Tag Archives: theatre musicians

AFM and the Broadway League Announce COVID Safety Plans for Touring Broadway Shows

American Federation of Musicians of the US and Canada (AFM) and the Broadway League have announced an agreement on health and safety protocols for Pamphlet B touring shows. This news comes as Wicked, the first touring Broadway production to return to the road, is set to resume performances on August 3 in Dallas following a 17-month pandemic hiatus interruption.

Wicked’s fully vaccinated orchestra will perform and tour throughout the US and Canada under newly negotiated safety protocols and an extended collective bargaining agreement.

Key provisions of the agreement include:

  • Improved HVAC standards and portable HEPA air filtration in orchestra pits.
  • Mandated vaccines for the musicians, actors and crew.
  • PCR or antigen tests for COVID-19 will be provided at no cost to the musicians.
  • Each musician will receive up to eight extra sick days for quarantine or isolation related to COVID infection or positive COVID tests.
  • Allowance for modifications to the protocols where necessary for individual shows or locations.

“Reopening the touring Broadway productions and returning to work under achievable health and safety guidelines that minimize the risk of COVID transmission during a tour are important priorities,” said AFM International President Ray Hair. “There exists great pent-up demand and an overwhelming thirst to see, hear, and be entertained by great live theatrical musical performances. AFM members performing these shows are the finest musicians in the world. They will help quench that thirst.”

The protocols are based on preventive strategies from US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and medical and infectious disease specialists. The tour safety protocols will follow state and local health department guidelines and will be continually assessed for the adequacy of prevention efforts as the tours travel across the US and Canada.

View updated “Theatrical Touring Health & Safety Manual for the Broadway League and the American Federation of Musicians” at: https://www.afm.org/our-musicians/theater/

June IM Cover

Dominic Trumfio

Chicago Theater Musician Creates Art in Every Color of the Rainbow

Musicians often don’t wind up where they started when embarking on a chosen career path. And sometimes the place they wind up is even more fulfilling than the one they imagined. As a high school flutist, Chicago native Dominic Trumfio of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL) might not have imagined himself as music director of a drag show—but now he can’t imagine it any other way. 

It was a journey to get to that point, starting back in seventh grade as a saxophone player who found himself fascinated with the flute. “I was reluctant to change, though,” Trumfio recalls. “Boys in the school band just didn’t play flute.” But when Trumfio started high school, he saw some of the older guys indeed playing it. And that cemented it. “My older brothers were in jazz band, and some of their friends played flute, often as a double. I decided there and then that it was what I wanted to do.” 

Trumfio says he was drawn to the qualities and colors the flute adds to an orchestral texture. “It’s like the icing on the cake, especially in musical theater, where it has the job of playing solo and blending with the singers.” He was a quick study, advancing to the principal chair in high school. Northwestern University was where he began to explore his theater fascination. “Even early on, theater pit work was something I sought out, through connections at Northwestern,” he says. In 2000, he got a call to go on the road, touring for three years with Les Miserables. “It was one of the last remaining shows that toured with a full orchestra, all around the world. Back in Chicago, that gave me the credentials to play shows here on a higher level.” 

A multifaceted career has made Trumfio a commodity in Chicago’s musical theater scene on flute, saxophone, clarinet, recorders, pennywhistles, and a wide variety of other wind instruments. “My advantage is being a flutist who also plays clarinet and sax,” he says. “Typically it’s the other way around—a reed player doubling on flute. And that’s a hard switch.” 

These days, theater orchestra pits are where Trumfio does the bulk of his work. His many dozens of credited shows include Idina Menzel in concert, Ragtime, La Cage Aux Folles with George Hamilton, the 25th Anniversary Production of Les Misérables, and the opening of the Shrek The Musical national tour. He has also taken part in world premieres, including Now and Forever: The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, and The Bowery Boys. “It’s a wonderful way to make a living,” he says. Asked the usual pit orchestra question about how he copes with the repetition, he confesses that he actually embraces it. “Playing a show multiple times becomes like a ritual, so it actually ties in with the repetition of liturgical music.” He adds that it also feels connected to Yoga, of which he is both a devotee and instructor. 

Out of the Pit and into the Choir 

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down, including theaters, Trumfio found himself leaning further into his church work—largely choral conducting, another strong interest stemming from junior high school. “I first got involved with church music as a Confirmation service project,” he recalls. “I played flute and piano and took over accompaniment duties for my church’s choir. Ultimately I wound up putting myself partly through college as the assistant director at a Chicago church.” Trumfio also did church music course work at Northwestern, studying organ, choral conducting, and liturgy. “So, the choral conducting really grew alongside my flute performance degree. But I’ve always approached conducting from an instrumentalist’s point of view, meaning I try to keep good beat patterns and give clear cues.” 

After graduation from Northwestern University, he got a full-time church music director job, along with theater pit work. Trumfio says his faith has always been his inspiration and support, even when he was dealing with his sexual orientation. “It kept me on my path. I was aware of the prevailing church dogma, but that never deterred me.” He acknowledges the reality that some churches (and indeed some denominations) don’t accept LGBTQ+ people. “On the other hand, Old St. Patrick’s, where I am currently associate music director, has an LGBTQ+ ministry,” he says. In fact, the church recently rolled out a vision statement on inclusion, and constantly advocates for the modernization of the Catholic Church as a whole. “Dragging a 2,000-year-old institution into the 21st century isn’t an easy job,” he laughs. “But Old St. Pat’s is acknowledged to be on the leading edge. It’s a joy to work here, being the change that the church needs, and leading by example. We show people that this is what the modern Catholic Church can look like.” 

Onto the Stage 

Trumfio first got involved with “Kiki Queens,” a charity drag show in Chicago, through his husband Brandon, who works in the tech field but also likes to perform. “Brandon is a makeup artist, and he directs photo shoots. He was always interested in the art of drag,” Trumfio says. Brandon met many like-minded people during his time in a local gay men’s chorus. Unlike other drag performances, no one lip syncs. It’s all live. Another major difference, says Trumfio, is the Kiki Queens’ mission of giving back to the community. “Everyone involved with these productions is a volunteer, and every dime goes to local LGBTQ+ nonprofits.” To date, after three years, Kiki Queens have donated more than $75,000. 

As the show’s music director, Trumfio prepares the singers—who typically sport pun-based drag names like Nita Bevvy and Izzie Contagious—during an eight-week prep period. “I’ll help the performers find arrangements in keys that work best for them, and then my role is vocal coach.” Since all the performers have come from local choirs, they naturally enjoy the art of singing together. “I’m also their pianist, so I help from the keyboard,” he adds. “Occasionally, I’ll even get to use my woodwind skills.” 

Becoming music director of a drag show is not particularly something he saw himself doing as a high school flutist at Interlochen music camp. “Drag queens used to scare me,” he laughs. “In a typical drag show, they go after who they see as easy marks.” Their targets are subjected to good-natured—and hilariously cutting—teasing and banter. “But in reality, they have such big hearts, and they’re filled with generosity.” Trumfio says he feels lucky to have a career in music, and it gives him the opportunity to give back. “And the performers in Kiki Queens share this same drive to contribute to their community.” 

The Kiki Queens are also conscious of not drawing work away from “career” drag queens. “We’re a totally philanthropic endeavor. And so many people in Chicago, sometimes from surprising quarters, have been drawn to Kiki Queens and are now firm supporters. Some of my church congregation members even attend shows. My older white Reaganomics father is actually one of the biggest fans, and he loves supporting our mission,” says Trumfio. 

From Drag Shows to Union Shows 

Trumfio believes his biggest lesson from the pandemic has been the importance of having multiple income streams and diversified work. “The theater world was decimated for a year and a half. That was a wakeup call,” he says. “People need to stay open to other opportunities. But I’m lucky because this is how my career has always gone. My typical Sunday will be two masses in the morning, then a matinee and evening show in the orchestra pit. Musical multitasking keeps our skills sharp.” 

Among the many dozens of shows Trumfio has played in the orchestra pits of Chicago’s award-winning Broadway and regional theaters, his last show—before Kiki Queens, and before COVID-19—was Phantom of the Opera. Like so many touring productions, Phantom employed a reduced orchestra. “Unfortunately, we’re seeing more single-instrument chairs becoming part of a doubling book, or sequenced into and even replaced by the keyboards,” he observes. “Shrinking pit sizes in theaters are a nationwide trend and a growing problem. It’s at the forefront of our minds here in Chicago.” 

To that end, the issue has been taken up by the Chicago area chapter of the Theatre Musicians Association (TMA), a player conference of the AFM. The TMA works closely with the AFM on issues specific to theater musicians, whether local, on Broadway, or on tour. Trumfio is a director of the Chicago area chapter. “We recently got a resolution passed and are working in conjunction with Local 10-208 on contract language defining parameters about what producers can and can’t do when shows come into town,” he says. “It’s not an official bylaw yet, but it’s a victory, helping producers understand and acknowledge that these are real jobs, and musicians’ livelihoods are being cut.” 

Trumfio works in close conjunction with violinist Heather Boehm, member of Local 10-208, president of the Chicago TMA chapter and vice president of the National TMA. “Heather has been deeply involved on the national level with the AFM,” he adds. The goal, both locally and nationally, is to preserve playing jobs—and careers. As a TMA board member, Trumfio ensures there is theater representation in the LGBTQ+ community. 

Trumfio is eager to see what happens when theaters come back post-COVID. “My hope is that all contracts will come back full force. But no matter what, the TMA is and will remain the voice of advocacy.” 

To keep up with Dominic Trumfio’s activities, visit www.dominictrumfio.com
To contribute to Kiki Queens’ charitable mission, visit www.kikiqueens.org

theatre musicians

Spring into Action: Preserving Musicians’ Work Through Audience Education

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

Greetings from the Theatre Musicians Association (TMA) world headquarters in north central Massachusetts, where the robins have returned, the flowers are blooming, and a faint light can be seen at the end of the pandemic tunnel. The feeling in the air today is quite different from the last time I wrote in these pages, back in the bleakness of November. Effective vaccines have been developed, approved, and are getting into arms at an impressive rate. In the music business, after a dark year of virtually no in-person performances, tentative plans are being announced for the long-awaited return to live music. I am feeling cautiously optimistic when I speak to my colleagues across the Federation.

You are well aware that Broadway and all national musical theater tours abruptly closed down in mid-March of last year. Pamphlet B, the international agreement that covers all AFM sanctioned tours, expired around the same time, March 15, 2020. With no musical productions lighting up Broadway theaters or coming to a town near you, the Broadway League informed us they had no interest in sitting down at the bargaining table to negotiate a successor agreement.

While disappointing, the extra time has allowed TMA, along with Touring, Theatre, Booking Division Director Tino Gagliardi, to come up with the reopening safety protocols that were presented to you in a previous issue of the International Musician. The extra time also allowed us to survey our membership and delve into the issues that we would like to see addressed in the next set of negotiations. AFM President Ray Hair has assembled a terrific negotiating team, and I look forward to sitting down with them soon to improve this contract.

One of the issues that TMA members repeatedly mentioned in our survey was concern over the ever-shrinking size of pit orchestras, and how the use of increasingly sophisticated technology is advancing this trend. We have seen the replacement of musicians by electronic devices for decades.

Pit orchestras are at an inherent disadvantage because they are, for the most part, hidden below stage level or, with ever-growing frequency, in a remote room. The audience doesn’t see that a 25-piece Broadway orchestra has been reduced to a 10-piece band on a traveling tour, thanks to the assistance of computers and virtual orchestras.

There is a new technology on the electronic musician replacement scene that is raising alarm bells within TMA and AFM leadership. It’s called KeyComp, and it is possible you have never heard of it. However, as it may very well change the way musicians are hired and employed in the future, it’s important for theater and non-theater musicians alike to become familiar with this device.

Recently, orchestra numbers were reduced by the use of keyboard “patches.” These sampled sounds allow flexibility of tempo due to being performed live by a keyboardist, but left a lot to be desired in terms of quality. Enter KeyComp­—a machine developed by a German software developer named Christoph Buskies, who has worked at Apple Computer since 2000. Using technology developed by Buskies and recorded input of real acoustic instruments played by musicians, parts are broken down into individual beats, which in turn allow the KeyComp operator to make changes in tempo without altering pitch. The result is a flexible performance, using sounds that are remarkably close to the real acoustic instrument because they are recordings of real acoustic instruments. An entire musical score can be loaded onto KeyComp, and played by a few keyboardists. This is troubling, to say the least.

What can be done? Ever since the 1927 introduction of talkie movies began putting accompaniment pianists out of work, we have tried to stem the march of technology, with varying degrees of success. It is through educating the public that we will be able to prevent the pit musician from going the way of the dodo.

A symphony patron would never allow for a Mahler symphony to be played at Boston Symphony Hall with 20 players and a bunch of machines. That’s ridiculous! We need the theatergoers to stand up and demand the same. We need to continue our message of “Live music is best.” Patrons must realize that they are not getting their money’s worth when they go to an expensive show to hear a score played by anything less than a full orchestra.

