While you may not think of yourself this way, a choreographer is, almost inevitably, an employer. Even if your artistic process as very collaborative or non-hierarchical, even if no one is being paid, as the initiator of a project you will have certain administrative responsibilities. While these tasks can seem overwhelming at first, they are an important part of the process, and they will become easier with time and familiarity.
For artists involved in their first productions, incorporating as a company is not recommended. It involves paper work and legal protocol, and there are few advantages. It is important, however, to determine and commit to a structure of operations for each particular production. Whichever structure you choose, it is important to understand and own it. Define and honour the rights and responsibilities that titles give you and your team members. Figuring out how you work is an important first step towards organizing yourself.
It is important to sign a contract with every collaborator involved in your production. A contract allows you to clarify the responsibilities for each role, elaborate a time line for the work, and clearly state the payment each collaborator can expect. It can feel easy to skip, or put off this step when you are working with friends on a project where there is little or no payment, however, the process of negotiating and writing a contract allows everyone to clearly understand their role in the creation process, and can help avoid misunderstandings, and potential conflict later on.
Be sure to include these bare minimums:
- the names and addresses of the two participants (one requesting the service, i.e.: the choreographer, and the other providing the service, i.e.: a dancer, designer, etc.).
- the service rendered;
- the name of the production and relevant dates (performance, rehearsal, set-up, etc.);
- the monetary transaction: how much, how and when;
- what will happen if either party is unable to fulfill the contract;
- any additional terms or special clauses;
- the dated signatures of each party, in the city of…
It is important to note that in Québec, contracts should be prepared in French, unless both parties agree to draft the contract in English.
Tip: Use an existing contract as a model. Members of the RQD have access to a contract template, as well as a guide to contract negotiation. La Machinerie also provides contract templates in their tool box. Other references include CADA Ontario’s Professional Standards for Dance, CADA/BC’s Basic Dance Agreement as well as the CanDance Network’s Artist Negotiation Tools.
There is no set standard for professional wages for dancers in Quebec; however, many choreographers choose to use CADA-Ontario’s recommended wages as a guideline. As of 2019, the recommended hourly rehearsal wage is $27/hr for an emerging dancer, and $30/hr for an experienced professional. Recommended performance fees are $100 - $200 per performance. Designers’ fees vary depending on the role, the designer’s experience, and the size of the project but often run between $500 and $3000.
Because the Arts Councils rarely fund the first works of an emerging artist, those who are just starting out usually do not have the means to pay the amounts mentioned above. You may not even be able to pay anything at all. However, if you are just starting out, you will most likely be working with other young artists who need opportunities to develop their own skills, and gain professional experience. In the early stages of your career, many of your peers will feel that the value of being part of a project and learning together is enough. Bartering may also be a possibility: you can work on someone else’s project and in exchange they can help you with yours. The most important thing is to be upfront when discussing your project with potential collaborators. Be clear about the amount of time you are asking for, and exactly what you are able to offer in exchange.
La Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail(CNESST) is the government organization in Quebec which administers worker’s compensation claims. Even if you dancers are not being paid, you are legally required to open a dossier with the CNESST and make contributions towards the worker’s compensation fund. If a dancer is injured while rehearsing with you they have the right to make a claim, and may receive monetary compensation for lost wages while injured, as well as therapeutic services. While the process of opening a dossier and paying your contribution can be a bit bureaucratic and intimidating, it is also very inexpensive (around $1.50 for every $100 you pay to your dancers). Further, the financial penalties for failing to contribute to CNESST can be severe.
Tip: Service organizations like the RQD or Studio 303 can help you open a dossier with CNESST.
A budget has two elements: income and expenses, and the totals of each of these ought to balance. Budgets go through several drafts, from initial estimate to final budget. Expenses fluctuate depending on your ability to predict expenses and the accuracy of your estimates. Income depends on whether you receive your grants, the size of your presentation fee, or in the case of self-presenting, ticket sales. You should prepare two budgets from the very beginning – one being a worst-case scenario, the other being the best-case scenario; plan for both.
It is never be easy to predict income. Do not count on any grants or private funding until they are confirmed. Always have a plan B. If self-presenting, do not assume a high income from ticket sales. It is standard practice to estimate that 40% of tickets will be sold. Take (# seats) X (# shows) X (ticket price) X (0.40) to calculate this amount. Evaluate your fundraising efforts three weeks prior to opening night. It is unlikely that much more can happen in the period left, so it’s a good idea to adjust your budget accordingly at this time.
A realistic and balanced budget is an essential part of your project. Get feedback on your budget, from an experienced friend, mentor or a professional.
Don’t forget that as an independent artist, any revenues related to your project, including grants, artist fees, and ticket sales count as taxable income. Be sure to save all of your receipts, and find an accountant who is familiar with the performance arts to help you correctly file your income taxes with deductions.
Tip: La Machinerie has downloadable budget templates in their Tool Box.
Managing people is no easy task – it involves maintaining a balance between giving clear direction, and trusting your collaborators to make decisions. It is essential to respect the people you work with; to be clear with your expectations and to respect each team member’s boundaries. No matter how collaborative or non-hierarchical your artistic process is, you, as project leader are responsible for ensuring a physical and psychologically safe working environment for your collaborators.
Providing a physically safe environment means ensuring your rehearsal and performance spaces do not present a danger to the performers (like extreme heat or cold). It also means respecting your performers physical limits, and not pressuring them to perform movements that they deem too dangerous, or painful.
Providing a psychologically safe environment means having a zero tolerance policy for sexual or psychological harassment. It also means finding equitable ways to address any conflicts that might emerge during the process of creation and production. If your choreography may involve nudity, or themes of sexual or physical violence, you should communicate this to performers in advance, and allow them time to set their own boundaries, or opt out of the process.
Plan feedback sessions into your schedule and touch base with your team regularly. If a team member expresses discomfort or dissatisfaction, try to listen carefully without becoming defensive. If you need help resolving a conflict, try talking things through with a neutral third party that you both trust.
The power dynamics between choreographer and dancer and related ethical concerns are an evolving issue in our field. The RQD has several articles on the topic in the ‘Resources Humaines’ section on their website (available in French only). The international organization Whistle While You Work, has produced a helpful document about sexual harassment, discrimination and gender (link here).