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Contracts for Storytellers

This is a compilation of emails from professional storytellers discussing various issues around using contracts, and even giving sample contracts that they use. This is not necessarily legally authoritative, but you will see that contracts can still be very useful even when simple or not legally watertight.

Here is a copy of my current contract form complete with all the clauses I normally use. I got much of this from a workshop done by Heather Forest at the conference in San Antonio and my previous experience in writing contracts in business brokerage. I try to include as much detail as possible about the audience and schedule in the program description section. I limit my audience size to 250 for school programs, 50 for Pre-K (indergarten) and K.. Programs generally run 45 minutes, Pre-K/K run 30 minutes. Y'all are welcome to take, add, delete, adapt, comment, etc. on this

Faye Hanson, Storyteller, stories@aristotle.net

Client: (name, address, phone)

Representative: (name, address, phone)


(representative), acting on behalf of (client), the Client, hereby engages (name), the Storyteller, to provide the following:

(description of service, type, length, audience)

The above services to take place:
Date(s): day Time(s):

FEE: In consideration of the services listed above, the Client agrees to pay the Storyteller a fee of (amount), payable as follows: (choose what applies)

Full amount due following last program.
(X) equal installments of (amount) each, payable on (dates).

Please make check(s) payable to (Storyteller)
(Tax ID # ). IRS Form W-9 attached

INCLEMENT WEATHER POLICY: If location is closed due to inclement weather, Storyteller must be notified by 6:00 am on the scheduled program date. Programs cancelled due to inclement weatherwill be rescheduled for the next available date. Program dates which are not rescheduled may be considered Client cancellations.

CANCELLATION POLICY: In the event of Client cancellation, the Client agrees to reimburse the Storyteller for expenses incurred in the amount of 20% of the fee stated above or $35.00, whichever amount is greater.

ADDITIONAL TERMS: (choose what applies)

____ Audience will be seated in front of the Storyteller in a line or semi- circle with at least one aisle.

A table and stool or chair will be provided in the performance space.

____ The Storyteller will arrive 30-45 minutes before the first program. Please have a representative available at that time to help unload and to orient the Storyteller to the performance space, lighting, and electrical outlets.

____ Storyteller will provide Client with publicity photos and media information upon receipt of signed contract. Client will provide copies of all publicity and reviews for the event to the Storyteller.

____ Performance space will be protected from the elements and an adequate sound system with technician will be provided by the Client.(for outdoor venues and festivals-I burn easily)

____ This contract is contingent upon Client receiving approval of funding from the (grant body). It is agreed and understood that Client will submit necessary applications to the (grant body) no later than __________. In the event that funding is not approved, Client may declare this contract null and void at their discretion and agrees to notify Storyteller immediately of this decision.

We agree to the above terms and conditions.

(name) Storyteller ...................... Date .............

Client Representative .......................... Date .............

(I supply a SASE with contract copies)

I have a very simple contract myself, but I find some places like nursing homes and community centers feel uncomfortable with the whole idea of a contract, I almost lost a show because of a contract. I like to use it, but find in some cases it is not appropriate.

Contract for services

(name), Entertainer and _________of ________ agree as follows:

  1. Date, time, location of show,the service I will perform and audience for which I will perform it.

  2. In consideration for said services____________ will pay (name) the sum of ____ as follows:

A check for______ made out to (name) to be paid at the time we agree.

_________________ has confirmation of this performance and agrees that there will be no cancellation.

Dated this the (date) at (place)

(name), Entertainer

The Organization
By _____________________

hereunto duly authorized.

A friend of mine who was a lawyer suggested this format to me.



A few people mentioned valuable contacts that developed as a lucky result of "exposure," but if that's supposed to be your pay, why not make sure you get it? In addition to asking for nice letters of recommendation on letterhead, you might:

Indicate up-front that you expect the event promoter to provide promising contact people in the audience (instead of hoping they turn up).

Ask event personnel to recommend your work to their [potentially paying] colleagues (more gratis gigs, you don't need).

