It’s Not Easy Being Green In Pittsburgh

Last week the situation in Pittsburgh surrounding the decision by the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT) escalated when the musicians decided to stage a protest before the 8/18/05 PBT performance at Hartwood Acres…

The musicians were joined in their protest by members from the Pittsburgh Symphony, PBT dancers, Pittsburgh freelance musicians, officers from Pittsburgh AFM Local 60-471, officers from New York City AFM Local 802, and others representing orchestras from across the country. Protesters wore bright green t-shirts and encouraged those attending the event to sign petitions urging the PBT board to reverse their decision. They also distributed business cards with information pointing people to a website promoting musician viewpoints:

PBT DancersBefore the performance commenced members of the PBT dancers, who are barred from going on strike over this decision per their collective bargaining agreement, wore protest t-shirts on their way to a pre-performance social event attended by members of the PBT Board and management.

At the performance later that evening Jane Vranish, a writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, reported that although the dancers were accustomed to using taped music in this venue, they could have benefited from having live music at the performance,

Ironically, the most telling moment came in “Le Corsaire” during the pas de deux. Although both dancers and audiences are accustomed to taped music at Hartwood, soloist Daisuke Takeuchi, apparently running on a shot of adrenaline, could have used the flexible resources provided by a conductor and orchestra for his entrances…In such circumstances, the dancer’s motion leads the accompaniment. Here the dancers had to follow the set tempo of the tape.

In addition to wearing the protest shirts during the board attended social event, the PBT dancers sent a letter of support to the musicians on 8/17/05 signed by 26 of the dancers. A portion of the letter says,

The lack of the orchestra this season will surely compromise the level of classical ballet we are able to produce by stifling the spontaneity and individuality of each performance. We extend our total moral support to you during this time of frustrating negotiation.

We are committed to raising awareness throughout the community, perhaps in the form of a benefit performance, and finding those untapped resources which may help to rectify this situation. Hopefully by positively collaborating we can show our audience just how irreplaceable you all are and how important the relationship between a ballet company and its orchestra is.

As of now, the PBT has not made any indication that they will reverse their decision to eliminate live music from the 2004-2005 season. Furthermore, they have not yet released the financial information being requested by the representatives from the PBT musician’s union.

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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