Director Executive Board Theatre Musicians Association, President SoCal Chapter TMA, and Member of Locals 47 (Los Angeles, CA) and 353 (Long Beach, CA)

I want to begin by thanking Theatre Musicians Association (TMA) President Tony D’Amico for the opportunity to write this column. Solidarity is at the heart of the TMA. A primary goal is to strengthen relationships with the Federation and the AFM locals. Current issues include ever-diminishing pit orchestras and musician/actors on the musical theatre stage. The TMA is building solidarity to fix those problems and other issues.

Part of solidarity involves supporting others in one way or another. This year TMA Vice President Heather Boehm, TMA President Emeritus Tom Mendel, and other TMA members attended rallies and spoke in support of the Chicago Symphony Musicians who, at the time of this writing, are on strike over fair wages and benefits. In March, at the invitation of my AFM local, I attended the first session of the Motion Picture and TV negotiations as an AFM member and a representative of TMA. In February, I attended the AFM Western Conference on behalf of TMA.

Members working together with AFM locals and officers is critical to solidarity. In a recent conversation with a local officer it was mentioned that, prior to a local negotiation for a musical theatre agreement, an email survey was sent to AFM members who had worked under the local agreement. Some of them were members of other locals and there were few responses. A survey is a union’s way of asking for help with negotiations so that the union can ensure members get what they want in an agreement. It builds union solidarity. Without it, the union has little choice but to bargain the level of exploitation the employer will be allowed to commit upon the musicians, instead of bargaining for what musicians want. Connecting with the union is vital to successful employment.

The concept of solidarity and employment is certainly not new, and much has been written and said about it. In contemporary terms, solidarity is a major part of a support system for musical employment of all kinds. The TMA is an integral part of the AFM and musical theatre employment for musicians. The TMA, along with the AFM, are a fundamental support system for musicians employed in musical theatre. Simply put, solidarity = support system + unity = successful employment!

As the TMA continues to build solidarity, we will look for principles to incorporate in our efforts. Here are several to consider:

There is always one more thing you can do to influence the matter in your favor. Few things are more frustrating than being told “can’t do” when asking for help or information. The emphasis needs to be on what can be done. It’s not always easy to come up with “can do” items. Sometimes it’s necessary to get ideas from others, such as a support group. Then, and this is the most important part, we go and do that one thing. After that, there is always one more thing to be done.

Empty your bowl so that it may be filled. Things accumulate over time, often to the point where they are not only useless, but may be harmful. We must ask, “What are we doing that we should not be doing?” and hack away the unessential. This makes way for new things that yield better results.

Use ecological solutions. For any solution we must ask two questions: 1) Will this cause harm to ourselves? and 2) Will this cause harm to any other musicians? If the answer to both is “No,” the solution is ecological and consistent with solidarity. If the answer to either question is “Yes,” then the solution needs to be modified. If it becomes necessary to ask someone to make a sacrifice so that we may benefit, we must first ask ourselves what sacrifice we will make so that they may benefit—and make that sacrifice.

Countering the Shrinking Pit with Education

Countering the Shrinking Pitby Tony D’Amico, Theatre Musicians Association President and Member of Locals 9-535 (Boston, MA) and 198-457 (Providence,RI)


Summer is AFM conference season, and the Theatre Musicians Association kicked that season off with our 22nd annual set of meetings held in Phoenix, Arizona, July 31 and August 1. It proved to be a pair of jam-packed days featuring presentations, reports, and discussions on many subjects of interest to theatre musicians. Attendees were treated to a pension presentation, facilitated by AFM President Ray Hair and a panel of AFM-EPF trustees, lawyers, and actuaries. A representative from the Actors Fund spoke about health care, and what we might expect from proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act. Chicago TMA Chapter Director Heather Boehm offered some useful member recruitment ideas that have proved successful in her city.

I’d like to extend a huge “thank you” to Local 586 (Phoenix, AZ) President Jerry Donato, Secretary-Treasurer Doug Robinson, as well as TMA Phoenix Chapter Director Jeff Martin for their help organizing the conference and welcoming us to their city.

I am happy to report that Heather Boehm was elected by acclimation to serve as TMA’s national vice president. I look forward to working with Boehm as we continue to build upon the past successes of our organization. My thanks to outgoing Vice President Paul Castillo for all the dedicated work and invaluable assistance he gave me during my first year as president. Castillo will continue to work for TMA as the Southern California chapter director.

During my opening remarks to the conference, I spoke a bit about what I see as perhaps the major issue for theatre players across the US and Canada—the continual downsizing of pit orchestras as technology advances. One player now does the job of what once took an entire section of musicians to perform. Imagine my surprise when, during a trip to a Boston theatre a few years back to see a performance of The Book of Mormon—the epitome of a blockbuster show—I looked into the pit to discover that the percussion-heavy score required not one single piece of percussion, never mind a percussionist to play those sounds.

Of course, this is not a new issue for us. Technology has inevitably improved over the decades, and the practice of acoustic instruments being convincingly mimicked by other means has been going on for decades. While, to me, the computerized or sampled sound of an oboe played on a keyboard cannot compare to the artistry a real oboist brings to the part, in the grand scheme of the modern musical, the nuance is lost in the greater spectacle. In other words, by and large the public doesn’t notice. This is where we can make progress in our fight to keep our pits filled with professional musicians.

The key (as with most things) is education. We must continue to educate the public. They need to know that often they are not getting their money’s worth. A show that used 15 musicians on Broadway will use six on the road, but continue to charge theatregoers the same Broadway ticket prices. Only with an informed public can we ensure the continued integrity of our art form. Only the audiences can demand quality.

The public does notice. During a recent Boston run of a touring show I played, the pit consisted of one trumpet, one trombone, one violin, a bunch of keyboards, and a rock rhythm section. More than one acquaintance of mine commented to me that things sounded quite thin, with one friend even saying the violinist should have just stayed home, since she was contributing so little to the overall sound of the show. An audience would not stand for paying full ticket price for a performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony by the Boston Symphony Orchestra with a choir of 10 people along with some sound “enhancement,” or even worse, with the low brass parts played on a keyboard. Of course, that’s ridiculous.

I believe one of TMA’s main missions is to shed light on this subject and let the public reach the natural conclusion: a show utilizing more highly skilled musicians results in a better theatre experience.

Of course, the question is how to go about getting this message out. Some ideas that have been recently tossed around include educational leafleting in front of theatres before performances, letters to the editors responding to reviews (criticizing a show for a small pit or praising it for healthy numbers), as well as social media campaigns. I’d welcome your comments and suggestions. I can be reached at: president.tma@afm-tma.org