NET/TEN Shareback: dog & pony dc - Three Sample Agreements

Spring 2017 Travel Grant Recipient

dog & pony dc (Washington, D.C.) shared the impact of their audience integration methodology with San Diego Repertory Theatre (San Diego, CA) as part of two week-long residencies prior to the REP’s production of BEACHTOWN, an adaptation of dog & pony dc’s show BEERTOWN. Time during and outside the residencies was spent co-rewriting and re-writing BEACHTOWN with Herbert Siguenza.

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Three Sample Agreements

by Rachel Grossman

Over the years I’ve discovered there’s something in ensemble practitioners DNA that prevents us from wanting to put things in writing. The C word--in this case “contracts”--results in shudders if not spasms of revulsion. If we need to put our terms of how we’re going to work together on paper and then sign them, what does that say about us as collaborators? partners? human beings?!?

I’m being hyperbolic for effect, but I wasn’t too far off from this feeling of aversion when one of dog & pony dc’s first Board Members suggested I put in our artist letter of agreement (LOA) terms like: everyone agrees to show up on time, and failure to do so is grounds for termination; unapproved absences may result in fee reductions; to be reimbursed, one had to submit receipts. When I handed the LOA to artists for the first time, I saw shoulders relax away from ears. The document was clarifying and supporting. Contracts and agreements, whether they are between an organization and individuals, people-to-people, or org-to-org, define all the little details that can trip up two bodies that are entering into a relationship with one another. I am strongly for them (heretofore “contracts”).

It’s interesting though--templates for contracts applicable to ensemble practitioners are hard to come by. Especially for those working in specialized situations or partnerships, or those not hiring union (Actors Equity, U.S.A/I.A.T.S.E, etc.). So in addition to fighting any “natural inclinations” against creating the documents, we also might not know where and how to look for a document that stipulates how a pre-existing work can be adapted by another theatre, summaries a standard for-hire contract position, or covers all the annual fundamentals for an ensemble member.

dog & pony dc’s collaboration with San Diego Repertory Theatre (REP), supported by a NET/TEN travel grant, required a few different type of contracts that might serve as templates for you in the future.

1. License for Adaptation

Download as .DOCX below:

This contract was drawn between dog & pony dc and REP to give REP permission to do an adaptation of our signature show Beertown. We originally approached the REP about producing Beertown in a similar manner that other theatres in other cities had--adapt with dog & pony dc artists the shows’ content to align with the location’s culture and history, as well as current events, but not change Beertown’s structure. REP wanted to explore a more comprehensive adaptation and place playwright-in-residence Herbert Siguenza at the helm. It needed to be clarified what REP was actually lifting from Beertown, how the original work and artists were to be acknowledged, and what the anticipated “shelf life” of the new play Beachtown was expected to be. Looking at the contract template, you can see Beachtown is using Beertown’s “structure” and “principal concepts,” which dog & pony dc owns being a creation of us.  Beachtown can be produced once during the REP’s 2017-18 season (and the details are spelled out). REP compensated us; these terms were clarified in an earlier “MOU” (memorandum of understanding which is like “contract lite”). We agree not to do Beertown within 150-miles of REP during that time. Who “owns” the copyright is noted, because--YO!--it can get odd when one play is called Beertown and the other is Beachtown! Then lastly the “fine print” notes when and how dog & pony dc is listed. For a company like ours, with a distinctive name, we’ve started including in all contracts clear stipulations about how we are to be referenced (7.b.). (Also: I don’t recommend naming a company with lowercase letters and &.) Lastly, because I am heavily involved with Beachtown as a co-author, I felt it was appropriate that the agreement was double-signed by dog & pony dc’s second leader Ivania Stack. This was a showing of good faith on our part.

2. Associate Director Agreement

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This contract is what I think of as a basic hiring letter or letter of agreement between a theatre company and an artist/independent contractor. What’s really important that I want to draw attention to:

Dates. If you know dates, put them down. If they are subject to change, state that. You can see in the first sentence of section 2 that I am agreeing to be available between first rehearsal and closing. The likelihood of me being needed after opening is low, but that is the REP protecting themselves and because I know the kind of production Beachtown is, I agree to that term.

Housing and Travel. Take your attention to 2.5, 2.6, and 2.7. They are all non-whole numbers because they were added after the contract was first written. Those terms were settled on, I knew were I was being housed, that I would be provided a car, and a travel stipend to cover my airfare. BUT: I insisted they were put into the contract because at the very end of the contract it says “It is understood that this letter constitutes the complete agreement between the Associate Director and the Producer, and that no additional verbal agreements exist.” I trust that the REP is not going to take back the car or stipend or change my housing; however, dog & pony dc has had long-term accomodations arranged for us previously with no heat in the winter, no A/C in the summer, no kitchen access permitted, etc. Put essentials in writing.

Independent contractor. I think section 4 is a nice point of clarification for everyone involved. It may seem like common sense, but in 2017 I had to explain to three artists that dog & pony dc didn’t take taxes out. 

3. dog & pony dc’s Annual Artist Letter of Agreement

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Lastly, I’m taking this post to share with everyone--for fun and for feedback--our “Standard Artist LOA.” This contract is shared the first time that an artist works with us during a calendar year. It covers all the nuts and bolts that would apply to any employment. We then issue project specific “riders” and timelines that are signed and attached to this LOA. The part I want to highlight is section I., sentence 4:

You agree to conduct yourself in the spirit of the Company’s Mission, Values, and Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion statement (“Values”) to the very best of your abilities, experience, expertise, and knowledge. You will uphold these Values and carry them forward in your work with the Company.

We wrote our EDI statement in 2016 and began going over the Values at the start of every major meeting and project as of 2017. The next step, in 2018, was building infrastructure around uploading the company Values. There’s a check-box on the agreement to tick off that you’ve received a copy of the Values document and discussed it with the leadership.

I’ll close by bringing your attention to section II “Intellectual Property.” This section was written new this year. Previously, it was cut and dry that every work product created under the auspicious of dog & pony dc belonged to the company. This began to feel problematic and colonialist. Who were we to own other’s words outside of a large group process? At the start of each project, we negotiate billing and ownership with the artists involved; that process continues throughout the development of the process. Even when we’ve worked with playwrights, thus far, it has been very straight forward if someone has actual ownership in such a way to say “PLAY” was “by” an individual. This is why A Killing Game is billed as “A Killing Game by dog & pony dc, Originally Developed & Scripted by Colin K. Bills, Rachel Grossman, Lorraine Ressegger-Slone, J. Argyl Plath, Jon Reynolds, Rebecca Sheir & Gwydion Suilebhan.” Squares in script form has “scripted by Danielle Mohlman, with Shannon Davies Mancus, Rachel Grossman  & Aaron Mosby.” But it was not “written” by Danielle, as in modern American theatrical it implies that she created the show.

I hope more of us can share our contracts and organizational documents with one another. Yes, formality feels in opposition to collective creation. But it’s like creating group agreements at the start of a devising session. Once we know how we’re going to work together, we can dive into the fun stuff. I hope these templates are of use, and if you’d like to provide me any updates or feedback please be in touch.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

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