Make sure you can distribute your PR material to attendees.

Ask about whether you can sell your tapes, books etc.

Offer to do media interviews for the event.

Ask for copies of any media coverage or documentation in which you appear.

I do very little of this "exposure" kind of freebie anymore. I accept a limited number of charity events to support causes (local Literacy Council; Hospice; Eldercare; Nature Conservatory; Aids Quilt etc) and a few for trying out new material (local library). They can be very gratifying.

I recommend using your regular Contract or Letter of Agreement form even when no money will change hands: it shows that you are a professional and expect to be treated like one (write in your requirements and expectations as usual).

Some venues treat volunteers as if they're worth what they're paid... So it doesn't hurt to write in what your usual fee would be, then mark it "In Kind Donation," to make clear what they're getting. Also, the figure can be useful to them if they apply for a grant and have to show evidence of in-kind support from the community.

Fran Stallings

I find it difficult to get people to sit down and take the time to write a reference letter. The ones that I do have a wonderful and go far in helping to bring in new business. But sometimes I need something more recent or from a particular organization. I've tried two ways:

1) I tell them they will receive a reference request in the mail and within two days send it with a SASE.
2) I've handed the request to them right after a program with a request for a positive (or suggestions for improvement) endorsement. People are always enthusiastic but somehow never get around to fulfilling this request. Any ideas for increasing the success ratio for getting written reviews?

Rich K. Wheeling, WV

I put it in my contract right along with the amount I'm being paid "$1 and a letter of reference after the show". I also give them a thank-you letter on the day I appear that mentions that if I receive a letter of reference, they will get a year's subscription to my newsletter for free. People like being "paid" for their time. That increases my response. When I perform or conduct a workshop, if it is appropriate, I take along evaluation forms which I ask people to fill out immediately and if they do so and give it right back to me, I give them a free sample copy of my newsletter. You could have a story photocopy you could give them. Often my bookers aren't even there to watch me in action so getting the response from audience members helps me get repeat bookings because I always mail copies of the response to my booker afterwards along with their thank you letter.

Harlynne Geisler, editor and publisher of The Story Bag: A National
Storytelling Newsletter, and author of the book, Storytelling Professionally; The Nuts and Bolts of a Working Performer [Libraries Unlimited Press, 1997]; e-mail: storybag@juno.com

I am a strong proponent of performance agreements and have shared my thoughts with storytellers at several workshops on performance agreements. The most important step is reducing to writing anything that is important to you.

It is a good idea to provide for a non-cancellation fee. Protection from "acts of God" serve their unique purpose but it has been my experience that the "acts of people" are the ones you should really protect yourself from. A "damages" clause is negotiated at the time the contract is negotiated. Determine the financial loss to yourself when you reserve a performance date and are later advised that your services are not needed. This might be a fixed amount or based on a sliding scale charging more money the closer to the performance date that you are advised of the cancellation.

You might also consider a deposit paid upon the signing of the contract. The likelyhood of receiving a check in the mail from one who has cancelled your performance is almost nil.

Other than the act of reducing your agreement to writing I know of no better test of the seriousness of the person contracting for your services than including cancellation and deposit clauses in the agreement. If they respect your professionalism they will not balk at such provisions. If they do you may be better served to book someone else for that date.

Also, unlike many who share my profession, I suggest that you use just plain language as to what your concerns are. At all cost avoid legalese. It only creates disputes. Plain language rarely does.

Lawtales, Lawtales@aol.com

Steve Rosenthal wrote:
If you want to do a free telling (for a charity, or a school, etc.), then do just that. I believe you should determine your fee for a performance and be consistent for equivalent gigs. In fact I believe in letting your fee be known to the producer of the events where you are donating your talents so they have a sense of the value of your and others performance.

About donated performances:

A good way to "let your fee be known" is to write up a regular Contract or Letter of Agreement form just like you'd use for a paying venue, complete with your regular fee, and then write "In Kind Donation."

Not only does this accustom sponsors to appreciate the amount you are worth; it also gives them something for their records, next time they have to apply for a grant and give numerical evidence of community support in terms of In Kind Donations. (They could make up a figure, but might not think of doing it or might not get the amount correct.)

Another advantage of using a regular contract for "free" performances is that it helps you teach them to take you Seriously: stipulate your requirements about arrangements, sound system, agreed-upon times and/or content, etc etc etc etc. Help stamp out misunderstandings and abuse of volunteers!

You may also want to let it be known that you will appreciate, in exchange for your gracious donation, and now that they've had this chance to see how wonderful you are, if the sponsors will talk up your work among their colleagues who can afford to book you for paying venues.

Fran Stallings


I'd like to add one additional way to use a contract: for those charity freebies you may choose to donate. There's a problem of free work not being taken seriously. A formal contract can impress upon the event-planners that you are a Professional accustomed to being treated in a professional manner (spelled out here-in, etc.). Although you may leave the Fee line blank, they are still signing an agreement to provide seating, ushers, sound system, whatever, and the copy in front of them (of course you send two copies, one to keep and one to return to you -- signed) can go a fair way to reminding them of the verbal promises they made to you.

You can also fill in the amount of your usual fee, and then add "waived." This reminds them what value they are receiving as a donation. AND when they write their next grant proposal, they can list your program as an "in-kind donation" demonstrating community support. The dollar amount may even count toward the "matching funds" they have to scratch up locally (usually a portion can be "in-kind" rather than cash). Thus your donation contributes twice over to their efforts, and they have reason to take you seriously.

I know many good arguments for never giving away free programs, but am based in a small town whose safety net is almost entirely made out of exhausted volunteers. I can't be here to do my fair share of their work, but I can thank those volunteers (Hospice, Literacy Council, Eldercare, domestic violence shelter etc) in my way. And that includes the contract.


I have always used a contract for reasons Tim mentioned (professional appearance, details of who what when and where IN WRITING, and the disaster clauses). I have never had anyone complain about the clauses that protect me.

My contact includes the following:

date of verbal agreement
name of sponsor (person who is paying) and name of artist (me)
name of program, length, time, location, date of program, etc.
fee and how it is to be paid (i.e. a check made out to Songs & Stories and given to me immediately prior to the performance)
Disclaimer about missing gig due to emergencies including catastrophic weather. (not responsible to expenses of sponsor, etc.)
Cancellation policy (this one lets me sleep at night) stating that if sponsor cancels within 30 days of performance I get 2/3 of fee and if sponsor cancels within 7 days of performance I get full fee. This way people know they have to be serious about putting on the show before tying up my calendar.

Then a little statement that I will provide a sound system if audience exceeds acoustic hearing range ( currently use a mic. on a stand, but wish I could afford a lapel mic. I have used one at my church and they really work well. This one was in the range of $800-$900 and we got a good deal. I prefer to hold the microphone and "travel" while telling unless I am using my guitar with the story.)

That's it except for the signatures. It really helps me keep files organized, and I'm sure is better for tax purposes as well (in case of audit).

Kaia Wood, kaiawood@ccs.nslsilus.org
Songs & Stories Unlimited

Things to put in contracts to help the storyteller, when contingencies cause cancellations:

(or when the bus tour doesn't come through after all)

*I usually teach attorneys to add "damages" clauses to their contracts. The actual damages are negotiated as is the contract. This places a value on the storyteller's time for having kept that spot open, prepared, and given up other opportunities. For example, "In the event that the tour is cancelled, through no fault of the inn, the inn agrees to pay storyteller one-half the storyteller's fees ($___) as compensation for preparation time and the reservation of this spot on the storyteller's calendar."

People are used to this. Most professionals, in fact, in other areas charge in full for cancelled time.

This seems to me better for the teller than a "guaranteed rescheduling" which does not compensate you for the missed opportunities and preparation and sets up the possibility of cancellation all over again.

