Photo by poolski
This has been a challenging couple of months for me on a professional front. Before Christmas I was offered an acting job (yay!) only to lose it because I couldn’t do the dates they needed me for (boo).
Then I was thrilled to get another job offer – for something shiny and exciting – working on an opera in Asia as both performer and assistant director. I was thrilled to be spending a month in this fabulous Asian city, to work on an interesting and challenging opera, and to get my first assistant director credit. It was shiny, it was sexy and I wanted it.
Boy did I want it. Partly I wanted it to make up for the fact that I’d lost the other job (“see it was a good thing that job fell through ’cause now I’m available for this shiny sexy job.”) and also I was really eager to get some new experiences.
The problem is that my desire to do this job clouded my judgement. It meant I didn’t ask enough questions. I didn’t negotiate, I just accepted their offer. It was very low money, but I justified it because of the ‘experience’ and the all-expenses paid jaunt to Asia. Also they bundled the sexy Asia job together with some rather more pedestrian local performances, which I probably wouldn’t have agreed to on their own, but as a package deal I accepted.
Even though I was being paid for 8 weeks work what I should have earned in two, I didn’t question it. I wanted that sexy outcome.
I didn’t question that they were a new company with no real track record of producing this kind of show. I didn’t question exactly what my role would be or what ‘assistant director’ actually entailed.
In short, I let myself down by not doing proper due diligence.
research and analysis of a company or organization done in preparation for a business transaction
I didn’t do all the necessary homework before I engaged in a business transaction.
Because I was too caught up in desiring the outcome.
What has transpired is that I did all the pedestrian performances – 4 different events over a 4 week period with almost full-time rehearsals (a greater time commitment than anticipated). Then we had a 2-week hiatus and were then meant to fly off to work on the Asian project.
Over the last week or two there had been warning signs like the fact that we had no work permits or flights booked, but assurances were made that everything was in order.
To cut a long story short, the funding of the project has fallen through. I don’t really know the full story although it sounds like the other companies involved also failed to do their due diligence and have been caught out.
For me it means that a week before I am meant to fly out to work for a month abroad it has been cancelled. I am out of work and I have turned down other opportunities based on the fact that I was going away.
I do have a contract with the company (at least I have learned enough not to accept a job – as I’ve done in the past – without a contract). So now we are going to have to work through the contract and see if we can come up with a settlement. Unfortunately the contract is pretty basic and there were no provisions made in the contract for only a portion of the work being completed, so we are going to have to negotiate how to settle it.
I hope this can all be done amicably (which is always the goal in these situations). But I have been screwed and so I need to protect my interests.
Luckily I have an agent and a union who I can turn to for support and advice, though I am going to first try and resolve it myself.
I’m sharing this story for a few reasons.
- I don’t want it to seem like I have all the answers here. I am an artist just like you and I make mistakes. My wish is that we can collectively learn from each others mistakes. Maybe my experience will help you avoid something similar.
- I want to highlight the fact that when we are too attached to a particular outcome it can impair your ability to ask the necessary questions. Also if you really want something you aren’t in a terribly good negotiating position so it’s easy to just accept the first offer on the table.
- Always have a contract. Even a not very good contract is better than no contract at all. Even better is to have a thorough contract which spells out what will happen in certain outcomes. We should have anticipated that the second half of the project might not happen and had a break clause in the contract which spelled out what portion of the monies would be paid.
- I was friends with the director and friendly with the company and so I was being overly ‘nice’ in the offer. I should have allowed my agent to push harder to get better paid for the work. I need (and you need) to be clear about our own value and insist that we are paid appropriately for what we do.
Next time a sexy, shiny job offer comes my way I need to remember to put my creative entrepreneur hat on and ask questions – loads of questions. Understand where their funding is coming from, understand what your role is in the project, be clear about what happens should things go wrong. Ask questions. Also, negotiate for fair payment for your work. Your time is the most valuable asset you have. Once it’s gone, you can never get it back. So be very clear about what you are exchanging your time for and if you can live with that.
The upside is that an entire empty month has now opened up on my calendar. All those projects I’ve been putting off because of ‘no time’ are suddenly granted the time to bring them to the stage. Now I need to do it! Watch this space…