When all else failed…

Now that Labor Day has passed, and many of us in the artistic community have completed summer festival employment and/or vacations; we turn our sights to the main arts season dated 2013/2014…the time expanse that begins in late August/early September 2013 thru April/May 2014.  For most of us, this means that we must align ourselves, by design, with one or more performing arts unions as a matter of course.  For the most part, I like to think that our Unions and the management(s) of the Arts Organizations that hire us work in a symbiotic fashion.  The good sense behind this is the fact that we are all usually headed in the ‘same direction’ artistically, and we don’t dabble in politics.  Every once in awhile, however, we hit a snag along that road and it requires additional hands on-deck to assist us.  Below is an example of what can happen when a Union and an Arts Organization work hand-in-hand to help just one person.  In this case, of course, it was me!  It is also an affirmation to the usefulness of our performing arts Unions, who are too often maligned for taking money from their members, and doing nothing in return.  (For the sake of propriety, I do not identify the specific company or company-players involved.)

As a solo singer in this business, it is sometimes unclear as to exactly how we should handle a contract issue or dispute.  Generally speaking, we attempt to follow a specific chain-of-command, establish a reliable chain-of-custody regarding correspondence, and hopefully resolve any issues amicably between all parties.  Despite our best efforts, and recognizing the myriad of variables that a “problem” produces–regardless of it’s point of origin–we sometimes find ourselves at an impasse. 

A few years ago, I began an inquiry through my manager/agent regarding an extra week of rehearsal that was requested for a major project at one of our most visible and respected opera companies.  I was indeed available for this extra week, wanted no additional rehearsal pay or overall fee, but was expecting a contract revision (a fully executed contract had already been in place) that provided for one week’s worth of living expenses.  This exact same issue occurred a few years earlier with the exact same company, and this is how the issue was handled.  In fact, the offer of an additional week’s worth of expenses was their idea at that time, and it seemed fair to me.   The cost?  About $600-$700.

We began asking for this written addendum some 9-10 months in advance of the start of the rehearsal period.  An addendum was sent out, but no word regarding expenses was in the document.  Luckily we had a reliable email sequence regarding this matter with the Artistic department.  To be fair, the role of an Artistic Administrator in this working environment and economy is a tough one.  They are forever putting out fires, dealing with critical artistic matters, being tugged-on from every direction, and being told to hold-the-line on all expenses/expenditures that come their way.  It is therefore easy to see how my matter could receive low priority when it was queued into their inbox, but I was signing no document until my issue was resolved in writing. 

As the months passed, another major opera company offered me the opportunity to perform an outstanding new role on very short notice.  I was to replace an artist who had to cancel his obligation.  The only problem was that the last week of performances conflicted with the extra week of rehearsal that I was not yet contracted for because the “one week of living expenses“ issue had still not been addressed.  Now, of course, I didn’t even want to obligate myself to this extra week of rehearsal because an additional contract hung in the balance.  When I was no longer available to rehearse, and was not obligated by signature, the company was quick to respond to our 9-10 months of inquiry, and yes…were suddenly willing to discuss additional compensation regarding living expenses.

A tug-of-war ensued; and while I was “in the right” contractually, I simply did not want to be considered a bad colleague.  Neither opera company wanted to give-way, and the original company in question felt they were still ‘”in the right”.   With my agent/manager now tussling with not one, but TWO different opera companies, a capable Artistic Administrator, a General Director, and now the actual Director of the original project…all of whom wanted supremacy over the situation…I stood aside and realized that my reputation and thousands of dollars hung in the balance.  Let’s be clear; I am NOT a power-player singer.  If I were, the situation would have resolved itself quickly.  I am, however, a well-respected, reliable artist who must maintain good relations all of the time.  But I simply did not know where to turn…

So, I tried AGMA.  I emailed Alan Gordon, AGMA’s National Executive Director, late on a Friday night in hopes that he could help sort things out…at least from a contractual perspective.

To my delight and surprise, I received a phone call–on a Saturday morning no less–and Alan and I discussed the matter in full.  He felt that no ‘heavy-handed’ posturing was needed and asked me to allow him access to the matter.  On Monday morning, with one simple email (he Cc’d me on all communications) and one phone call, the problem was resolved.  He simply posited that reasonable people should all be able to work together, and appealed to everyone’s sense of fairness.  Things began to move quickly thereafter.  Alan spoke with the Associate General Director, the Director of ‘project A’ spoke with the General Director of ‘project B’, my agent spoke with both Artistic Administrators; and VOILA, problem solved!

In the end, it was AGMA’s intercession that truly got the ball rolling again.  This is the kind of representation for which we pay dues…both annual and 2%.  Make no mistake, I got my entire 20 years worth of dues investment back a few times over on just that one occasion.  Our head-office can be a powerful tool, to be sure; but it did not take ‘power’ to resolve this situation.  However, a phone call and an email from our National Executive Director was the one component that made all the difference, and there were (hopefully) no residual hard feelings. 

BOTH projects that I was then able to participate in were enormous successes both artistically and personally.  It took some flying back and forth, and some creative rehearsal scheduling, but we did it!  Ultimately however (along with the dedicated assistance of ALL the players), it was AGMA that saved the day. 

Thank You Alan, and Thank You AGMA!!

This is why AGMA is there.  Alan and AGMA staff are well equipped to assist you should the need arise, so do not hesitate to contact them!  Artistic Administrators and company liaisons are also there to help provide  a road map to peace, so please do not hesitate to contact them early on as well!!

Respectfully submitted,


**The above article is a reprint from the spring issue of AGMAzine for which I was asked to write about just such an experience.**