A cautionary tale.


This week we are sharing an important message, and we want the lot of you out there to read this, share it, and acknowledge it. We are not presenting a fictional account here but something that, unfortunately, has happened for real to someone very active in the theatre community. 
This person has shared his/her story with us but prefers to remain anonymous. 


Last year, the head of a local independent theatre company decided to stage a production that involved a big cast, as well as a few children. Two were necessary as they had roles in the script, and the third scripted child had two lines and a lot of background actions overall. The director, who was also the producer of the company, auditioned a few children and decided to cast the most suitable ones for the production. The mother of the child who wasn't cast for the main roles did ask the director if there was anything available for her son since they were all highly enthusiastic about theatre and it would be a terrific opportunity for her ten-year-old. 


The director thought of whether those two lines were going to be redistributed or not, then saw no harm in having three children instead of two. It could have been a great opportunity for a youngster to learn how to be onstage, and also receive more support towards the show. 


The third child (let's call him Will) was invited to rehearsals once every three weeks or so at the beginning, as his part did not require too much effort; his mother was often unable to take him to rehearsals, and she tended to ask for alternative last-minute arrangements to the director. The director at times was asked to pick up Will from several points in town and take him back home at the end of rehearsals. Will's mother also "forgot" on a few occasions to pick up the child from rehearsals on time, leaving Will with other cast members over dinner. The actors of the production, together with the director, had little choice but to take the child for dinner and certainly pay for it since Will was hungry and didn't have any money. 


The director spoke to Will's parents on several occasions and asked them to take care of their child regarding transportation arrangements. The date of the performance was coming close; there was a cast of over 20 actors,  a crew of 10,  and not too much time to go over small details. 


Two weeks before the show opened, Will stopped going to rehearsals as the parents did not take him; furthermore, they failed to communicate with the director and the production team their intentions. On the rare times they called, they were vague about whether they were coming to rehearsals or not, and they spoke to the assistant but refused to talk directly to the director. When the latter called them, they didn't pick up the phone. 


Two days before the show the entire group moved towards the theatre; bump-in, set building and lighting began at 9am, and the tech rehearsal began at 8pm. Everyone was there except for Will; his parents over the last phone call mentioned they would be at the theatre, but instead they were nowhere to be seen. No phone call was made from their side. No apology or explanation was given either. 


Everybody was ready to go on. The other two children were looked after by their parents, who had committed to the project since the beginning and didn't understand what problem Will's parents could have. Regardless of what the situation was, the director had to make a decision, which was not going to be pretty, but it had to be done for the sake of the production and to those actors who, let's say it, worked their asses off for the success of the show.


Will was let go of the production, and an email was sent at 11pm to his parents. A reply by his angry mother, who didn't contact the group at all for the whole day, followed within an hour; she didn't share her sentiments between herself, director, and production people, but with everyone in the cast, including with those who had dropped out of the production months before. 


The aura of negativity that was briefly cast over the group dissolved very quickly as the team had a  daunting task ahead of them and people decided to concentrate their efforts and energies on what mattered (the show), rather than on small issues. 


Will's lines were redistributed amongst the remaining children, and everybody in the group supported the director's decision of letting the child go. It wasn't a pleasant decision to make, but it was necessary. 
The show was a success, and everyone in the audience recognised the talent of the actors as well as all their effort. The production was hugely successful. 


The mother of Will continued to pester the group for weeks, even once the production was over. The director, the production assistant, and the stage manager, communicated to her over email that not showing up at rehearsals (especially at tech) left little choice for the team. If she had reported serious issues at the right time, they could all have found a solution, but at that point, it was too late. Regardless, she kept asking for an explanation on why her child was let go when he worked so hard, how nasty and pathetic the director was, and how come Will received no money for his performance.


The producer/director offered a cut of the profit to cast and crew upon completion of the show. Will did not end up being on stage, the parents never reimbursed the director for the money spent on taxi rides and food, and the whole production suggested not to give Will any compensation since him and his family did not accomplish the task requested. 


The mother stopped emailing, but the director did not feel at ease and felt like something was up. Three weeks later, the producer/director received a phone call from the Labour Department; the mother had reported him/her for child labour. 


What followed were months of interrogations, phone calls, legal advice (at high cost) and the hovering thought of having done something wrong when all that had happened was that a mother had lost her mind over a community theatre show. The case went to court; the Labour Department was not interested in the drama between the director and the mother per se, but they were only after one thing: whether or not the group requested a license to have a child actor, paid or unpaid, within their show. 


As the project was voluntary and unpaid (or better, on a profit-share basis - but still not on salary), the company did not even think about asking for a license. The director made a mistake that cost time and money, and yet we have seen many groups throughout the years making the same error. 


Read this, as this is crucial: unless a team runs a charity or an NGO, everyone with limited companies or sole proprietorships MUST receive an exemption from the Labour Department in case the child on stage is below 13 years of age. Requesting a license doesn't cost anything; all is needed is the submission of the company together with a signed request by the parents of the child. Those companies who run paid workshops for children and put them on stage don't need licenses as the children are paying for their stage education. 


They learnt this the hard way, and they don't want anyone out there to go through this ordeal. It can be simple; protect yourself from certain people who think they are entitled to the world, and enjoy what you love to do the most. They surely have learnt their lesson there. 


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