* Now, call me radical, but I often get a "deposit" for my own work in advance. This is payment for me keeping that time open, beginning to prepare the program and serves as liquidated damages when unforeseen events cause cancellation. It also assures me of the seriousness of the group retaining me, and assures them of my professionalism.

No one has ever balked at that, by the way.

Sunwolf, 6500howl@ucsbuxa.ucsb.edu
who is a recovering lawyer

re: rescheduling clauses

Remember--this is complicated.

Not all events can be rescheduled. What if you were telling at an anniversary party, a wedding?

Does it have to be rescuedled at the teller's availability? Within what period of time?

Believe it or not, many contract will have "rain" dates already negotiated in advance.

What I like about putting in all these contingencies in advance, is no one is mad when they are being talked about.

Both parties assume the contract will take place as agreed, so they enter into the contengency clauses agreeably, assuming they won't be needed, and reasonably, not being disappointed (yet).

Once someone breaches, trust me, working out fairness" is painful.

Happily ever after all depends


What to do when the teller has to cancel:

These are really questions where each teller needs legal advice. I cannot urge that strongly enough. Information I or any other lawyer posts is merely "information" not advice. Don't rely on it. Use it to generate more questions, and, if you are a professional, indulge in an hour's consultation with a good contracts attorney to save yourself a lot of grief, and perhaps, income.

However, that said, here are some issues:

1. Generally a contract with a storyteller is like an artist contract--the client has contracted for the specific services of that artist, and it cannot e substituted.

2. Is the contract "impossible" to perform (which excuses performance)? In the case of a death in the family for example, how close was that person to the teller, is the teller emotionally unable to perform, is that the actual time of the funeral, etc. In general, as you might expect, some deaths would be considered so traumatic that they would excuse performance, with the teller having a duty to offer a substitute (another teller or another date). Other deaths would not be so considered and the teller would have an obligation to perform. Refusing could result in damages to the teller. Remember, some performance cannot be rescheduled by the client--it was a one time deal that had to be on that occasion.

This is complicated.

Occasionally it would be considered unreasonable for a client to refused a substitute, other times it wouldn't.

If the client was counting on a famous storyteller, a relatively unknown one is not a reasonable substitute.

The important thing is--you want to avoid having to go to court or sue for damages; this is expensive and timing consuming. You want both parties to feel, having read the contract, that their needs were met, contingencies were reasonably anticipated, and damages discussed in advance of needing them.

It isn't true that it doesn't matter what is said in the contract. Some language is so powerful that either (a) one party rereads the contract and decides to be reasonable, or (b) one party takes it to a lawyer who tells them they have no case becaues the language is so clear. So it pays to write the best contract you can.

Then there is the whole area of breach. Partial-performance. What is teller shows up and some of the requirements were not met (too many people, no sound system, etc.)? What is considered a breach of the contract, what is considered substantial performance. Whole legal careers are made on these delicious points. In general, if a teller would like to refuse to peform if certain conditions are n ot complied with (despoit received by such and such a date, no more than a certain # of people, operating sound system) these can be specified to be conditions precedent to the teller's duty to perform. If they are not, they are open for argument.

Now if the above doesn't utterly discourage everyone, and prompt people to run off saying "I never have this problem" you're lucky.

Some are, some aren't.

The interesting thing to me is, most tellers having similar needs. One well-worded contract could cover most of us, anticipate most breaches, incorporate most conditions we would like, and handle most situations for telling. We shouldn't all be having to invent the wheel here.

But--but just copying someone's contract because

  1. they like it
  2. they've used it
  3. they've never had problems

is not wise.

The good contract received prior legal scrutiny from those who know what disgruntled clients might try to argue plainly and clearly states its conditions and probably has passed the test (it's been used in a situation where things weren't so sweet, and it was persuasive in protecting the teller).

Just one wolf's thoughts.

What recourse do we honestly have if the program goes as scheduled, and the performance is finished to the approval of the all people involved, but then the sponsor doesn't want to pay, claims that they will have a hard time paying, or for some reason really can't pay?

