I had just moved out of the city to the Jersey ‘burbs and was feeling like my life was still in New York. After still doing my grocery shopping at the Trader Joes on 14th Street for the better part of the first year I said to myself, “It’s time you started claiming Jersey and making an effort to develop an artistic community.” I saw an Equity house not too far from me, and I boldly emailed the artistic director, introducing myself as a new artist to the community, and offered work for their consideration, saying in my mind,
“This’ll never work.”
But it did work.
I was called and offered a slot in their reading series, and eventually a production of my play Carnaval. They sent over the contract and I realized, “I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout no contracts!” All I know is that you’re not supposed to sign anything you don’t read and agree to. So I read it. And, though it was written in English, and I am completely literate in English, I had no idea what it said! To top it off, I had no agent or no manager, and to run the document by some more established friends would have only fed into the imposter syndrome I was already in therapy for.
Instead, I started to negotiate on my own behalf . . . and by negotiate I mean ask, “So, if it’s not too much to ask, could you just lay out what each clause means again?” Needless to say, the negotiations were dragging on, their attorney was scaring the shit out of me, and it was clear they were becoming very annoyed. I was afraid the theatre would chuck the whole idea of producing my work altogether.
The artistic director—feeling sorry for me, I think—told me I needed an agent to buffer me from the contentious talks. And when I told her that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon, she told me about the attorney services at the Dramatists Guild. I called immediately, and they provided me with a standard contract from which I could evaluate how my deal was measuring up with industry standards. I said, “Thank you,” and my attorney in shining armor disappeared into the digital night. I thought, “Who was that AMAZING man who fortified me to be able to handle my own business? And what is this Guild that saved me from signing my play away?”
I gathered my documentation and joined the next day. I joined—and continue to renew membership—because the Guild empowered me. And I am ever grateful.