Human buried in papersAs a performer and a troupe leader, I try to make it a point to remember how it felt when we first started and do my best not to backslide into bad habits or singing a little too shrilly for my proverbial supper. That is, if you don’t remember the past, you may be doomed to repeat it. We have made a space for ourselves that makes me happy even if not as busy as we’d like. In the spirit of that, I’d like to recall some mistakes we made in the past hoping it will help someone else.

Don’t work for free. Even if it is for tips, for busking rights, for advertisement, for a discounted cost. Occasionally, we will test an act at a troupe member or friend’s home or party-at least in exchange for food, a few beers and they critique our show. You are offering a service and should get recognition for that service. It’s one thing to be an indie band that needs to move from the garage to a friendly venue, to eventual paying gigs, another to be someone with a costume and a schtick. Bands do need to get better but the tinkering for an act is a different animal and doesn’t have the same set list and expectation every time. And organizers that like free acts can be a bit fly-by-night themselves, One notoriously bad job we did, most of the food vendors and some of the acts melted away when the police came for another matter, try not to find yourself working for those people.

Contracts and payment-we’ve done a number of spit-and-handshake deals but generally only with people we trust or know very well. In our state, emails can be produced as evidence of a contract in court. If you have an employer that dances around putting anything down in writing, signing paperwork or leaving a trail-be wary. Also, have a plan in place. We generally have a set of invoices we keep to email or printed so they may be filled out and signed. Some employers will try the old “Oh we don’t need anything.” And then try not to pay because you don’t have the proper paperwork. Be proactive and ready.

Have a pre-set contract of your own outlining everyone’s responsibility. (Go ahead and google acting contracts) We have found that school and town administrators are some of the worst at inadvertently or through cunning having inadequate guidelines in place. It’s one thing if you are a lane act that uses soft, plushy animals. For the rest of us, we need to make sure everyone understands that swords and fire can be dangerous and we will only be held liable for our own actions, not inappropriate venues or bad management.

Check local laws, we’ve had to turn down fire shows or had to jump through hoops to get a show to the stage. It has generally been problematic for us but a breeze for everyone who comes behind us. To that end we have a copy of the federal fire statutes that apply to us. Check with local fire and law, and generally have a working knowledge of the weapons definitions in an area. We call ourselves a sword and fire troupe but we call our equipment “props” which is so much nicer than ‘car full of blades and accelerants.’ And I have to say, please don’t be a douchebag, just be respectful and polite when asked about your act. We even have written descriptors and a stage plan-just do what you need to do and make it easier for yourself and other faire acts.

Have a plan B if the employer decides to pull a fast one. Our plan of action includes keeping a signed copy of the contract, sending items by registered mail and the name of a lawyer on our roster. We have only had to go to step three of this twice-in one case the money arrived FedEx the next day, in the other we were one of dozens of acts that went unpaid and the company is out of business. So sometimes even a contract and hired gunslingers won’t take care of everything.

Rubbing shoulders-be careful of your company. If you have a trouble-attractant as part of your group, well, that isn’t going to go away. If you have to fire or ban this person that doesn’t make you bad or evil, that makes you smart. You have not limited their choices-they have through their own actions. I despise ultimatums and can’t tell you how many things have been slung my way. Typically
“You are making me choose between [thing person claims to value] and the troupe!”
Nope, we have a set of rules, you knew what they were and we will do the math
Value to our group /= Histrionics.
So if they are awful people, they will be awful people to everyone-your employers, your customers, and they will hurt your reputation. This is true about who you have as “buddies.” It costs nothing to be nice to everyone but who you socialize with can send out a signal. Our group has a lot of different personalities and I’m not here to be the friend police. It works to our favor that some acts get along with some members and not others but no one would know because we aren’t jerks. But if I catching anyone “shopping” our troupe for vulnerable people, we’re done. You are not required to be buddy-buddy with those for whom you have no respect and who set off the “creepy” vibe.

In a future entry, I’ll talk about how sometimes, no matter what you do, it will all go wrong. Just have an escape plan and try to minimize pain and money loss. You are well within your rights to warn other acts about bad employers, just be tacit about how you spread that. And if someone is doing that to you, get a screenshot or proof, this impacts your business. I am happy to report anyone who is spreading untruth, misusing our image or just plain damaging our reputation to their Internet Service Provider, employer or others.

Sometimes you just have to take the chance. You will meet “quirky” employers who have a hard time filling contracts. We are fairly mercenary, we add a tax onto these people. One employer had a reputation of being a jerk and after we played chicken over a paycheck and we didn’t blink-well he was one of our best employers. And another who had an amazing reputation but we had to chase for our pay. We LOVE working for lawyers, they don’t take anything for granted and have some pretty jazzy contracts. With permission, we use a form that one gentleman created specifically for renfaire acts and it is four pages long and “Pirate Mayhem” is specifically written in and expected. DO follow-up and thank the people who hire you. We’ve been known to send booze, do reciprocal contracts and give group hugs, find your equilibrium.

It would be great if everyone was on the same page about ideas and end goal but we are all different people with different views. Sometimes it’s miscommunication, sometimes ignorance and sometimes it’s just plain being sneaky. The better you plan and ask questions, the better off you are. Things can still go askew but if you can get into a car and escape intact-all good. And maybe you’ll have some amazing cautionary tales of your own.