Beware the Agent!

So, a little cautionary tale to relate here about agents, artists and presenters. I had the experience where an agent didn’t return an executed contract after having it for 4 months. I made a couple calls to prod them to send the contract which was for a performance 2 months hence telling them I couldn’t process a check request without it.

A few weeks go by and I start advancing the show with the performers and mention the same thing. Turns out the performer had recently left the agent because of poor service like this, but unfortunately, since we started the contract with them, we had to continue. (And by the way, when I first called to bug them about sending the contract, the agent directed me to the new agency who then took a while to realize I didn’t have a contract through them.)
I explain how my ability to pay them will be hampered by not having the contract.

Five- six weeks out the agent calls and tells me they don’t have a piece of the contract so I rush the material to them hoping to expedite the process of getting the contract back. (In the meantime, they are calling for ticket counts three times a week) A month out, I speak with the performers again extending my dire warning. They give me another number to call and bug about the contract which I do.

Two and half weeks out, the performer calls in frantically because the agent who has had the stupid contract for 6 months now apparently hasn’t read it in all this time and makes a mistake about the agreed upon fee. I call the agent to clarify matters and she encourages me to send the deposit in (I have started intoning my warning about not being able to pay them now because I have said it so frequently of late.) A week or so out, the performers finally get the contract rush through signing it and filling out the required materials and though they aren’t supposed to, send a copy of the contract to me and return a copy to the agent.

Unfortunately, it is really too late to send the paperwork through in the normal manner. However, the performers’ rep threatens that they won’t show up if I can’t guarantee I can have the check for them. I don’t blame the performers for not wanting to risk their cash flow by having to wait for a check to come a week or so after they perform, but all the same, we sent the contract in nearly 7 months before at this point.

To make matters worse, the agent has pretty much crossed out half the contract, including the Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity clauses which tend to be something that state governments are sensitive about. They didn’t technically apply to this situation, but still at the time, I didn’t know if it would go through the system swiftly or not. It would be tough enough to push it through without those potential stumbling blocks.

I spent a day chasing people around campus, calling secretaries and assistants asking to be alerted when people got out of meetings and requesting that the person in question not be allowed to leave their own office. (These folks are the ones that really run an institution as everyone knows!)

Somehow I managed to get all the approvals I needed and get the checks processed. However, it is a cautionary tale about the performing arts. Here was a situation that wasn’t my fault in the least and that I warned about in many instances, yet it was made my problem nonetheless.

There is little recourse for either me or the performer against the big agency. The performers can’t threaten to take their business elsewhere, they already have, and the agency is so big, they really don’t care if I never do business with them again.

We actually had a letter of warning that we sent back with the contracts 7 months prior warning about this as well. There doesn’t seem to really be a solution to this for the future other than to become the greasy wheel and call the agent everyday starting a month or so out if the contract hasn’t been received.

I know that I said nice things about agents that I met at the WAA conference. They were mostly folks who were in small to medium size agencies and were interested in keeping good relations with everyone involved. This wasn’t my first dealings with the behemoth agencies, but it was the worst indeed.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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