Friday, June 29, 2012

How Contracts Protect YOU

In the bellydance world, people seem to balk at the word contract. But contracts are an industry standard in the performing arts world, and with good reason. Contracts protect YOU, the artist - as much if not more than it protects the company or troupe offering the contract. I'd like to tell you a little bit about why you should seek a company with a contract (or encourage your director to write one) as well as what it should cover. The following are a few examples of what is included in our contract, but is by no means all inclusive.

Working Conditions
Just a few ways that a contract should protect your working conditions  include not requiring dancers to perform or rehearse on dangerous surfaces such as a wet floor or a raked (sloped) stage (obviously the show must go on but dancers can voluntarily approve of the conditions and make decisions for themselves), removing obstacles such as power cords, requiring stage seams to be taped down, having a first aid kit on hand with extra supplies such as sprain wraps, cold packs etc.Compensating dancers for feats of extraordinary risk, and taking necessary steps to minimize danger for performing with fire, sharp blades, suspension in the air or acrobatic leaps or falls, is also a great benefit to dancers.

Traveling arrangements and conditions
So you just got hired for a gig out of town, or a tour! Yay! Wow, now you're crammed into a too small car with your suitcase in your lap and you stop for the night at a dirty, sleazy motel and have to sleep on the floor. Ack! As someone who has gone on the road quite a bit (and been in some pretty sticky situations), traveling arrangements are a big deal, especially for extended engagements. A good contract will provide minimum conditions such as per diem, travel accommodations such as booking a sleeping room if traveling in a train overnight, sleeping in a bed to yourself in hotels, having time to rest after flying or time to recover from altitude sickness etc, baggage handling, travel breaks, etc etc. Overseas travel is a whole other ball game and should be covered in depth. (The travel article is the longest in our contract)

A professional company should offer compensation whenever possible - we do *some* free performances, for charity events or for major public events, and every once and a while for trade. Our contract has a minimum payment amount for gigs - and any free performances are voluntary. We also offer perks such as free classes, discounted merch, etc. Knowing the specifics of how, when and how much you are being paid helps you make decisions regarding your dancing, especially if you have another job.

Costumes and supplies
While not every company can provide your costumes (we do) you should at least know what is required and how much you have to spend, and whether or not you have to make your own. If you are required to buy some sort of supply like a particular lipstick or pantyhose, you should know if you will be reimbursed for that.

Holidays, vacation, leave
You don't want to find out last minute that you've been booked Christmas Eve. Contracts should state upfront what holidays you might work (such as new year's eve), what the terms are, what holidays you have off from rehearsal or class, when your breaks are and how long they are (ours are about 3 weeks in summer and over the winter holidays). If you get pregnant or have a death in the family, maternity and bereavement leave excusing you from classes, rehearsals and performances should also be covered.

Rest periods and length of rehersal
No one wants to rehearse for 8 hours straight - minimum break times, maximum rehearsal and performance times, and periods of rest after long rehearsals, performance or travel are included in contract.

Our contract includes a strict non-discrimination policy (race, gender, height, weight, religion, whatever) that also extends to any client that books dancers with us. I once had a prospective client that insulted some of the dancers and asked for a certain "type" - but we don't discriminate and can't allow our clients to either. This protection extends to other situations If I am under contract to provide a certain condition for my dancers, there are no if's and's or but's. I look at clients or theater managers and say "This needs to be fixed asap, I'm under contract to my dancers to provide x". There's no arguing with that.This protects everyone involved.

Say you get booked for a bachelor party . . we don't do them . . . but say you do - is there going to be an escort with you? If you leave a theater at midnight is someone going to walk you to your car? These are things that are good to know.

No surprises!
Of course, much of a contract will protect the company as a business as well. Examples include non-compete, behavior, tardiness, and generally what behavior is expected at events, rehearsal, etc. The good news with knowing all of that upfront is one, that you won't be surprised by something the director expects and two, the director and artistic staff can't take advantage of you intentionally or unintentionally.

The contract I wrote for my company involved massive amounts of research into performing arts union standards, worker's rights, laws, contracts for other professional dance companies of all kinds, other random contracts, business models, etc.

Please feel free to ask questions and discuss. I hope this article helps dancers make decisions, and helps other troupe directors provide better care for their dancers and better protection for their company!

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