Tag Archives: tma

AFM Members Take Action Together to Secure a Healthy Pension Fund

In February, more than 85 AFM members participated in the union’s first legislative advocacy phone bank, reaching out to fellow musicians in congressional districts key to the future of the Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act of 2021.

The AFM Organizing and Education Department worked with AFM player conferences to engage members of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), the Recording Musicians Association (RMA), the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA), and the Theatre Musicians Association (TMA) to join in the legislative department’s targeted Zoom phone banking campaign to make sure key committee members would support the inclusion of pension relief in the upcoming reconciliation package. In all, over 1,000 of our brothers and sisters in targeted districts across the country were contacted by volunteer callers. 

Zoom phone banking brings volunteers together online at the same time for a quick educational introduction to the purpose of calling and offers instructions on completing the call list sheets. Callers, while on mute, remain on Zoom feeling connected to the group action, and can reach out to staff with any questions.

“This was a great way to connect to our union brothers and sisters around the country, even as we can’t make music together,” said Heather Boehm, member of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL). “When we raise our voices collectively, we cut through the noise and ensure musicians are heard by decision-makers and protect our ability to retire in dignity.”

Violinist Mei Chang, Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), joined several virtual phone banking sessions. “The camaraderie in the Zoom was great and made calling people I didn’t know much easier,” said Chang. “I am inspired to continue doing advocacy on behalf of my fellow working musicians, and hope more of us can join in on the effort.”

The AFM-Employers Pension Fund is one of over 100 multiemployer union pensions in critical status because of aging demographics, declining participation, and reduced contributions. The Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act of 2021 outlines solutions to help solve shortcomings in multiemployer pension plans and protect our retirement and the retirement of tens of thousands of our fellow musicians.

Screenshot of one of the more than 20 AFM organized volunteer Zoom phone bank sessions conducted in February and March.

Report on the Twenty-Fifth Annual TMA Conference

Greetings from the Theatre Musicians Association (TMA) international headquarters, located in north central Massachusetts! Full disclosure: I’m sitting at my kitchen table, reflecting on our 25th annual TMA conference, which took place this past August. Twenty-five years of doing anything is a milestone, and it would be dishonest of me to write I was not more than a little sad that our silver anniversary gathering could not be celebrated in person. The reality of the current pandemic necessitated an online event. So, for the first time in our history, TMA officers, directors, members, and AFM leadership assembled virtually to discuss all things theatre-related. However, there was a silver lining to presenting a conference in this fashion: Attendance by the TMA general membership was far greater than what we have seen at past in-person conferences. Also, we were able to open this conference to interested non-members, as well as potential new chapter organizers. More on that in the coming months.

The conference began with my brief welcome, after which I turned the proceedings over to AFM International President Ray Hair. Hair gave a sobering assessment of the music business in general, and the theatre industry in particular. Currently, the Broadway League and Disney have no intention of sitting down with us to negotiate a successor agreement to the expired Pamphlet B contract. Hair predicted that musical theatre producers and presenters will use this pandemic as an excuse to gut contracts and abolish provisions the AFM has fought for over many years.

Following the president, I was pleased to introduce AFM International Vice President Bruce Fife, who spoke about the new version of the AFM’s officer training course. This course was given only once, at the Western Conference, before the pandemic hit and things were shut down. For the time being, the program is being presented via Zoom. AFM Secretary-Treasurer Jay Blumenthal reported that work dues coming into the Federation were down, as one might expect. To make matters worse, the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program was not available to labor unions, so no help was to be found there. Blumenthal finished his report by telling us the International Executive Board endorsed the Biden/Harris ticket in the upcoming election.

During my president’s report, I spoke about the timeline of the Broadway and touring shows shutdowns, the plight of our musicians on the road whose instruments were stranded on trucks for months, and the uncertain future of our business. While things certainly look bleak, I pointed out the public misses the theatre, as displayed by the tremendous success of Disney Plus’s broadcast of Hamilton. I am confident musical theatre will return to Broadway and cities across the United States and Canada. 

In preparation of that day, TMA, in cooperation with AFM Director of Theatre, Touring, and Booking Tino Gagliardi, drafted a document outlining suggested safety protocols for theatre reopening, previously published in these pages. TMA Vice President Heather Boehm, Secretary-Treasurer Mark Pinto, and myself have also drafted a document that addresses the complexities of subbing after theatres reopen. There will no doubt continue to be new COVID cases after we return to work, and a clear, carefully considered plan for last-minute pit orchestra substitutions must be in place. I also mentioned how proud I was that the TMA Executive Board published a statement of support for those who work towards ending systemic racism in the United States. 

Boehm then spoke about unemployment insurance issues musicians face, the huge threat the new virtual orchestra technology KeyComp poses to the employment of live musicians in the pit, and the successful organizing campaign of Chicago’s Porchlight Theatre she spearheaded. Pinto gave a positive  report on TMA’s finances and membership numbers.

