“Save Live Broadway”

“Save Live Broadway!”

March 7, 2003.
12:01 AM.

Broadway’s lights went dark. In the recent past, Broadway’s doors shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2003, the theater’s district had other pressing problems that caused all but one Broadway musical to shut down its production for days.

Early in 2003, the League of American Theatres and Producers was in negotiations over the Local 802 collective bargaining agreement. During those negotiations, the League proposed reducing the minimum orchestra size. They hoped to lower the twenty-four to twenty-six member orchestra size down to seven members. This drastic change was presented in the hopes that any gaps could be filled by a virtual orchestra, or pre-recordings.

The Union disagreed with this plan, and when negotiations failed, they threatened to strike. Producers informed them that if they went on strike, they would replace all of the musicians with recordings. In response, the Local 802 developed the “Save Live Broadway” campaign.

When the deadline for an agreement passed on March 7, three-hundred-twenty-five musicians went on strike. This was expected; what was less expected was the six-hundred-fifty actors from the Actors’ Equity Association and the three-hundred-fifty stagehands from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees that joined in the strike. Members of the strike picketed Broadway theaters and even staged a mock funeral for live music in Times Square.

The strike was widely covered in the country. The Washington Post reported that “The strike by Local 802, one that has been honored by Broadway’s actors and stagehands since it started Friday, has brought this trend out in the open. Although producers were threatening to replace musicians at the 18 affected musicals with totally recorded, or “virtual,” orchestras if they walked out, the fact is that virtual sound has been creeping onto the Broadway stage for years.”[1] Bill Vann of the World Socialist Web Site reported, “Musicians charge that the producers are engaged in a union-busting campaign aimed at squeezing out a greater profit margin by drastically reducing or even eliminating live music on Broadway and replacing it with digitally prerecorded or synthesized sound.”[2]

This Broadway strike was so widely covered because it had a significant ability to put a strain on New York’s economy. New York businesses were estimated to have lost seven million dollars with every closed performance. Mayor Michael Bloomberg stepped in to help the situation. He invited the president of Local 802 and the president of the League of American Theaters and Producers to meet at the mayor’s residence. Bloomberg even appointed a mediator to help the two parties. All-night negotiations were held, and a settlement was announced on March 11. Both parties agreed to reduce the minimum requirements for musicians to eighteen or nineteen.

[1] Peter Marks, “On Broadway, Taking the Musicians Out Of the Music – The Washington Post,” The Washington Post.
[2] Bill Vann, “Broadway Musicians Strike over ‘Canned’ Music Threat,” World Socialist Web Site.

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