I was a Stage/Company Manager for over 12 years before moving on to general management. So I’ve experienced first-hand what happens when theatre companies, underpay, over expect and at times downright exploit actors, stage managers and creatives. In my experience in small companies this is rarely to increase profit but simply because they had not raised enough funding or were relying on an unrealistic expectation of income from the box office. So while all the multiple rates and terms of the contracts are important, for me being an Ethical Manager is more a state of mind.
It ensures you budget adequately and don’t green light a project until you have raised sufficient cash to cover all the obligations to those you engage. As important, it encourages you to plan rehearsal, performance and especially touring schedules from the outset so they are reasonable for all involved without long hours, so missed breaks or short overnights are a response to emergency rather than built in from the start. An exhausted company rarely delivers good work.
Communicating the hours available and what is reasonable to expect in that time should also be an essential part of the briefing of directors and other creatives. I usually give the Stage Manager a copy of the rules on available hours and breaks and tell them to keep this to hand when planning calls with the Director.
For a small, new, under resourced project company, even if not a member of ITC and so unable to formally issue an ITC/Equity contract, to be able to say their contract is in line with it inspires confidence in actors and their agents, and starts to build in good practice in that company as it grows
I find most young actors and even established agents struggle to understand the ITC/Equity contract form. On one show I issued the formal contract form only to have every actor or their agent and one of the stage managers came back with queries – answers to which were all in the contract but they couldn’t navigate its confusing paragraphs. So I usually issue a parallel document which gives all the key information - dates, days, hours, weekly wage/fee, subsistence, accommodation & travel arrangements etc in a straightforward way. I often send this out in advance with offers to actors so all this is clearly laid out for them before they accept.