We were then treated to reports from two of the other four players’ conferences—Chairperson Meredith Snow for the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), and President Mike Smith for the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA). Lovie Smith-Wright gave her always-interesting diversity report, made all the more important due to the current wave of civil unrest and protests against systematic racism in the United States. Her report was the perfect precursor for the following day’s diversity roundtable.

Closing out Day 1 was Gagliardi’s report, giving a timeline of the Broadway shutdown and the subsequent closing of touring productions. He reported that while the Broadway League has stated there will not be a resumption of shows before the first of January, there are some regions that are advertising productions for the fall of 2020. He also cautioned about musicians devaluing their work by offering to livestream their performances without receiving compensation. 

Day 2 of the conference began with a presentation from renowned peak performance psychologist Dr. Don Greene, who offered coping mechanisms customized for musicians. We then heard from the other two players’ conference presidents—Robert Frasier of the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM) and Marc Sazer of the Recording Musicians Association (RMA). AFM Legislative, Political, and Diversity Director Alfonso Pollard gave us a legislative report highlighting the work he is doing to represent musicians’ interests on Capitol Hill. Smith-Wright and Pollard then led a thought-provoking roundtable examining diversity in the musical theatre orchestra. 

The final presentation of the day was titled, “COVID-19, Musicians, and the Return to Work,” led by otolaryngologist Dr. Adam Schwalje. This enlightening presentation examined the science of COVID and the criteria that must be met to ensure our safety as we return to the theatre. 

Finally, elections were held, and all national TMA officers were reelected by acclamation: myself as president, Boehm as vice president, and Pinto as secretary-treasurer. Also elected by acclamation were Jan Mullen as director for Broadway, Lovie Smith-Wright as director of membership-at-large, and Angela Chan as director for travelers. 

My sincere thanks to all the presenters and attendees for making this conference a great success. I look forward to seeing everyone in person next summer!

non-union

Non-Union Touring Shows Weaken Us All

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

We’ve all heard the lines before:
“It’s only one tiny gig. What’s the harm?”

“I just want to get together with other
musicians and play!”

“If I don’t take the gig, someone else will.”

“Sure, I’d rather it be a union job,
but sometimes I don’t have a choice.”

There are probably a hundred reasons why an AFM member will agree to take a non-union job. But in the end, I would argue all those excuses do not justify the tremendous harm done to the musicians’ labor movement and the core principles of our union when professional musicians agree to take non-union work. This is nowhere more accurate than in the world of musical theater.

A few months ago, I was attending a bargaining session at a recently re-opened Boston theater to work on a new contract. The team across the table was trying to explain that they had to bring non-union traveling shows into their theater in order to compete with other venues in the area. While I attempted to listen to their plight with a sympathetic ear, I instead found myself getting annoyed.

That irritation was the inspiration for this article.

A professional musician going out on the road as part of a non-union touring company is in effect acting as a free agent, surrendering the protections the Federation has collectively bargained for over many negotiations. While I cannot speak to every non-union show that has toured across the Federation, reports I have received indicate many musicians travel in less-than-ideal circumstances, stay in substandard accommodations, work additional hours without remuneration, all while receiving unacceptably low wages.

With our pension plan in the current precarious position, the need for any and all contributions is imperative. Yet the non-union production does not contribute to the Fund in the musician’s name. However, perhaps the most damaging aspect of non-union shows is that these productions lessen the value of what we do. I have stated numerous times in these pages that professional theater musicians are some of the most versatile artists in the AFM, and it is my great honor to represent their interests as president of the Theatre Musicians Association (TMA). So, it pains me to hear stories of our players going out on the road selling themselves short.

Back in 2005, there was an effort made by the then-current AFM leadership to address the issue of non-union touring shows head-on. At the Pamphlet B touring agreement negotiations, an idea was submitted to put in place a system of wage tiers. The amount a show would pay a musician was directly linked to something called the “weekly guarantee,” which is the amount the presenter guarantees will be paid to the producer for the right to present the show. The theory was that a show that wasn’t going to do blockbuster ticket sales could reduce payroll costs and thus afford to be sent out under a union contract, vastly reducing non-union productions. The producers promised these tiered shows would be going into smaller venues often on split weeks, and would not affect the larger full Pamphlet B productions.

Under this agreement, a touring musician on a lowest tier show would make $675 a week for eight performances. That works out to $84.38 a show. Talk about not respecting the value of what theater musicians do! While TMA was vehemently opposed to this deal, it ended up being approved by the bargaining unit, and went into effect in 2006. The result was touring musicians made less money under AFM-sanctioned contracts, and non-union shows continued to crisscross the Federation.

