TMA SoCal: A Goal Without a Plan is Just a Wish

by Paul Castillo, President
Theater Musicians Association, SoCal

Whenever musical theater musicians meet the discussion of audience awareness inevitably comes up. Many audience members just are not aware that live orchestras are being used for musical theater. It’s an ongoing problem and discussions often end with “What can we do about it?” To fix any problem, it is necessary to follow a plan of action. The title of this article is a quote often attributed to the 20th century writer and journalist Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and accurately describes what often happens without a plan. So, here’s the plan:

1. Requirement to list musicians in the program: This should be a requirement in the contract or collective bargaining agreement for the production. This is usually quite specific. Example: “The names of the musicians in the orchestra shall be published in the program for the production on the page immediately following the listing of the cast members.”

2. Requirement to list musicians in the playbill: Some productions distribute issues of the playbill, a magazine-type publication that is usually customized for local productions. Musicians should be listed there as well, and language similar to what is suggested in step one (above) needs to be included in the contract or CBA.

3. Let the audience know there is a live orchestra: The program or playbill for the production should include the notice, “This production uses a live orchestra. Please feel free to stop by the orchestra pit (located in front of the stage) and visit before the beginning of the show or at Intermission.”

4. Develop ongoing relationships with reviewers and other members of the media: Media releases should be sent out whenever a production uses a live orchestra with AFM musicians.

5. Signage in the lobby of the theater: This should include an announcement that a live orchestra is being used, and names and photos of the musicians.

6. Leaflet productions that use soundtracks: Sometimes productions use a recorded orchestra in lieu of live orchestras or other musical ensembles. This has a devastating effect on musical theater employment and artistic quality, and ticket buyers are not getting full value for such shows. Audiences need to be informed whenever they are paying for an incomplete show.

7. Informational leafleting stating the use of a live orchestra with AFM musicians: This can be very effective whenever an employer refuses to list musicians in the program, or during contract negotiations if an employer refuses to agree to requirements to list musicians or notify the audience of the use of a live orchestra. The leaflets include photos and bios of some of the musicians in the orchestra.

8. Just get it done: No matter how elegant or attractive a plan might be, it’s only effective when the steps are done. Talking about it isn’t enough. Wanting it isn’t enough. Musicians must work together with their union and the union officers, and everyone must help “pull the freight.”