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Read the Fine Print…and that Gigantic Bold Print, Too.

January 4, 2013

As someone who has lived and worked all over the world, I am a strong advocate of auditioning for overseas contracts. They afford you the opportunity to travel and live in a variety of places from tropical paradises to bustling cities, and they make the process of green cards and relocation relatively painless. On top of this, overseas contracts usually include housing and living allowances in addition to a competitive salary, so your entire contract can be spent saving money. Then of course, you not only get to perform in the field you love, but you get to do so with a group of performers that quickly become like family since you have all travelled across the world together and are living/working closely with one another.

Unfortunately, not every contract can be picture perfect. Some you may need to negotiate. Some you should run away from screaming. From my own experience, here’s a short list of some crucial things to watch for in an overseas contract before you leave behind everything familiar to you and put yourself in the hands of a foreign company.

1.) The Obvious: what are you being hired as?

I know this sounds almost offensively obvious, but many contracts are written to hire you as simply “a performer” meaning that the company can place you in any role that they think fits that title appropriately. If you are hired to work in a theme park show inside a beautiful 1,000 seat theatre, singing and dancing, microphoned and air-conditioned, you may be quite happy accepting a contract that requires you to do this for nine months straight. However, if your contract hires you as “A Performer” rather than “Singer/Dancer #2 in Blank the Musical” you may find yourself performing two days a week in your beautiful theatre, two days outside as a fully costumed/masked, silent character, and one day as a host for that character who stands outside doing crowd control for eight hours a day.

Some, like myself, may jump at the opportunity to cross train into certain characters, as a great way to stock my reel/resume, and just to have some variety in my long contract.  Perhaps you may get cross trained into other singer/dancer roles, or even learn something new to add to your skill set like stilt walking or acrobatics! But even the most open-minded performer can find themselves miserable doing a job that they weren’t expecting or aren’t cut out for because the company was short on performers in that department.

Advice: clarify, clarify, clarify! If anything sounds vague, there’s likely a reason for that. Companies expect questions about the contract so don’t be shy.

2.) A chance to travel the world!….perhaps.

Carefully read the part of your contract that outlines your working hours. Many contracts, like certain cruise lines, may have only 3-4 shows a week. These shows are at night leaving the rest of your day, and the rest of the week, completely free. Unless you are required to be “on-call” for a certain period of time, or perhaps all the time.

To divulge deeper into cruise lines, some contracts do not allow you to leave the ship in certain ports or at certain times. This means if you were expecting to embark on three different adventure in three different countries per week, you may end up with only 2-3 hours in that country, or worse: none. Another cruise contract I’ve seen has scheduled me to only perform in 3 shows a week, each show being about two hours with a call time one hour prior. This seems like a dream come true leaving entire days of the week free to sunbathe, work out, or just sleep! However, this contract requires performers to be “on-call” 24/7 in case VIP guests request personal character meet and greets. This means that no matter where you are, on the ship or in port, you must be able to return and be in costume within 30 minutes of receiving this call….no matter what.

Advice: companies need to keep themselves covered for times of emergency and your job does, of course, come before your vacation. However, six months to a year with little to no freedom can be tolling on body and mind. Make sure you’re allotted holiday time, rest days, and at least a form of overtime pay if you’re “on-call” days become “called-in” days for two weeks in a row.

3.) Living allowance…money to burn or enough to scrape by?

If a company is giving you a living allowance on top of your salary…lucky you. But don’t get too hasty. It’s all too easy to forget that some country’s sales tax work different, you have to pay more money to buy the things you are used to from home, and exchange rates can get the best of you.

In many Asian cities, you can buy the largest meal you’ve ever seen for the equivalent of about two American dollars, but the cost of eating the food that your body is used to and able to process might be catastrophically high because that food is now a foreign import. You should also consider transportation. If you can walk to work, and take a cheap metro ride anywhere else, your living allowance will go much further than living in a city with no car of your own and no public transportation, in which case you will have to take pricey taxis all over town.

