Broadway Touring Returns

December 9, 2021

Touring Shows Open with Wicked, Presented by Dallas Summer Musicals:  

In August 2021 Broadway touring shows reopened after the long 18 months since the shutdown began. Wicked, the first of all the shows to reopen began here in North Texas, presented by Dallas Summer Musicals (DSM). As full scale theatrical touring is perhaps the most difficult live musical production to present during time of pandemic restrictions, this represented a milestone in the live music industry’s re-emergence from the pandemic.

Preparations for reopening began in the spring as hopes were high for widespread vaccination distribution, and Local 72-147 began its discussions of appropriate safety protocols with DSM.

During the same period, the AFM led by International President Ray Hair bargained an extension of the Pamphlet B Touring Agreement (covering traveling musicians), and in June and July negotiations commenced for COVID protocols for the musicians working under this agreement. Within the workplace of musical theatre, an enormous number of different types of workers share working space. These many groups of employees form different bargaining units represented by different unions, and each brings to the table its own special concerns.

Since all these bargaining units work in the same workplaces, safety protocols had to be reasonably consistent from one contract to another. In this case, the AFM represented two different bargaining units, one governed by the Pamphlet B agreement (touring musicians) and the other covered by a Master Agreement negotiated by Local 72-147 (local musicians). Arriving at protocols consistent enough for all backstage workers proved to be a unique challenge.

It was just as rehearsals commenced that an agreement for protocols for touring musicians was completed. With final agreement on the national agreement reached, Local 72-147 completed its own agreement for local musicians playing alongside touring musicians, closely monitoring the situation as rehearsals began.

The protocols reached for the company included a vaccination requirement for all employees, a preproduction testing – covered with a $250 testing stipend if requiring a separate call – and weekly testing provided by the employer and done in conjunction with services. Backstage employees are zoned and separated to minimize contact between them. Masks are required. Protocols also detail processes for cleaning workspaces, and extra HEPA filtration to clean and recirculate air in the pit.

As it happened, the beginning of the Wicked production coincided with the Delta Variant surge, and created new tension as the development of protocols was just being completed, jeopardizing the earlier confidence in the reopening. Breakthrough infections in other cities where productions were being prepared added to the tension. In Dallas, Wicked sold well and continued for 5 weeks into the beginning of September. No breakthrough infections were detected in the company, and the performances were completed without serious incident.

In November, Dallas Summer Musicals’ second show since reopening began under basically the same protocols with the touring production of Hamilton. After a successful beginning of the production, some breakthrough infections were detected during regular weekly COVID-19 testing. Contact tracing was performed by the company, and a daily test was implemented for all backstage employees. At the height of these difficulties a performance was canceled at the last minute in the days before Thanksgiving. Performances did resume the following day, now with daily testing. The performances ultimately were completed and the canceled performance was rescheduled. The protocols were tested, the breakthrough infection was contained, and the performances were saved.

Aside from COVID-19 safety protocols, DSM musicians are currently working under extended wage rates and working conditions, and will continue to negotiate for a successor agreement in the coming months.

The Negotiation Committee consists of Debbie Brooks, Jennifer Griffin and Randy Lee.