I recall doing a run of White Christmas a number of years ago, and the score called for a large orchestra—complete with the luxury of a string section! Overhearing audience comments after the show, I was struck by the one thing that came up over and over again: that orchestra sounded great. Perhaps they didn’t know it, but it was because they were hearing the music the way it was meant to be. That is, performed live, by some of the greatest musicians in the world. It’s a message we can all be passionate about.

theatre musicians

Theatre Musicians Gather in LA to Examine the Future of Musical Theatre

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

The 23rd annual Theatre Musicians Association conference was held this past August at the new AFM Local 47 office in Burbank, California. It was a day and a half of interesting and informative addresses, presentations, and discussions. Our host, Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) President John Acosta, couldn’t have been more welcoming and generous. Their new home is nothing short of beautiful.

The conference was loosely structured around the theme of the current and future state of the musical theatre business. I’d like to share some of the highlights of the presentations and remarks given during the conference.

In my president’s remarks, I encouraged all TMA members to get involved in the organization by bringing in new members or starting new chapters. I also addressed the issue of national touring acts such as Evanescence or Il Volo, who come into our cities and hire local musicians for below-scale wages. While not theatre work per se, the musicians hired for these shows are often the same players that are hired to play traveling Broadway shows that come into local theatres.

TMA Vice president Heather Boehm, of Locals 10-208 (Chicago, IL) and 802 (New York City), gave an impassioned address about gender equality in the musical theatre pits. We still have a long way to go before this equality is achieved.

AFM President Ray Hair updated us on the Sound Recording Labor Agreement (SRLA) negotiation, the work being done to collect unallocated pension contributions, and the 2019 jingle agreement negotiations, which will most likely focus on licensing. Hair spoke a bit about the efforts to relocate the AFM office, and how, in the end, it makes sense to remain at 1501 Broadway, but make a move to the ninth floor. Later, Hair returned to the podium to give a history of the Pamphlet B agreement.

theatre musicians
Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) Secretary-Treasurer Gary Lasley (far left) swore in Theatre Musicians Association (TMA) officers and directors. (L to R) are: John Trombetta, Brian Butler, President Tony D’Amico, Mark Berger, Carey Deadman, Jeff Martin, Paul Castillo, Secretary-Treasurer Mark Pinto, and Bob Bowlby.

AFM Secretary-Treasurer Jay Blumenthal reported the AFM has a $2 million surplus and 187 locals, with nine mergers taking place in the past year. He gave details about the 2019 AFM Convention to be held in June.

AFM Local 802 (New York City) President Tino Gagliardi gave a report on the state of the Broadway theatres, noting there are currently 28 musicals on Broadway, employing about 418 musicians. Next season, there are 31 musicals slated to come in, which is the most in recent history.

AFM Touring/Theatre/Booking Division Director George Fiddler gave a report outlining the money Broadway and touring musicals generated this past season, as well as the number of theatergoers these shows attracted. He gave a list of the AFM contracted shows on tour during the 2017-2018 season, and how many travelers and local musicians each show employed. Fiddler also discussed how the overages on SET agreements affected the traveling musician’s paycheck, and how that compared with musicians on full Pamphlet B shows. Finally, he gave a preview of shows we can expect to be on the road in the 2018-2019 season.

AFM Director of Organizing & Education Michael Manley gave a presentation on organizing, including a screening of the film 1,000 People in the Street, a documentary about the 1997 5th Avenue Theatre musicians strike in Seattle.

TMA SoCal President Paul Castillo led a panel discussion entitled “Organizing, Unity, and the Future of Musical Theatre Employment.”
AFM President Hair and Local 802 President Gagliardi led an AFM-EPF report that also included participation by fund actuaries and lawyers.

All national TMA officers were re-elected by acclamation: myself as president, Vice President Heather Boehm, and Secretary-Treasurer Mark Pinto of Locals 9-535 (Boston, MA) and 126 (Lynn, MA). We began discussions about the location of next year’s TMA Conference.

It is always a pleasure to attend these conferences and meet with theatre musicians from all over the United States and Canada. Our organization has done some truly great work over the past 20-plus years, but there is so much more that must be done.

Negotiations for a Pamphlet B successor agreement are right around the corner, and TMA will be at the table for these talks. Whether you only occasionally play musical theatre productions or the pit is 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 write to me: president.tma@afm-tma.org.

The Year Leading up to TMA’s 20th Anniversary Conference

Tom Mendalby Tom Mendel, TMA President and Member of AFM Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL)

Theatre Musicians Association (TMA) has been quite busy in the past year. I can think of no better way to demonstrate this than by writing about what the Executive Board and volunteer committees have been up to in the TMA’s year review.

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