A Brief History of the Theatre Musicians Association


by Paul Castillo, President, TMA SoCal

The Theatre Musicians Association, commonly referred to as the TMA, is one of five Player Conferences in the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (the “AFM” or “Federation”).

The other Player Conferences are the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM), the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA), and the Recording Musicians Association (RMA). These conferences are AFM-recognized caucuses of AFM members, and are specific to the type of music employment their members engage in. It’s important to note that it was recently determined that the Player Conferences are not full-fledged labor organizations (i.e., labor unions), even though several of them do file documents as such with the U.S. Department of Labor.

The Player Conferences exist to provide a unified voice, by Conference, to the Federation on matters that affect the members of the Conference. The Player Conference Council, consists of one elected representative from each of the Player Conferences. The purpose of the Council is “…to exchange information and ideas on appropriate subjects regarding the good and welfare of the AFM, its Locals, and its members.” The Council convenes at least once every non-convention year and meets directly with the top Federation officers.

Discussions to form a Player Conference for musical theater musicians began in the late 1980’s with the Theater Musicians Committee for AFM Local 6 (San Francisco). In 1991, the Federation changed the provisions of Pamphlet B, the AFM collective bargaining agreement covering musicians employed for traveling musical theater productions, to the detriment of local musicians hired for a production. The Pamphlet B provisions for contract minimums for local musicians hired for a production, then known as Rule 61, were reduced. This caused great concern for local musicians and their AFM Locals. Nine AFM Locals had gone to the Federation to plead for opposing the changes made to Rule 61. They were: Detroit, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis, Washington DC, Baltimore, Boston and San Francisco. Local 77 (Philadelphia) took legal action against the Federation regarding Rule 61, but ultimately did not prevail. Despite the disagreements with the Federation at that time, the theater musicians felt that it was very important to remain part of the AFM and to work within the system.

There were reports that Broadway producers wanted to use synthesizers (which would later be known as virtual orchestra, or VO) for musicals and threatened to reduce hiring minimums accordingly. There were also threats from some producers that they would use taped music or non-union musicians if their demands were not met. In September 1993 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the orchestra went on strike after contract negotiations broke down and the producers of “The Phantom of the Opera” used a taped score supposedly recorded by non-union musicians.

There were also constant problems in getting itineraries and instrumentations timely for touring shows. Musicians wouldn’t know until the last minute what doubles were required or even if they would be employed on an upcoming show.

Theater musicians throughout the AFM were contacted about forming a conference and the responses were quite positive. A movement began to grow out of the dissatisfaction of the rank-and-file musicians working in the theaters. As contact was made with the musicians in the various cities, it was found that they collectively had the same feelings of disappointment with the way the Federation had ignored the musicians whose lives are directly affected by its decisions, specifically, the negotiation of the Pamphlet B Contract in 1991. It was determined that a steering committee should be formed to explore ideas and find the way forward. The TMA Steering Committee consisted of a Local 6 officer, two rank-and-file working musicians, and a contractor. While the presence of the contractor as an advisor raised more than a few eyebrows, this contractor was very much on the side of the working musicians, and repeatedly suggested, “We theater musicians ought to start an association like ICSOM.” Eventually a network of theater musicians in the United States and Canada was established, the name “Theatre Musicians Association” was adopted, and a database of the musicians was created. The first newsletter, called The Pit Bulletin, was circulated in April of 1993 along with a survey.

By the Fall of 1993, the itineraries and instrumentation for several touring shows became available without having to solicit them from the Federation, and information showing the Wage Scales and Benefits, including doubles and pension contributions from theater contracts in seven cities including New York, was shared in the Fall issue of The Pit Bulletin. This was the first time these facts had been shared in a way that was accessible to everyone working in the theaters across the U.S. and Canada.

Conference status from the AFM was requested in March of 1993, and the AFM International Executive Board (IEB) appointed a subcommittee to study the matter. By 1995 TMA chapters began to be established. The first TMA International Conference was held in San Francisco on April 22-23, 1996. At that conference, the TMA’s first officers of its executive board were elected, and soon after the first three TMA chapters were formally recognized. Those chapters were: Chicago Area, Toronto, and Northern California. In 1997 the Southern California and Detroit chapters were formed and recognized.

