It’s summer and you’ve just finished your master’s degree in Berlin. Theater and music are your life and now you want to get started – whether as a musician, singer, or director. Of course, you’ve been to many theatre performances and have already gathered many impressions, perhaps you’ve even done some work as a freelancer at the theatre – unpaid, of course. What are you going to do?
Your buddy has just told you that the Rheingoldingen Theater is looking for an assistant. This is your first chance!
Two days after your online application you get the mail – we invite you to an interview. Oh, happy day! Maybe you can even suggest your own projects? You quickly get your work at university together and look forward to your meeting.
After the four-hour train ride to the province, which cost you 67 euros, you are kept waiting at the stage door. Two other applicants are also there, and then you are all sent to the company office. The opera manager has an important telephone appointment because a jump-in has to be found for the opera the very night.
Half an hour late, you’re finally sitting in her office and you are just about to explain your thesis when the question comes: „Have you ever supervised a production before?“ – „Yes, in the Operastudio at the Komische Oper.“- „Nice, you know that you will work as an assistant both in opera and in drama with us, depending on the need?“ – „Ah, ok, that wasn’t mentioned in the job advertisement at all…“ – „Yes, I’m sure my assistant forgot to write that, the position will be available on short notice. Could you start before the summer break?“ – „Yes, theoretically…“ – „Great. At our house, beginners always get the minimum fee of €2,000, I hope that’s okay with you?“ – „Uh, I hadn’t thought about it yet.… But I’d also like to do something of my own, is there also a directing possibility for …“ – „Yes, we can see to that later, there are two pieces not yet cast, we would discuss that around Christmas.“
Here, at the latest, you’re completely caught off guard – you might say yes right away out of sheer shock. If you are a woman, you are even twice as likely to slip into a so-called Normalvertrag Solo with a minimum salary of 2000€.
If you want to play at any price, you will be played …
If an employer tells you “Trust me. You have my word, even if this agreement is not
written in the contract“ NO! Never! Don’t blindly trust anyone at the theatre. There is no friendship between employees and the boss. Don’t get yourself snowed with such empty phrases. Everything must be agreed upon in writing. Instead of verbally agreeing, you should come up with answers such as: “Of course I trust you. Anyhow, I want to avoid future misunderstandings
in case we possibly were talking about different things by mistake. So I think it is safer to settle everything in writing.”
Strategies for negotiation
You don’t have to sell yourself too cheap during contract negotiations, as the artistic director is specifically interested in you. Your salary is hardly increased if you are in permanent employment and is only adjusted according to ‘official’ pay rounds. Many theatres have their own company collective pay agreements (“Haus-Tarifvertrag“) and a pay rise is hard to achieve. For this reason, you should always enter negotiations with higher salary expectation that allows room to negotiate.
There are different situations for a first negotiation. Often you have an agent to negotiate at the beginning, but that is not always the case and the earlier you are ready for such a moment, the better. If your agent is doing the negotiations for you, he will have a good overview of what the salary levels are at the appropriate theatre. You needn’t accept the first offer. Your agent surely wants to do business with the theatre in the future and will try to find a balance that is not necessarily advantageous for you.
The text is an extended excerpt from „Vom Ton zum Lohn“ published at Donatus with the kind permission of the author and publisher. The book is also available in English „Earn a fee for your high C – a singer’s guide to Germany“.