Edith Weiss is the author of several published children’s plays, including six with Pioneer Drama Service. A lot of Edith’s writing time goes into her stand-up comedy routine, which has taken her all over the country and on three overseas military tours. Besides writing, she also acts and directs in both children’s and adult theatre.
The Contract That Could Save Your Sanity
by Edith Weiss
As a director in middle or high school drama, you face problems as predictable as they are frustrating. Clearly stating your expectations upfront will help you keep your sanity throughout rehearsals and keep the behind the scenes drama to a minimum.
Students missing rehearsals because something “better” comes up. Tears when the role goes to somebody else. Lines that don’t get learned. Disruptive behavior offstage. Angry phone calls from parents about any number of issues. A student who thinks he or she is a “star.” The stage parents who think their kid is the next Miley Cyrus. And if that isn’t enough, sometimes you’re caught in the middle between parents and administration.
Don’t be discouraged. Help is on the way, and it comes in the form of a contract. Yes, a contract. A document that you write, sign and insist that the auditioning students and their parents sign as well. It is also a wonderful way to CYA, which is another way of saying Cover Your, er... Bases.
The audition form can be your first contract with the students. This form, which should be signed by both student and parent before auditioning, should include a sentence such as: “I agree to play any part assigned to me without complaint.” Teenagers often balk at wearing costumes, or even combing their hair in a way they consider “uncool.” Cover this possibility in the audition form as well: “The actor agrees to wear the costumes, wig, or hairstyle of the director’s choosing.”
Once you’ve cast your show, require all actors and their parents to carefully read and complete a separate cast contract you’ve written to outline their responsibilities as an actor in the show. When preparing this contract, keep it clear and straightforward. Ask yourself things like: Outside of sickness, how many rehearsals is an actor allowed to miss? Put it in the contract. If an actor misses more than that, what happens? If you feel the director then has the right to replace that actor, put it in the contract. When is the deadline for being off book? Put it in the contract.
Unfortunately, many students are more familiar with competition than they are with cooperation, which is one of the reasons theatre is so important. Nothing ruins a theatre experience faster than a kid who thinks he or she is the “star” and doesn’t get the idea of ensemble. Believe it or not, even this sort of behavior can be addressed in your contract. “The actor agrees to work as part of the team. Any actor whose attitude or actions are disrespectful will be asked to leave the show.”
Clearly stating your expectations upfront will help you keep your sanity throughout rehearsals and keep the drama on the stage, rather than behind-the-scenes. I encourage you to have your cast contract available when students first pick up their audition forms. Though they won’t have to sign and turn it in unless they’ve been cast in a role, students should know from the get-go what you expect of cast members. Besides protecting yourself, having a contract demonstrates to first time actors and their parents that you take theatre seriously, that it’s not just fun and games. Ironically, when everyone understands the rules and you give yourself the power to enforce them, then everyone really does start having more fun!
Check out this sample contract for you to modify for your own use.