In 2012, new President Ray Hair allowed TMA to have an integral role at the negotiating table, with then-TMA President Tom Mendel speaking at length on how the tier system was unfair, and how the producers were disingenuous about how those tiers would be used. The tier system has since been replaced by the much preferable Short Engagement Touring agreement. But still, non-union productions continue to be a reality. So, what is the solution?

I believe in the end it comes down to rank-and-file musicians insisting they be compensated fairly for the highly skilled work they perform, and they decline non-union tours when they are offered. I understand the lure of steady work can be difficult to resist, however, the long-term damage these substandard shows are doing to our industry cannot be denied. The public must be constantly reminded that the highest quality music is made by union professionals, and they are getting less value for their money when they attend a non-AFM sanctioned production. Taking away the “If I don’t take the gig, someone else will” excuse will force these discount producers to go to the AFM and sign a contract. By standing up together and demanding our fair worth, we are a formidable force.

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
president.tma@afm-tma.org.

tma

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.

Theater Musicians Association—25 Years of Workplace Involvement

I’ll have the privilege of attending the 23rd conference of the Theater Musicians Association (TMA) on August 20, at Local 47’s new offices in Burbank, California. TMA is the newest AFM player conference. It began its journey 25 years ago, and is now comprised of chapters organized among locals that negotiate local agreements with theatrical venues and presenters that book Pamphlet B tours.

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ropa's 34th annual conference

ROPA’s 34th Annual Conference: Working with Other Player Conferences and the AFM

by John Michael Smith, ROPA President and Member of Local 30-73
(St. Paul-Minneapolis, MN)

The Regional Orchestra Players’ Association will hold its 34th annual conference in Portland, Oregon, July 31-August 2. The conference will be held at University Place Hotel & Conference Center, on the campus of Portland State University. Our conference will feature presentations on a variety of subjects of interest to our members, including hearing wellness, sexual harassment, performance anxiety, and diversity and inclusiveness in our orchestras, opera, and ballet companies.

ROPA is one of three AFM symphonic player conferences, along with the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) and the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM). These three AFM player conferences work closely with the AFM’s Symphonic Services Division (SSD). Throughout the year, representatives of these player conferences meet and communicate with SSD staff in person, by email, and through phone conference calls to discuss issues and topics of mutual interest.

ROPA, ICSOM, and OCSM, together with the Theater Musicians’ Association (TMA) and the Recording Musicians’ Association (RMA), comprise the player conferences of the AFM. The leaders of each of these player conferences comprise the Player Conferences Council (PCC). This council periodically discusses issues of mutual importance among our conferences. In years when there is no AFM Convention, we meet together with representatives of the Locals’ Conferences Council (LCC) to address topics and issues.

It is important to note that each player conference usually sends a representative to address and attend the other player conferences’ annual meetings. This is especially true of the three symphonic player conferences. SSD staff members attend each of the symphonic player conferences and do presentations on important current topics. The AFM president, other AFM officers, and members of the AFM International Executive Board (IEB) may also attend the player conference annual meetings.

Along with ICSOM, AFM, and SSD staff, ROPA participates in the negotiation of national agreements that directly affect our members, such as the current negotiations for the Integrated Media Agreement. ROPA has an Emergency Relief Fund maintained and administered by a board of trustees made up of the AFM international secretary-treasurer, the ROPA president and treasurer, and two additional trustees selected by the IEB. The fund provides financial assistance loans to musicians in orchestras who are involved in strikes or lockouts. ROPA, ICSOM, and OCSM also have a relationship with conductor evaluations, providing information for search committees of orchestras looking for conductors or music directors. Each player conference has its own database, but shares files with the other player conferences upon request.

ROPA, ICSOM, and SSD staff frequently provide educational programs for musicians new to the AFM and the symphonic field, such as the fellows of New World Symphony. ROPA and ICSOM have participated at the Sphinx Organization’s SphinxConnect, where the focus is diversity action and leadership in our orchestras. ROPA and ICSOM representatives often attend the League of American Orchestras national conferences.

ROPA publishes its quarterly newsletter The Leading Tone both in print and electronically. This publication goes to musicians in our member orchestras, other player conference musicians, AFM locals, and others by subscription. ROPA has a website (ropaweb.org), a Facebook page, and is developing other social media pages. ROPA and the other player conferences have email discussion lists, with general lists for members of orchestras, locals, and others interested in topics of common interest to the player conference. Each of the player conferences may permit members of other player conferences to access their general lists.

The Player Conferences of the AFM, the Symphonic Services Division, and the AFM are working every day, side by side on the missions and goals for our musicians,
our orchestras, and our union. We are stronger together!

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

tma conference

2016 TMA Conference in the Nation’s Capitol

Tom MendelWby Tom Mendel, Theatre Musicians Association President Emeritus and Member of AFM Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL)

Our 21st Annual TMA Conference was held at the Loews Madison Hotel in Washington, DC, August 22-23. Lee Lachman of Local 161-710 (Washington, DC) (on behalf of TMA Washington, DC, Chapter President Paul Schultz), Local 161-710 President Ed Malaga, and myself welcomed the attendees.

