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Auditioning & Negotiating Contracts for Professional Theatre
While I was at school, we had multiple workshops and masterclasses having to do with professional auditions. One of the most useful pieces of advice I received in one of these workshops was to keep an Audition Log.
In your Audition Log you should keep track of:
- What auditions you attended/what companies they were for
- Time you arrived
- How many people were there/what they were wearing
- Who was on the audition panel
- What pieces you did/how you felt (this will also help so you don't do the same song or monologue for the same casting directors, etc.)
- What you wore/conditions of the audition space (you may have to audition there again)
- Feedback you received
Stories From the Audition Room with Laura Benanti
Business, Not Pleasure
Any time spent in the audition room is valuable. If they make small talk with you, make small talk right back. Don't be afraid to talk to them. If they're in a hurry, they'll make sure you know it.
You want to come across as a business person - after all, this is your job. An audition is just a job interview for actors. They're looking to see if you're easy to work with, personable, sharp, etc. You might enjoy auditioning, but the object is not to have fun; it's to get a job.
"I Hope I Get It" Tony Awards
You Got It!
Once you get the job, the negotiations can begin. But not right away.
Unless you're living in the 90s, the casting director is probably going to call you on your cell phone. This is great for you. You can say, "Thank you so much. I'm actually right in the middle of [name of busy street]. Can I call you back in 15 minutes?" Take those 15 minutes to freak out, jump up and down, belt out the last line of "So Much Better" from Legally Blonde, and whatever else you have to do to release your excitement
Do Your Homework
Once you calm down, call back and find out what exactly the job is and when it starts. Find out what role you've been offered. Ask about the salary. Make sure you're informed about the rehearsal process. Talk about things that will influence your decision to take it or not.
ASK ABOUT HOUSING. Telling you that "housing is provided," is great, but all that means is they have a closet-sized space available for you and some other person to stick all your crap in and attempt to sleep in. Find out if the housing expenses are taken out of your salary. Will there be a stipend for food? Is transportation provided? Will the housing be shared? How many people? Is there one Queen-sized bed for all 7 of us? Or are there bunk beds? Or do we all just sleep on the floor? If it's non-equity housing, all they have to do is literally house you. There are no givens at all. If you need housing, be honest at the audition (and don't put your home address on your resume for a professional audition).
Be respectful and ask any questions you need the answer to.
Ask about the show, the role, the salary, the housing, and if there's insurance and/or benefits. If it's a role with stunt work, ask how the stunt work will be done. Ask about a pension.
Most union places will give you a Health Fund and Pension Fund in addition to salary. If you work for two weeks in one year you get a pension credit. If you get five pension credits, you are invested in that pension fund. Non-equity usually don't have pension funds.
They should tell you if you're getting equity points, but if they don't, ask.
If you're going to need to dye your hair, ask if they'll dye it back. Some places will dye your hair for the show without promising to return it to its original state. Ask about specific things - allergies, pets, etc.
Don't respond or answer right away. Ask when they need to know (usually the next day or the next Monday). Most of the time, they won't need to know right away.
The only thing you're entitled to is to be treated fairly.
Don't attach your artistic worth to a salary. Talk to different friends and actors and find out what they think. If you know someone who works at the theatre ask if everyone gets paid around the same salary. Decide of something's a deal-breaker or if you're willing to negotiate (respectfully).
The best way to do that is do say something like "May I ask, is the ___ negotiable?" They'll (hopefully) ask what you have in mind. You don't have to give a reason for why you're asking. Just always be respectful and make sure it's something you genuinely need. Once you know the answer, you've already decided if that issue is a deal-breaker or not so you can say "Thank you very much. When do we start?" or "Thank you, but I don't think this job is going to work for me at this time. I hope to work with you in the future."
ALWAYS get anything you have negotiated put in writing. There's no guarantee it will happen if it's not in writing. If you are respectful and you don't get a good reaction, there's a chance you'll see that attitude again - do you still want the job?
Agent vs. Manager
An agent helps you find auditions and jobs, and he or she represents you. A manager manages you once you get the job. They both get a percentage of what you make. A manager cannot submit you for a job, but he or she can call an agent and say they have someone good for a role.
If you work with an agent there is a standard agreement. The agent must sign a franchise contract. There is no standard contract with managers. Whatever contract a manager gives you, READ IT and take it to a lawyer. (It should be $200-$400 and it's a business deduction.) Once again, if you need to negotiate anything you can do that. Just be respectful.
The first day you start auditioning professionally, you should look for an agent. Ask your peers and fellow actors who their agents are. You'll need a cover letter. In it, you should show that you have recently worked. "I just finished a production somewhere, just worked with your client, ___, you speaks highly of you." It should be factual but uniquely you.
Having an agent makes things easier; it's not a direct line to success.