Personal Experience with a rapidly disappearing living allowance: Graciously, the company I am with provided us with housing, a living allowance, and even a monthly stipend of $100 towards our utility bill. This seemed too good to be true until we got our first air-conditioning bill that soared to the mid $400’s. Don’t judge me, the humidity here is something out of a nightmare! My room mates and I split the bill and became more cautious of how we use our air conditioning, but prior to coming here we were oblivious to the fact that a huge part of our living allowance would be going to keeping us from sweating out all our vital organs.

Advice: The first thing you need to do is look up the exchange rate for where you are going to be spending the money and then you should research the cost of living in that city. The first few weeks of your contract you should keep track of what you spend and how far your allowance goes, then plan accordingly.

 

4.) Gypsy life can be exciting….or terrifying.

One of the most important elements to look for if you are going to drop everything at home and relocate around the world, is housing agreements. If you’re working on a cruise ship, its pretty obvious your going to be living in a stateroom on the ship. But will you be sharing a room? Do you have your own bathroom? Are you ok with living in a room that is 5 feet by 5 feet? If you travel to a resort in Macau or a theme park in Japan….housing may get even more complicated and unknown.

Personal Experience with House Shuffling: One of my former contracts was a dream come true…turned nightmare. Our contract stated that we would be living in three bedroom apartments with private bedrooms and bathrooms. The day we arrived, we were taken to the nicest apartments I’d ever seen in my life, just a ten minute walk from work, with a pool that resembled a Vegas resort. But right when we’d bought all that we needed and settled in, we were informed that we would immediately be moving to new housing due to lease agreements. We picked up everything and moved, only to be told a few days later that we would be moving again because of extenuating circumstances.

All the apartments we were moved to were beautiful and comfortable, but packing everything you own every other week, paying moving fees, moving on days you have shows, and constantly buying different furniture/appliances for new places is very trying, and the lack of adequate communication is frustrating. There was nothing in our contract stating that we would be permanently placed in any one area so we had no choice but to move…and move again. I moved five times. Kill me.

Advice: Make sure to clarify not only where you will be living, (Close to work? Close to stores? Close to public transport?) but also what kind of housing you will be placed in (Apartment? Townhouse? Hostel?) . Inquire the number of bedrooms and people per bedroom. Does your place come with a full kitchen or will you not be able to cook on your contract? Is the housing set for the entire contract or will you be moved around?

 

5.) Your body your business? Not for the next year….

We work in an industry in which our physical features play a huge part in casting. Many companies regulate performers appearances by contractually forbidding them to cut or color their hair, get any piercings and tattoos, or even change their diet drastically enough to show a visible change.

In addition to this, many larger companies will ensure that they are able to utilize your image and/or voice for any present or future media and merchandise. Be sure your ready to have your talent and or appearance mass-produced or utilized for profit without having your name credited or earning residuals.

Personal Experience with a company “owning” my appearance: I worked at a dinner theatre that is part of a large chain, which therefore produced retail merchandise in their theatres all over the country. Photos and videos were taken during the show and my image was used on t-shirts, posters, mugs etc. This was actually quite exciting to have some merchandise with my image on it. However, I was less than thrilled to have my voice recording used as a track for other girls to sing to during latter performances without any credit given to my name.

Advice: Voice your opinion, negotiate additional salary for media/merchandise, or just accept it and be flattered by the fact that your image/voice is profitable 😉

What’s the most valuable advice I can give you about tackling these adventurous career moves? Become an expert of “L’arte d’arangiarsi” – the art of making something out of nothing. If your schedule is destroying you and your housing looks like the projects after a hurricane, remind yourself that you’re getting paid to do what you love and you have job security for the next several months. Then remind yourself that it isn’t forever, live and learn.

The Reckless Artist sig

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. The Growing Artist permalink
    January 8, 2013 2:34 am

    Really great post! Thanks for the advice!

  2. California Triple-Threat permalink
    January 14, 2013 7:00 pm

    I’m going to re-read this every time I do an out of town contract. Such a good list.

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