Careers Clinic: What’s my ‘fair share’ of commitment?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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I came up to Edinburgh last week with a play that is running in an early evening slot. It’s not a bad venue and we have had reasonable houses so it’s going well. Up until last night I was getting on well with the rest of the cast too.

A mate of mine who I sometimes do comedy gigs with is up here doing a late-night show with his usual team. They are tipped to be a breakthrough act this year. One of his regulars pulled out last night and he asked me to step in. I did and it went brilliantly.

He called this morning to say the other actor has had to go back to London, and if I’m up for it, I can be in the show for the rest of the Edinburgh Fringe.

Foolishly I thought the rest of the cast of the show that I’m already in would be happy for me. Not a bit of it. They are now moaning about my commitment to this show, even though the other one is much later at night and doesn’t interfere at all.

It’s a great opportunity. Do you think I’m being unreasonable in grabbing it?

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE Considering the number of friendships that break up when people attempt the simple task of just going on holiday together, it’s no surprise that combining normal tensions with the stresses of putting on a fringe show can create even more fireworks.

There are certainly some team commitments that should be ‘set in stone’. For instance, the Equity Fringe Agreement is one that everybody considering working in a fringe show should be familiar with to insure that matters such as fair pay even in low-budget productions are properly understood and addressed by all concerned.

Your friendly neighbourhood careers adviser always recommends that, awkward or not, mutual agreements based on less-defined matters are also well worth discussing and agreeing on. From who takes out the rubbish on which day, to whether food in the fridge is communal, relatively small ‘digs’ issues can become huge during the run of a show. Ideally, these discussions would happen in advance, but they often only become necessary when an unexpected situation like this one arises.

Strictly speaking, and unless there is something else in the contract, your commitment to the current show only requires you to turn up when you are supposed to and do the best job you can when you are there. That said, just as most reasonable people would expect domestic chores in the flat to be shared, sticking everyone else with essential fringe tasks such as flyering while you swan off to do your other gig would seem like bad form.

On the other hand, you are doing a show with these people, not married to them. Give and take is the key. If you can still do your fair share of team work and also take advantage of the opportunity you have been offered, I really don’t see a problem. I suspect most of the other people in the show wouldn’t either, if it were them and not you being offered the other gig.

For peace in the house, and, even more importantly, peace backstage, I would grasp the nettle and find out what everybody else in the show thinks your ‘fair share’ of promotion and any other tasks should be. You don’t need to agree to unreasonable demands but at least it gives you a starting point for negotiation. Once that’s agreed, the rest of the time should be yours.

To put a positive spin on it, if you keep doing well at the late-night show, and your cast mates are prepared to capitalise by doing a bit of leafleting outside, your ‘other’ gig might turn out to help the original show rather than hinder it.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne