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MU: 'This is why we are protesting Dirty Dancing'

MU: 'This is why we are protesting Dirty Dancing'

In its latest MI Pro column, the Musicians' Union explains why it is encouraging its members to protest the latest Dirty Dancing tour…

Next week, Musicians’ Union (MU) members and live music fans will be protesting outside Dirty Dancing, which is on stage in Northampton. It will be the eighth such protest since the show started touring.

Why are we protesting on these increasingly cold winter nights, you may ask. The answer is simple: to keep music live.

The use of recorded music in theatre productions has a significant effect on musicians’ jobs. The current touring production of Dirty Dancing, dubbed the “ultimate live experience” features more recorded music and fewer live musicians than previous tours. Instead of a live band of eight to ten musicians, this show features five musicians, who spend the vast majority of the show miming.
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We cannot allow this to become acceptable – as the Union for over 30,000 musicians in the UK it is our duty to fight to protect their livelihoods. 

“Live music in the theatre is a precious source of income for many musicians in all genres and adds huge value to any experience of the theatre. I feel it’s important that nobody takes it for granted and the MU fights hard to protect it,” says James, an MU member based in London.

Carin, an MU member from York agrees: “I'm afraid the general public is largely ignorant about what is really going on, or how it affects our, and, in turn, their lives.”

Live music is integral to our pantomime and theatre traditions – it gives actors and performers creative flexibility. It can be the difference between an okay show and a great one. And what happens when the backing track breaks down?

We’re not saying all music must be performed live by a full orchestra. We are proud as a Union to represent everyone from singer-songwriters and DJs, to orchestral players, theatre and session musicians, who perform live everywhere from the smallest clubs to the biggest venues in the world. The key words here are “live” and “performance”. Live performance should be exactly that – live. Theatre has live performance at its very core.

Despite the fact that this production of Dirty Dancing has been scaled-back, ticket prices remain comparable with all previous Dirty Dancing tours.

Going to the theatre is a significant expense – some tickets for this Dirty Dancing tour cost in excess of £60 – so it is fair for audiences to expect a top quality experience.

“The reason that we are having these protests is not to attack the theatre or the show or the audience but to let the audience know that they’re being short-changed. The ticket prices haven’t gone down but the amount of live entertainment has,” says Jamie Pullman, MU Regional Organiser for the East & South East of England.

The overwhelming majority of audience members we have spoken to over the last few weeks agree.

“They seem quite taken aback at the lack of live music in such a music-orientated show, and were happy to listen to our concerns,” says Jamie of the response to our demonstrations in Dartford, Aylesbury and Wimbledon.

One of those audience members is Sam, a Dirty Dancing fan who has attended both this tour and previous tours.

"Having had a fantastic experience at Dirty Dancing at Manchester in 2014, I booked again for what I assumed would be a repeat in Blackpool last month. Marketing material was identical, pricing was comparable, and I reasonably presumed the music would be the same. Not at all,” she says.  

“The whole production and experience was different, 'dumbed-down' and without the pull of making the audience believe, and feel, the music and emotion. And now I know why. Singing and dancing along to a backing track? What's that all about? I can do that in my car! What a dirty fake. Live musicians bring stories, emotions, ideas alive – we must keep and support them."

We are calling on all those who love live performance in all its forms to support this campaign. Keep up with our progress via theMU.org, join us at a demonstration near you or tweet your support using the hashtags #DirtyDancing and #KeepMusicLive.

Tags: musicians' union , mu , Opinion , dirty dancing , column , protest

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