The TMA Second Annual Conference was held in New York on August 25-26, 1997. Fifteen cities were represented, and addresses to the conference were given by Steve Young (President, AFM), Tim Shea (IEB member, AFM), Mark Heter (Director of Travel and Touring, AFM), and Bill Moriarty (President, AFM Local 802). Conference status granted to the TMA by the AFM IEB on Dec. 5, 1997.

In 1998, the TMA sent its first delegates to AFM International Convention (August 19-21, 1998), and submitted its resolution to AFM IEB requesting Bargaining Unit and TMA participation in the Pamphlet B negotiations. TMA President Arty Linsner attended the Pamphlet B negotiations as observer.

In 2001 and 2002 the TMA took an active role in negotiating the Pamphlet B Touring Theatrical Agreement. Art Linsner was the official TMA representative, and TMA members Vicky Smolik, Nancy Schick and George Troia represented the TMA at various sessions as well as local union presidents who were also members of TMA, including Ray Hair, Hal Espinosa, Joe Parente, and Gordon Stump. A tentative agreement was made on April 24, 2002, which the TMA Board of Directors voted not to endorse because it contained a no-strike clause and a reduction in the local minimums. As acting Vice President, George Troia attended the Locals Conference Council-Players Conference Council (LCC-PCC) in Las Vegas, Nevada on June 29-30, 2002 where he informed the International Executive Board that the TMA Board was not endorsing the new Pamphlet B agreement because of the no-strike clause and the reduction in local minimums. The IEB acknowledged the TMA Board’s position but insisted that this was the best deal that could be obtained. The inclusion of the no strike clause was urged by the producers with the threat of using electronic virtual pit orchestras as replacements in the event of no agreement. The matter of the reduction to local minimums was very divisive, as the employer-driven proposal to reduce local minimums caused internal disagreements for the Locals and musicians

By 2006 the TMA had seven chapters. Pamphlet B had been re-negotiated to include an employer-driven proposal for wage tiers for the traveling musicians that were based on speculated box office guarantees, which ultimately in many cases resulted in lower wages for the musicians. While the tiers were proposed as experimental, it wasn’t until 2013 when those provisions were negotiated out of the Pamphlet B agreement, driven by the TMA and with support from the Federation and AFM Locals, and replaced with provisions for better wages for the travelers. The new provisions are known as the Short Engagement Tour Agreement, or SET, and are an option in the AFM Pamphlet B Agreement.

By 2010 the TMA had expanded to include eight chapters, plus a significant number of members at large who did not have a TMA chapter in their areas. From 2011 to 2014 the TMA focused on building its infrastructure. A major revision to the TMA Bylaws was done, and the result was improved democratic representation for TMA members, and a governance patterned after a parliamentary system, rather than a standard Executive Board. The number of issues per year of The Pit Bulletin was increased, and a second newsletter, The Pit Bulletin Blast, was created to provide quick updates to TMA members. A Contract Repository containing musical theater contract information from various AFM Locals was created and made available to TMA members on the TMA website.

Today the TMA has 10 chapters throughout the United States. It has its own Facebook and Twitter accounts, and recently started an Instagram page. Resolutions were adopted at the TMA 2016 Conference to develop outreach programs to increase awareness of musical theater musicians and musician advocacy, and to establish an email based forum where TMA musicians can communicate with each other on matters of mutual concern. The TMA, from its beginning, has committed to working with the AFM, in the spirit of cooperation, to improve wages, benefits, working conditions, and musician representation in the union and at the bargaining table.

– TMA SoCal is a regional chapter of the Theatre Musicians Association, covering the Southern California area. Its area includes the jurisdictions of AFM Local 47 (Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura Counties), Local 7 (Orange County) and Local 353 (Long Beach). The TMA – an official Player Conference of the American Federation of Musicians – is an organization that unites professional theater musicians from all over the U.S. and Canada. For more information, email president@tmasocal.org.