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Musicians Protest Ahead of Romeo & Juliet Performance to Keep Northern Ballet Live

Ahead of the first performance of Northern Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet in London earlier this week, members of the Northern Ballet Sinfonia dressed as Shakespeare and took to the streets to protest against plans to replace the live orchestra with recorded music.

Published: 30 May 2024 | 5:37 PM
Protesters stood outside the theatre all wearing Shakespeare masks and ruffs, holding up signs saying keep Northern Ballet live.
Under current plans, no performances of the production will be accompanied by live music after June. Image credit: © Jonathan Stewart for the Musicians' Union.

On Tuesday 28 May, musicians from the Northern Ballet Sinfonia and fellow protesters marched on London Sadler’s Wells theatre, in a bid to stop Northern Ballet’s live orchestra from being axed.

Under current plans, Northern Ballet will replace the musicians in its orchestra with recorded music for its touring productions.

With Romeo & Juliet being the first Northern Ballet production affected, musicians played live outside of the theatre, and protesters dressed as Shakespeare held placards declaring ‘O Live Music, Where Art Thou?' and ‘Don’t let live music come to a Bard end’.

We are calling on Arts Council England and Northern Ballet to agree to a realistic funding solution that protects jobs and enables theatre goers to enjoy the full ballet experience every time.

Members of the orchestra playing live outside before the performance, wearing T-shirts saying Keep Northern Ballet Live.

What's happening at Northern Ballet?

In October 2023, Northern Ballet announced that it would be forced to axe the orchestra and replace the musicians performing live with recorded music for touring productions due to a real-term funding cut from Arts Council England.

Inflation, increases in energy costs, and stagnant investment from Government via Arts Council England, combined with the cost-of-living crisis, have left many ballet and opera companies on a cliff edge.

Musicians in the Northern Ballet Sinfonia have been campaigning to protect their touring work and access to live ballet for everyone under the banner Keep Northern Ballet Live. Unlike other Northern Ballet workers, the musicians are on freelance contracts and only get paid for the work they do. Some of our members at Northern Ballet are already relying on food banks to survive.

We will continue applying pressure

Speaking at the demonstration, MU General Secretary Naomi Pohl said: “Today's protest is a statement that we will continue applying pressure until Northern Ballet and Arts Council England agree a realistic funding solution, that protects jobs and keeps live music at the heart of Northern Ballet productions.

“Musicians' livelihoods are on the line – with our data showing that musicians, on average, make £20,000 a year, you can imagine that any negative impact on this income is felt very heavily. It impacts their ability to provide for themselves, their families, and their capacity to invest in their art.

“The fear is that this cut is a slippery slope and a recording being used in place of the company’s orchestra is a precedent our members won’t tolerate. It isn’t a position we want to be in, we understand the company needs more financial support, and urgently. With a general election announced, this is a key moment for us to make our case and ensure the arts are prioritised in any new government’s recovery plan.”

Naomi Pohl speaking into a megaphone at the march, surrounded by protesters.

Members from Northern Ballet’s orchestra, alongside the MU, are calling on the public to take a stand with musicians who are fighting to protect their jobs and save live music.

Add your voice to the call

Sign the petition hosted via Megaphone, and share it on social media using the hashtag #KeepNorthernBalletLive.

Over 18,000 people have already signed Northern Ballet Sinfonia’s petition to keep Northern Ballet live, with musicians around the world also sharing photos and messages of support.

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