Tag Archives: Touring


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.

A Guide to Easy Border Crossing

Touring requires preparation and organization. One element of touring that demands much of both is border crossing. Crossing a border to work in a foreign country can be nerve-wracking and difficult, if you are not prepared. With thorough preparation you can ensure easy border crossings while on tour.

The first consideration should be work permits. Every foreign artist who performs in the US is required to have a temporary work visa. I highly recommend the P-2 Visa, which can be processed through the Canadian Federation of Musicians (http://www.cfmusicians.org/services/work-
permits). When making your initial entry into the US, you will need to carry the USCIS approval notice (or a copy). If band members are entering the country separately, everyone should have their own copy.

Make sure that all of your travel documents are in order. All passports must be valid at least six months beyond the last performance date. If you do not hold a Canadian or US passport, you will also be required to obtain an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) (www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/eta.asp), to fly into Canada. Other countries require all foreign passports to be valid for a certain number of months from the date of entry or planned exit. Look into the requirements for each country you intend to visit.

If crossing by land, you may need to show vehicle ownership; if travelling by air, you will need to show a return ticket. You may be asked to show proof of accommodation and/or proof that you can support yourself while in a foreign country. If you are a parent travelling with a child, you will need written travel permission from any other guardian or parent.

Also, before traveling, look into any possible issues of criminality. Any prior conviction, however minor, can cause problems at the border and should be dealt with well in advance with either a waiver of ineligibility or a criminal rehabilitation application.

You must also plan for transporting equipment and merchandise. Understand the border restrictions in relation to prohibited goods or substances. If you are travelling with instruments and other gear, consider applying for an ATA Carnet, a document that can minimize hassles and fees at the border (www.chamber.ca/carnet). In the absence of an ATA Carnet, have a complete inventory with you. Whenever possible, include descriptions, serial numbers, purchase dates, and values. Having your gear organized in numbered cases will make it much easier when border officials need to check the gear.

Be aware of restrictions on crossing a border with instruments containing endangered species. There’s no point in risking confiscation of your gear. Check out the Musical Instrument Passport program (www.fws.gov/international/permits/by-activity/musical-instruments.html).

If you are flying, make sure you know the airline’s rules and regulations for transporting instruments. Invest in high-quality cases to protect them from damage.

If you are carrying merchandise, be sure to declare it and make sure it is properly labelled or properly stickered (for promotional copies). Have the invoice of manufacture with you. Keep in mind the option of sending merchandise via courier or mail, or having it manufactured in the country to which you are touring. For large quantities of merchandise, use a customs broker.

Finally, consider your strategy for interacting with border crossing officials. Appearances are important. You need to look and sound like you are a law-abiding citizen, respectful of authority, who poses absolutely no risk. Turn off the radio or iPad, remove ear buds and sunglasses. If crossing by land, your vehicle should reflect this as well—neat and clean. Rehearse straightforward answers to typical questions you might be asked by officials. Coach everyone in your group to be honest and forthright, and to answer questions succinctly without volunteering additional information. 

With sufficient knowledge and preparation, border crossing can be simple.

Robert Baird is President of Baird Artists Management Consulting and an expert in international touring. Involved in the performing arts for more than 50 years, he was president of NAPAMA, and Treasurer of FEO. He is currently president of OAPN and APAP Showcase Coordinator. Contact him at robert@bairdartists.com.

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