AFM President Ray Hair spoke about the 100th AFM Convention, his history bargaining and negotiating in Dallas and Ft. Worth, Pamphlet B, and fairness for subs and alternates in orchestras.

In my president’s report, I stated the theme of this conference: the Future of TMA. Two hours of the afternoon session were devoted to a round-table discussion of this topic. I reported on the Pamphlet B negotiations in which TMA has a very active role; the formation a Keyboard Subbing Committee because of what we consider unfavorable practices involving keyboard subs; the formation of the TMA Officers & Members Video Training Committee to produce training videos for TMA officers and members on select subjects such as running a meeting, use of social media, and more. These will be great learning tools located in our TMA Officers Toolbox. I gave a PowerPoint demonstration of a new video on membership recruitment and retention.

I read TMA resolutions of recognition to Carla Lehmeier-Tatum of Local 618 (Albuquerque, NM) for nine years of service as ROPA president and Bruce Ridge of Local 500 (Raleigh, NC) for 10 years of service as ICSOM chair. OCSM President Robert Fraser of Local 247 (Victoria, BC) and Ridge gave eloquent player conference reports. Ridge read an ICSOM resolution recognizing me for my years of service with TMA. I read a report from new ROPA President Mike Smith of Local 30-73 (Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN). Local 161-710 treated conference attendees to a delicious lunch.

AFM Touring/Theatre/Booking and Immigration Director Michael Manley gave a report on Pamphlet B negotiations. He compared data from current “full” Pamphlet B tours and those touring on the SET Agreement. He also described the work his office truly does and the people working in it.

TMA Chapter, Broadway, Membership-at-Large, and Traveler Director reports followed. Legislative Chair Walter Usiatynski of Local 802 (New York City) and Chapter and Membership Recruitment Chair Debbie Brooks of Local 72-147 (Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX) gave standing reports. Lovie Smith-Wright of Local 65-699 (Houston, TX) and 60-471 (Pittsburgh, PA) gave the Diversity Committee report.

tma conference

AFM President Ray Hair addresses the TMA Conference while then TMA President Tom Mendel listens on.

TMA Parliamentarian Paul Castillo of Locals 47 (Los Angeles, CA) and 353 (Long Beach, CA) introduced and moderated the Future of TMA round-table discussion, which resulted in three areas for TMA Executive Board consideration.

The second day began with the executive board report. TMA Webmaster Stephen Green of Locals 47 and 7 (Orange County, CA) gave his report. Newly elected AFM Secretary-Treasurer Jay Blumenthal gave brief introductory remarks. AFM IEB Member and Local 802 President Tino Gagliardi spoke about the new Local 802 Broadway contract. He reported that there were more than 300 musicians working on Broadway contracts.

Local 161-710 President Malaga and Executive Board Member Patrick Plunk gave a special report on organizing the Olney Theatre and its successful effort to become unionized.

Elections results were as follows: President Tony D’Amico of Locals 9-535 (Boston, MA) and 198-457 (Providence, RI); Vice President Paul Castillo; Secretary-Treasurer Mark Pinto of Locals 9-535, 198-457, and 126 (Lynn, MA); Broadway Director Jan Mullen of Local 802; Membership-at-Large Director Lovie Smith-Wright; and Travelers Director Angela Chan of Local 369 (Las Vegas, NV).

Chapter directors elected locally include: Walt Bostian (Boston) of Locals 9-535, 126, and 198-457; Heather Boehm (Chicago) of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL); Alan Ayoub (Detroit) of Local 5 (Detroit, MI); David Philippus (Las Vegas) of Local 369; Steve Sanders (Northern California) of Local 6 (San Francisco, CA); Jeff Martin (Phoenix) of Local 586 (Phoenix, AZ); Stephen Green (Southern California); Vicky Smolik (St. Louis) of Local 2-197 (St. Louis, MO); and Paul Schultz (Washington, DC) of Local 161-710.

AFM President Ray Hair swore in all officers, chapter directors, and alternates present. Congratulations to Tony D’Amico, Paul Castillo, Mark Pinto, and the executive board on their elections. We are in great hands. TMA’s future is bright!

It has been an honor and a pleasure to serve as TMA president for the past  five years. I extend a special thanks to TMA vice presidents Walter Usiatynski (2013-2016) and Michael Manley (2011-2013) and secretary-treasurers Mark Pinto (2012-present) and Local 10-208 member Leo Murphy (2011-2012) for their outstanding service to TMA. I also thank all of the past and present members of the executive board for their service. TMA is a voluntary organization. The time and effort given by our local and national representatives is greatly appreciated.