My lovely pal and collaborator Stephen Davidson was put in rather a shitty situation with an improv teaching gig over the last few days. He ended up forking out for flights he ended up not using, after being ghosted by an improviser who had booked him to teach. Extremely bad vibes.
The improv community, by and large, seems to do business mostly by handshake deals and making agreements relatively informally. I have (touch wood!) not yet been burnt by this, but hearing about Stephen’s recent experience has made me think it might be high time that we start formalising our agreements and protecting improvisers (who aren’t exactly raking it in!) from being out of pocket from dodgy deals.
It can be easy to discount the need for formalised agreements; we’re very rarely making agreements for more than a weekend of festivals, or a 6-week course, and if we’re performing, we’re often making an agreement to rehearse and perform for low or no pay.
Even if you’re not making big bucks from an agreement, being sure that both sides are clear on what is and isn’t included (travel expenses, food, accommodation, fees for performing, fees for rehearsals, space hire, etc.) makes it much less likely that there will be bad blood once an engagement comes to an end. Improv largely involves mixing friends with business, and it’s something that people pour a lot of themselves into, so making sure no one is left with a bad taste in their mouth can be difficult.
With that in mind, I’ve put together a template contract that you can use for any agreements you’re making, be it as a performer with a theatre, a teacher with an improv school, a coach with a group, or anything else. I’ve left the terms relatively broad, so you can punch in the necessary details, and add and subtract as necessary.
This isn’t legal advice and I’m not a lawyer – if you’re in the UK and dealing with any issues around performing and pay, I highly advise getting in touch with Equity – even if you’re not a member they’re usually very happy to offer basic guidance. You can also contact the Citizens Advice Bureau, and if all else fails a no-win no-fee Lawyer should be able to offer sound advice.
It’s also worth noting that any written agreement can potentially be used as proof of entering into a contract. Any time you make a purchase or agree to provide a service, you’re entering into a contract. Even a verbal contract can be binding, although a lot harder to prove in a court. Emails, WhatsApp messages, Facebook conversations, Signal messages, anything in the written language can all be used as proof of an agreement, even if a formal contract hasn’t been signed. Keeping good files of everything you’ve agreed to is a great place to start, even if you don’t formalise things via contract.
If you’re using the above template, please be sure to save a copy before you fill it in. I’m making this available for anyone who wants or needs it, so please don’t add or subtract things from the base copy!
And if you are someone who wants to get more confident with the business side of things, I’ll be announcing several one-off classes on the business of improv over the next few weeks, so keep an eye on my Facebook page, or sign up for my Mailing List to be the first to know when they go on sale.