I had a situation once where the sponsor was expecting a large audience, from which they were going to pay several bills, including mine. As it turned out there was another event the same evening in town, which left the event I was participating in without much of an audience at all. They weren't big believers in advertising. They wanted to renegotiate my contract, after the fact, and claimed if we didn't come to an agreement they wouldn't pay at all.

Jay O.
Murray, KY

I'm no lawyer, but I believe you could try to collect your whole fee in small claims court. You'd probably win if there was a contract (Of course it would be a hassle and very time consuming, but...)

I have had a similar situation to the one you described, except I was on the other end--acting as a promoter. The artist, a nationally known storyteller and great humanitarian, was reluctant to accept the fee we had agreed to as s/he knew that our group was taking a big financial hit. I insisted that s/he be paid the full amount for these reasons:

  1. As an event planner/promoter there is always the risk that the event will not be well attended/financially sucessful/etc. It can rain/snow/heat wave, etc. There can be an explosion within blocks of your venue. (all these things happened to long-time event promoters last year and cost them lots $$$) You could also have a wildly successful program that will realize a profit beyond your wildest dreams. THIS IS THE REALITY OF THE GAME! It is not the artist's problem if attendance is low, it is the promoter's problem.

  2. I entered into an agreement with the artist in good faith, backed up by my good name and reputation. As a promoter, I plan to do programs in the future. I do not want to be known among the artist's and others I work with as someone who does not fulfill my promises. It is important to me and my reputation, as well as my future plans to pay the artist as agreed-aside from being right, it's the law!. (If it was me as an artist in your situation, regardless if I got paid something eventually or not, I would be sure to tell everybody I knew... other artists, friends, people I go to church with, other promoters, etc. about the behavior of the promoters of the event who behaved so unprofessionally and unethically. I would NEVER work with them again and I would urge other artists to approach them cautiously if offered work.)

  3. The artist persisted in declining to be paid the full amount-my final response was- Just because only 1/3 of the expected audience showed up, did you give only 1/3 as much as you would normally put into a program? Obviously not! The artist gave 100% or more to the few who did come. S/he put out 100% and deserves to be paid 100% of the fee we agreed upon. (and if I were in your shoes in the situation you described this would be my response to the promoters-I gave 100%, I deserve to be paid 100%)
The final payment arrangements that I worked out with the artist in this situation: I paid the artist the full fee amount. I had also arranged for some other outside programs, but the payment and arrangements were not handled by me. I did not ask for a booking fee. The artist offered to pay me a booking fee for those jobs, which was deducted from the amount due for the work done for me. This fee could be written off by the artist as a cost of business. I ended up paying out a lesser net amount and both parties were satisfied.

In the last year I have worked with a producer that I will never work for again. I don't care how much money they want to pay me. (they actually fulfilled our contract and paid me very well) They have a long history of treating local artists poorly and have had a great deal of turnover on their board. Sure, they do a variety of programming that contributes to the arts scene. However, after my experiences with them, I will not even attend their other programming. It galls me to have them get any of my money. The moral of the story is: check out who you are working for as closely (or closer) as they check you out. Some gigs are just not worth it.

Faye, stories@aristotle.net

What about contracts for jobs?

  1. Make up a standard contract form
    date of show,
    length of show
    kind of audience (including age-span, inclusive)
    size of audience,
    performance space
    "Sponsor will SEND WRITTEN DIRECTIONS within two weeks of performance date."
    Fee amount
    "to be paid immediately upon the completion of the performance." (I also include the actual date to be paid, just because that's what I've had the most trouble with over the years. I still have that trouble, but I'm more relaxed, now that I have a credit card.)
    More things will occur to you, as you perform.
    Make two copies, sign'em both, and have them sign and return one. Do it EVERY TIME.

    Tim Jennings

You share some good tales about the occasional nightmares that most storytellers face, sooner or later. Recently, One of my colleagues was paid a good wage for storytelling at a convention center trade expo. The sounds and activity of adjoining booths all but drowned her out. Her sponsors aplogized and offered to hire her again. She expressed interest, but stated very clearly her performance requirements.

