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Performers: Read your Contract!

Read your contract
By martin.frenette

We’ve all done it. We’ve all agreed to some websites or app’s terms and conditions without actually reading them. Rehearsal spaces and performing venues’ security waivers get signed in the blink of an eye that did not read each and every word. In this day and age where podcasts and audio books’ popularity keeps on growing, people are reading less and less. As a result, it seems that the average artist can no longer be bothered to read what’s being handed out in contracts’ negotiations. After all, this is only about giving time, talent, and tears to a show for a few weeks or several months!

A ballerina does not look after her body when facing a 4-show week the way she would for 10 performances in the same amount of time. An acrobat who doesn’t get fed by the production on double-show days will swing by the market or get some take-out on his way to the theater. The tenor who recently welcomed twins into his life will probably opt for an apartment near the concert hall over a single-bed hotel room where additional guests aren’t allowed and his family won’t fit.

Even if whining is at times backstage’s most popular sport and complaining too often turns out to be the universal language that rallies Americans, Belgians, Chinese and Danishes, these are no musts in this business and issues can be avoided. If only to make the run of shows far more enjoyable for everybody!

Granted, life is full of surprises and we shall all expect the unexpected on and off the stage. Artists around the world must accept that it cannot always be simple, that things won’t always go according to plan, and that even the most-prepared, well-intentioned stage manager can welcome cast and crew with bad news on any given day. Still, what can we do? What’s the one tip that could save every performer some deceptions and frustrations?

Read your contract!

Not only that, but make sure that it is lengthy and very detailed, almost to the point of stupidity. Otherwise, those who’ve signed them forfeit the right to be outraged and let the whole dressing room know about it. If it ain’t written anywhere, it should not be expected.

Making a list of priorities, both personal and professional ones, before entering any contract’s meeting is a huge energy savior.

What matters to you? What do you need to be at your happiest? Which technical aspects and artistic details can make or break you?

Every company, each country, and every venue has its own culture and set of rules. Assuming that things will be the same at the community theater as they were on a national tour or that technicians work the same way in Israel as they do in Italy is one mistake that can easily be avoided by adding evident-looking points to a contract.

The mention of a wig on page three will save an actress from literally pulling her hair off if constantly having to dye or spray it with too much product every night feels like something that will permanently damage it and make her regret this part. Instead of assuming that “they’ll, of course, let me wear this wig that looks just like my real hair,” taking thirty seconds to ask that the option of wearing a wig, ideally one approved by the show’s team, be added to this contract’s third page will avoid arguments.

Having in writing that accommodation cannot be shared with someone who has a dog on that Holiday Season’s musical means spending Christmas and New Year without a scratchy throat, burning lungs, and a running nose for the dancer with allergies. The same way that this dog’s owner will want confirmation that pets are allowed where he is performing and staying.

The amount of performances and exact dates for which fake eyelashes must be worn, whether or not transportation from the hotel to the venue is at the artist’s or employer’s costs, will the person picking up artists at the airport will be driving a vehicle big enough to fit big props, the possibility of getting a meal that suits some dietary restrictions, the option to perform an excerpt over a full act in press conferences right before a show… The list does not end there nor does it include stupid questions!

Having tangible, indisputable proof of what has been discussed is the best way to avoid conflict and earning a difficult-to-work-with reputation. Even if and especially when the agreement is between friends. “That’s what we said” or “It sounded obvious when we spoke” does not hold up in court the same way that it won’t settle an argument between two minds that don’t think alike.

Architects, aviators, and artists all agree that “time is money.” Therefore, pay particular attention to the way you’ll be spending yours and ensure that you are compensated appropriately.

Is this a per-day or per-show salary? It’s no secret that some venues program more representations than usual during the Holiday season, throw doubles left and right, and even cancel nights off to fill those seats as much as possible during that festive time. Hence, a daily-rate will lose its appeal when “one show a day, five days a week” turns into “twelve shows a week for three weeks straight.”

Some producers don’t see previews as regular shows and either don’t pay artists as they do on regular nights or not at all in some cases. There also are those performances that take place outside of the normal setting: TV show appearances, promotional performance in a sports stadium or a mall, press conferences. These are as demanding as a regular show to some, which is why a clear amount and a production’s right to ask you to take part in those for free should be specified.

It is no secret that a producer’s bank account holds more funds than an artist’s. Still, before turning down a gig because previously cited performances don’t pay or refusing to get on that stage “because it wasn’t in the contract,” taking a look at the big picture can earn you a lot. If a juggler is guaranteed 100 performances a month over the next three months, showing off his skills on a morning show for a fraction of his usual salary is very little in comparison to the total amount earned over 90 days.

“Time is money” and money should be guaranteed. Every year sees its share of hits and misses. Not every cast gets to blow candles on a 100-shaped cake. Regardless of how great or poor ticket sales turn out, of how big a part might be, an amount of guaranteed paid days should appear in any contract, whether these are rehearsals, previews, or regular performances. People invest in artists and in those shows, but artists also commit themselves to these adventures, often by turning down other offers. Therefore, if a gig shall end sooner than planned, knowing that they’ll at least be able to cover the possible expenses that came with it will help sleep better at night!

Lastly, it is important to know our strengths and recognize our weaknesses. There are people who’s job consists of handling and dealing contracts.

If all those pages are too much to handle, if some clauses still sound sketchy after a fourth read, or if an employer is not open to discussing the addition or removal of an important point, turning to such person would be smart. There are very intelligent people who excel at portraying professors on stage but who don’t know their rights nor the legal ways to protect themselves. The amount spent on a lawyer can leave one short of breath, but such expense is very little compared to this reassuring feeling that everything will go smoothly and the salary that will come with it.

Read your contract, read it again, and if it still raises question marks, get someone else to read it for you. This is not iTunes’ nor Netflix’s new terms of services and agreement! This your career, your life. It definitely is worth another read and asking to see additional details in printing!

 

Also by Martin Frenette:

“I Love Piano”: An Artist’s Passion Lived Offstage

A View From the Back: The Corps, Chorus and House Troupe Perspective

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