Some Sleep Deprived Thoughts About Pittsburgh

It’s not all that uncommon for thought provoking issues to prevent me from falling asleep, but it’s rare they actually wake me up out of a sound slumber. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case last night…

I was jolted awake when thoughts about sympathy strikes and the recent split within the AFL-CIO collided in my subconscious. In particular, I woke up thinking about what’s going on at the Pittsburgh Ballet right now. The musicians have declared they are locked out by PBT management and they plan to picket if their situation isn’t settled by the beginning of the season.

Those facts made me wonder about AGMA, the branch of Associated Actors and Artists of America which represents opera, dance and concert musicians. Although it isn’t entirely unheard of for other unions directly related to orchestra productions to go on sympathy strike (such as IATSE) I can’t remember a time when the dancers of a ballet or singers in an opera company went on a sympathy strike to support a related pit orchestra (although I bet I get an email today from someone who knows for certain). For that matter, I don’t know if another orchestra has ever gone on sympathy strike to support a peer ensemble walking a picket line.

I simply don’t know if the dancers in the PBT would be willing to go on sympathy strike in order to get the musicians back in the pit for the 05-06 season. Nevertheless, the topic certainly brings up a host of intriguing questions and puts a very dynamic spin on how the PBT might deal with such a situation.

For example, as compared to an orchestra strike, which results in no other option but have the entire artistic operation shut down, the PBT still plans to put on their entire season. As such, they’ve budgeted their resources and planned their revenue accordingly. But if the dancers decide to go on sympathy strike then that would cause productions to grind to a halt. It would also send a very strong message that the entire artistic component of the organization considers live music an integral part of being a world class ballet theatre.

It makes me wonder if the PBT board has considered that possible scenario when they decided to eliminate live music from the 05-06 season. It also makes me wonder if representatives from AGMA have considered the issue of a sympathy strike and discussed it with their membership.

All I can say for now is, one way or another, time will tell.

UPDATE: As I was publishing this this article last evening I sent a note to Alan Gordon, the AGMA National Executive Director, to ask whether or not the AGMA represented artists and dancers may go on a sympathy strike if the musicians end up on a picket line.

He responded this morning by stating that,

“[Their] collective bargaining agreement prohibits us from striking, but we can show our support for the orchestra in every other way.”

So that portion of the equation is now defined. However, Mr. Gordon did release a statement addressed to the musicians of the Pittsburgh Ballet clarifying AGMA’s position in the dispute,

“Live music adds an inseparable quality to the presentation of dance and without it, the audience, the patrons and the fans of the Pittsburgh Ballet, and the dancers, would suffer an irreparable loss.

Times may be tough these days in the performing arts, but that’s no excuse to decimate the Ballet and to destroy the lives of its orchestra. We trust that the NLRB will act quickly and the management of the Ballet will see the error and the short-sightedness of bargaining in bad faith.”

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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