The Pound of Music

'Virtual' musicians get the gong at Theatre League

And, Edelman says, his performers weren't entirely happy with a mechanical orchestra, either. "The actors liked a bigger orchestra better," he says. "So this decision is a tip of the cap to them, too. We want everyone to be happy. Theater is too special and endangered an art form for people to be unhappy about it."

But while Edelman has agreed not to use VPO in programs produced by Theatre League, a good portion of the company's season is comprised of bus-and-truck productions, some of which do use the technology.

"We have no control over touring shows," Edelman explains. "We're bringing in the national tour of Jekyll and Hyde this March, and it uses augmented sound in the pit. We can't tell them not to."

Musicians Steve Millhouse and Christina Steffen are among those protesting the use of mechanized music in theater productions.
Paolo Vescia
Musicians Steve Millhouse and Christina Steffen are among those protesting the use of mechanized music in theater productions.

And other local up-and-comers are planning to add VPO to their rosters, as well. David Hemphill, artistic director of the Black Theatre Troupe, has leased a VPO system for a pair of musicals to be presented at Herberger. "A virtual orchestra provides a cleaner, more consistent sound," says Hemphill, who says he's not heard about Theatre League's VPO woes. "Besides, it's easier to manage than a whole lot of musicians."

Steffen says she isn't surprised to hear such sentiments. "Still, it's incredibly sad to hear that someone thinks that professional musicians have to be managed," she says. "And even sadder to hear someone say that music should sound the same every time it's performed. The beauty of live performance is that it does change. Otherwise, you're tossing artistry out the window. You might as well stay home and watch a DVD of the performance."

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