After what feels like endless rounds of auditions and callbacks and waiting by the phone, you finally get the call — you’ve been cast! But now what?
Before you can jump into rehearsals and select the perfect opening night lewk, you’ve got to sign a contract. But you’re not legal expert Elle Woods, and all that complicated jargon sounds like the adults on Peanuts. How can you determine whether this job is the right fit for you?
You may find the following seven questions rattling around your brain while auditioning, but solidifying the answers is crucial to determining if a contract is going to be worth it—money-wise, career-wise, and experience-wise. Keep reading to uncover the key to health, wealth, and happiness…or at least a successful contract.
1. Is it Union or non-union?
The first thing you’ll need to know is if the project is under the purview of Actors Equity Association (AEA). Whether you’re a card-carrying member or not, understanding the type of contract you’ve been offered is critical to determine if you want to (or can) move forward.
If it’s an AEA project, there are a bevy of considerations. First, what kind of contract is it and at what tier? Not only will this determine your pay, but it could impact other benefits like housing and transportation. If you’re in the Equity Membership Candidate (EMC) program, how many points will this project earn you? If you’re a non-union actor and they require you to join, do you want to?
Non-union contracts can be excellent projects for actors who are just starting and want their resume to look like an Arby’s menu — beefed up, that is. However, without the guaranteed protections that come with an AEA contract (mandated breaks, COVID safety procedures, etc.), it’s even more necessary to get the deets before you sign your soul (and social life) away for the next two months.
2. How much will I be getting paid and when?
Despite what many naysayers believe, acting is a real job that involves real money. Any AEA contract will have a guaranteed set minimum salary, but depending on the type of contract, it might still require some penny-pinching and/or negotiating. Remember—minimums are minimums. It never hurts to ask for more.
Keep your budget in mind when considering non-union agreements. Can you live off a $300 performance stipend and weeks of unpaid rehearsals? Are there other compensations for meals or travel? Not all non-union productions are created equal, so it’s in your best interest to read the fine print so you can get that bread instead of picking up crumbs.
3. Where is it located and do I have housing?
Are you a local? Can you mooch off your second cousin once removed who lives two miles from the theatre to say you’re a local?
If the contract is out of town, getting a roof over your head is priority, no cap. Certain AEA contracts require housing to be provided, but don’t outline what that housing has to look like—so find out if you’ll live the suite life like the Sprouse twins or bunk with castmates at a quirky theatre patron’s home.
Non-union contracts have no housing requirement, so you may be on your own. Or they might have housing available…but the rent is on you. The bright side is it’s probably cheaper than New York!
4. What are the theatre and creative team like?
Do you have friends who never stop praising the one time they were on contract at this theatre? Have you heard the director is Greta Gerwig-level awesome? If you’re going to be working on a project, even for just a month, you want to feel confident in who you’re working with and for.
The audition process is basically one big mutual vibe check. If the vibes are off, so is the deal. But if it feels like the stars and planets have aligned (and nothing is in retrograde), get that bag, hunny!
5. How long am I contracted for and what does the rehearsal period look like?
How long will you be rehearsing and what is the schedule? How does your time commitment change once performances start? Based on the performance/rehearsal structure, do you have free time you could dedicate to another job, personal tasks (those TikToks don’t make themselves!), or taking classes? All of these questions should have an obvious answer, but don’t sign on the line until you know.
Pro tip: A sneaky word to watch out for is exclusivity. If there’s an exclusivity clause it could mean that you’re unavailable for certain other projects whose rehearsals might overlap with this contract’s performance period. (But…it’s 2022, so theatrical monogamy can likely be ethically negotiated too, right?)
6. How will this affect my family and social relationships?
We know that it’s your career and most of us would do anything to accomplish our dreams (including a “Summer in Ohio”), but our relationships are a crucial support on that journey and need to be nurtured.
It’s worth taking a moment to consider how you’ll maintain them (and how they might change) if you’re on a national tour, cruise line, or even just in Schenectady for three weeks.
7. Am I excited about the project?
Obviously money and housing and schedules are all very important, but maybe the most important question to ask yourself is if you’re excited to sign on to a project. If you’re truly not interested, do you really want to be Les Miserables for the whole contract?
We feel best when we’re working on something that sets our souls on fire and can dig in wholeheartedly. Reflect on what kind of work you desire so you can confidently say “YAAAS!” when the right projects come along.
In the meantime…choose a smart survival job.
Unless you’re one of the chosen few, consistent contracts can be hard to come by. If you’re waiting on your next contract to manifest and are looking for a flexible job to pad your savings account (so you can agree to that resume-building gig), check out Worthwhile Event Services today!