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Washington City Paper Reports on Musician Layoffs for Holiday Nutcracker Production

December 13, 2010

This week’s Washington City Paper features a story on the budget woes of the Washington Ballet and its use of recorded music for its annual production of The Nutcracker.  Written by KI’s Mike Paarlberg, the article describes how fundraising shortfalls and the Ballet’s loss of a $1 million annual gift from the D.C. City Council last year – the result of a Council decision to eliminate earmarks across the board – prompted the Ballet to lay off its musicians for just the second time in its history.  Musicians have demonstrated outside the ballet company’s offices as well as at the opening of The Nutcracker at the Warner Theatre.  They charge the Ballet has not done enough to raise the money needed to hire them, but are soliciting theater-goers to donate rather than boycott the production.  Ballet management, for its part, maintains its goal is to return live music to ballet productions, but has done all it can – including instituting wage freezes and furloughs – to close their budgetary gap.

The City Paper examines the implications of the layoffs – for the musicians, the Washington Ballet, and performing arts groups generally.  The same D.C. Council earmark freeze has affected other area institutions, among them the Gala Hispanic Theatre, leading to job losses, shorter seasons and smaller productions.  The Council’s austerity measure comes at an especially bad time for theater and ballet companies – in the midst of a recession, when both donations and sales for income-elastic goods such as ballet tickets tend to drop sharply.  It remains to be seen whether more cuts loom for the Ballet for either its future productions or its education programs.  Especially troubling for musicians is the prospect that the Washington Ballet’s layoffs could set a precedent for their eventual replacement by CD by other ballet and theater companies.

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