THEATER: Should musicians be paid when actors are not?

In a New Year’s Eve Theater Chat column in the Neon, I wrote that I hoped "local musicians would cease to be the only segment of community theater performers who insist on payment for what for others is almost always a volunteer effort.

While musicians are a valuable part of the live theater experience, it is insulting to accomplished actors, singers and directors (some of whom have spent many thousands of dollars in training), to assume that only musicians are worth paying.

Aren’t there any novices out there who’d be willing to work for the experience?"

I was speaking, of course, only about community theater; certainly not about the profit-making Strip, which is an issue a world away.

Leslie Fotheringham, as the artistic director of the highly regarded Signature Productions, has both hired musicians and sidestepped them, through the use of tracks. She has some interesting, strong opinions on the controversial subject:

"I don’t understand and may never understand why musicians feel they must be paid when actors are not.

"One of the justifications I’ve heard is, they are (usually) not seen. Therefore, they do not receive the same accolades as the performers. That’s why they like to be paid.

"Well, the techs are not seen either. They get exactly what the actors get, which is usually nothing. The performers and the techs put more time into the show than the musicians do. Musicians show up for two or three rehearsals and then the performances and that is it.

"I have donated millions of hours to productions over the years and have never been paid. Is my time worth less? I’m not seen onstage either. Now, you may say that this is my choice, or the choice of the actors and techs, and that would be true. It is also a choice for the musicians. They choose NOT to play for community theater for free. I’m OK with that. Signature’s choice right now is to not use live music for major productions because of the high cost. I would rather make sure the performers, tech and staff get a little something extra, a small stipend to help with gas or tickets instead of paying musicians. We can’t do both. These people sacrifice way more time to a production than the musicians. Actors and staff make at least a four-month commitment when they join up with us. Musicians make a five-week commitment. Big difference.

"I’m also surprised how many times musicians show up and haven’t even looked at their music before coming. Please don’t misunderstand me. Not all musicians are like this. We have had some wonderful people play in our orchestras. They come on time and are prepared. But we have also had a few through the years who are not prepared. Not many. We’ve been pretty lucky.

"One last thought.

"I find it interesting that so many musicians are upset by the introduction of Orchextra and other live music substitutes. You know, all they had to do to avoid all of this from happening was to be team players like everyone else when it comes to community theater.

"I love live musicians. I have a daughter who is one. But we just can’t afford them right now."

–Leslie Fotheringham

(In a private note, Fotheringham added: "I hope this doesn’t seem too harsh. I feel bad that this is such an issue with some people.")

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