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Home » Organizing » Touring and Theatre Special

Touring and Theatre Special


by Michael Manley, Director AFM Touring/Theatre/Booking and Immigration Division and Assistant to the President

I am proud to introduce this month’s International Musician, which focuses on Touring and Theatre. Our cover story features the touring production of the most successful show in history, Disney’s The Lion King, which has been on the road continuously since 2002.

Back then, there were no iPhones, a tablet contained sheets of paper, streams were bodies of water, and Facebook wasn’t yet an idea. As technology advances, it eases life “on the road” for traveling artists who need to stay connected. It also presents challenges to maintaining the artistic integrity of live music in live theatre, as arrangers and orchestrators can replace musicians with digital sounds from electronic tools, which only improve over time. The historic Local 802 (New York City) strike against the Broadway League in 2003 brought these issues to the fore, as theatre musicians fought to keep canned music out of the pits of the Great White Way.

As technology impacts the way theatre is presented, the role of the musician in theatre has changed as well. In the intervening years since 2002, we’ve seen professional musicians stretch their limits not only musically, but theatrically: 2005’s Jersey Boys put musicians in period costume onstage, and that same year a revival of Sweeney Todd put instruments directly into the hands of actors, who served as their own “orchestra.” The currently touring Once features 20-plus artists who further blur the line between musician and dancer, and musician and actor.

Technology can never replace the sound of a full orchestra, nor the connection between performer and audience. In this issue, we’ll take a look at Broadway’s new On the Town revival, making the most of a large orchestra to ensure the composer’s intended vision is brought to life. We’ll hear from Lion King touring musicians, two of whom have the unique perspective of being situated in “house” boxes, enabling them to watch the audience as they perform on a battery of African instruments. TMA President Tom Mendel gives us a state-of-the-art update on orchestration, and we’ll get a glimpse of “global gigging” and some of its pitfalls. And in case you haven’t put names to faces yet, you’ll get an introduction to the staff of the AFM’s Touring/Theatre/Booking, and Immigration Division.

There’s a story of two musicians warming up in the pit, prior to the downbeat of a Broadway show. As the one musician lists her complaints—from too-cold temperatures, to poor microphone placement and sound mixing—her colleague deadpans in response, “What do you expect? They don’t call it ‘show art’.”

And that is our challenge, as artists and unionists: as we preserve tradition, as we adapt to change, and as we innovate to advance, we strive to keep the “show art” in “show business.”