The key to a successful and meaningful contract is to create it with the company, not for them.
When working with young people on any project, a contract is a fantastic tool to have. You set out your standards and goals early on and ask everyone to sign up to it. It can influence everything from the structure of your rehearsal to the way in which the group communicates. You can then reference it throughout the process, ensuring that everyone lives up to their side of the bargain.
The key to a successful and meaningful contract is to create it with the company, not for them. Having them set the standards and propose additions to the contract themselves makes them far more likely to stick to it, especially if you highlight that this contract applies to you as the director as well as them.
When meeting a new group for the first time I like to use the same topics as a starting point whilst being flexible to stray off topic. Feel free to use this as your own starting point and develop your own list as you see what works for your groups and what doesn’t.
Arrival – This does not always need to be a separate point, if your group are quite organised then slotting it in with rehearsal structure is fine but I often find punctuality to be an issue from the start. Discuss how your rehearsal works; if your rehearsal is listed as starting at 6pm does that mean you start working at 6pm on the dot or do you have a grace period? How long is that grace period?
Preparation – What is expected of everyone between rehearsals? Similar to arrival, what should the company do immediately before a rehearsal? What constitutes prepared? Should the director specify what is to be covered in each rehearsal? In return should the cast review those scenes before arrival? Do you set homework? Should the company be in working clothes at the start time? Are performers expected to do their own stretches/warm up or will this be incorporated?
Language and Communication – How does the company feel about swearing? Are there certain words they are not comfortable with? This is also a good place to highlight sexist, homophobic or sarcastic language that is often used intending to be funny or throw-away but can be seen as offensive or passive aggressive. How do we deal with these situations? What is the easiest way to get hold of everyone for changes to rehearsals? How should individuals communicate sickness or lateness?
Technology – Are phones off during rehearsals? Kept in bags or pockets? What is the emergency situation exception?
Respect and Conduct – What behaviour is acceptable in rehearsals? Tying in with language, how do we talk to each other? Are comments on others performances acceptable? How do we deal with difficult situations?
Health and Well-being – You should try to address this from the perspective of both physical and mental health. Physically, discuss the length and content of warm-ups and cool downs. This is especially important with shows involving dancers and many of them can tell you what they need. Stress that physical work is about pushing yourself, not breaking yourself; you know your own body, listen to it. Mentally, discuss stress and other pressures. Identify key stressful points such as exams and other deadlines and see how this can be factored in to the rehearsal schedule. With some groups I have found it helpful to include a ‘check-in’ at the start of a session; an opportunity for individuals to express their mood and how that might affect their behaviour during the session.
Rehearsal Structure – Based on the topics you have discussed, identify how this affects the rehearsal structure. Does this first half an hour of your session become a warm up that individuals can attend if they would like to, allowing a lateness buffer? Does a check-in happen every session? What format or timescale does it take per person? Do you have a cool down or allow time for stretches or similar at the end of a rehearsal?
Consequences – With your contract in place now agree upon consequences. Do you have a ‘three strikes and your out’ rule? Do people who are late have to complete a push up for every minute they are late? Let the group agree together on what’s fair.
This might seem like a long list but if you ensure you are engaging the group in discussion and allow it to be led by them, just using these topics as sign posts, it will really bring the group together and ensure you are all working towards the same goals.
Now you’ve got your contract in place you’ve got to stick to it! Let me know how you get on. Is there anything else you would include in your contract discussion?