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Join the Fight for Live Music in Theatre

This Young Workers’ Month (#YWM16), MU members and live music fans will be protesting outside Dirty Dancing showings across the UK. Here’s why, and why it matters to you.

Published: 04 November 2016 | 12:00 AM Updated: 06 July 2021 | 2:43 PM
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This November, Musicians’ Union (MU) members and live music fans will be protesting outside Dirty Dancing showings in Stoke-on-Trent, Southsea and Wolverhampton.

These will be the ninth, tenth and eleventh such protests since the show started touring. Why are we protesting on these increasingly cold winter nights? 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 only five musicians, who play along to a backing track. We cannot allow this to become acceptable – as the Union for over 30,000 working musicians in the UK it is our duty to fight to protect your 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”.

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.

The overwhelming majority of audience members we have spoken to over the last few weeks agree. One of those audience members is Sam, a Dirty Dancing fan who has attended both this 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, 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."

This is a fight for jobs. It is a fight over the value of live music.

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

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