Consider doing that, Hope, up front with clients or sponsors. Get very clear information about the size and demographics of the audience, specifics about space, acoustics, lighting, sound support, etc. Then consider writing your own "policy sheet" of standards and needs.

For certain performances, simply keep a "check-list" of needs and questions handy when "negotiating."

I worked with one grant-funded group that did 30-\plus performances a month. We devised a flyer -- written in a very friendly fashion -- that spelled out (in very specific detail) what makes a good storytelling experience.

Forewarned is forearmed. But we need the cooperation and support of our sponsors.

William H Smith, bill491@JUNO.COM

When I worked for the Memphis Public Library we used a contract for storytelling engagements in the community. The first page was an explanation of what we needed to make it work (e.g. microphone, quiet area or main stage, sign explaning who we were, the library's name in all publicity, etc.) The second page was a contract that we filled out with specific requirements for their event and they had to sign and return it to us. It also said something like "if these conditions are not met, we reserve the right to cancel the performance". Sometimes people don't value things that are "free". Having a contract lets them know that you're providing a valuable service to them and they have some responsibilites too.

sample Contract of Engagement

Wordweavers, and the Organiser - represented by

Tel. No.
Fax No.

hereby agree to the following:

1. Time / Venue / Programme

The Organiser shall hire various persons under the group or stage name Wordweavers for
...... performance/s on ............(date)
at ........ a.m./p.m. (& ........ a.m./p.m &........ a.m./p.m.) and
...... workshop/s on ............(date)
at ........ a.m./p.m. (& ........ a.m./p.m &........ a.m./p.m.)
Attendance time: from ................ a.m./p.m. to ................. a.m./p.m.
Duration of performance/s: ................. mins (, and ............ mins, and ............. mins). Duration of workshop/s: ................. mins (, and ............ mins, and ............. mins).
Maximum number of workshop participants ...........
Name and Description of event/s:
Venue: (please state exact address and tel./fax numbers)
Type of act / programme required for type of audience:
Type of workshop required for type of participant:

2. Our Requirements

The organiser undertakes to provide:

A minumum performing area of 15 feet wide by 12 feet deep, although larger is preferred. Ideally this should be raised slightly on a secure dais close to the audience, but can be at audience level.

Three ordinary upright chairs on stage. These should be sound and similar in appearance.

A private room for changing and preparation, and a secure place for belongings and valuables.

For outdoor events, the Organiser undertakes to ensure:

that a covered performing area is available in case of bad weather.

that a P.A system is set up, with one hand-held radio microphone, and a competent person is present to operate the sound controls during all performance time.

3. Remuneration

The Organiser agrees to pay a fee of ..........
plus travelling expenses in the amount of ..........
plus other expenses/bonuses ..........
TOTAL ..........
Total in words............................................................

The fee is payable in cash on the day of the event within the agreed attendance time. Each hour over and above the agreed attendance time (e.g. owing to substantial delay in the starting time of the performance) shall be charged to the Organiser at the rate of ......... per person.

The Organiser shall provide (tick as agreed):
beverages (before and after performance)
a light snack (after the performance please)
a meal (after the performance please)
accommodation for ...... night/s including breakfast for ......... persons.

Breach of contract:
In the event of cancellation the Organizer shall pay a penalty amounting to:

100 % of the agreed fee, if notice of cancellation is received within 14 days of the date of the agreed performance.
75% of the agreed fee, if notice of cancellation is received within 15 - 30 days of the date of the agreed performance.
50 % of the agreed fee, if notice of cancellation is received within 60 - 31 days of the date of the agreed performance.

Amendments and additions to this contract must be made in writing.

Signed For Wordweavers: (Place, Date) ................................................................. ......................... For the Organiser: (Place, Date) ................................................................. .........................

Wordweavers Improvised Storytelling Theatre
(Address etc.)

Compiled by Tim Sheppard from discussions on Storytell listserv
16 Dec 2002

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