Your Business: Helping artists to get a fair deal

By Gill South

Pamela Wright got her start in the arts as assistant to Mercury Theatre director Raymond Hawthorne. Photo /  Steven McNicholl
Pamela Wright got her start in the arts as assistant to Mercury Theatre director Raymond Hawthorne. Photo / Steven McNicholl

Pamela Wright's first job in the theatre as personal assistant to Mercury Theatre director Raymond Hawthorne in 1986 gave her a taste for the arts industry in which she is now becoming an influential player.

Wright's job was to contact all the actors for productions, negotiate their rates, hire venues and manage the theatre subscriber groups for the Mercury Theatre.

"Raymond would give me the budget, who he wanted and the figures he could afford," says Wright, who had previously been an events organiser.

When she went on maternity leave in 1990, a group of opera singers came to Wright to see if she would represent them as their agent. In 1991, she set up her own company, Pamela Wright Artist Management, and began managing the careers of well-known opera singers Helen Medlyn and Jenny Wollerman as well as critically acclaimed set and costume designer, Tracy Grant Lord. She has also helped a number of other artists and creatives on a one-off basis.

Wright negotiates contracts looking at details such as the arrangements for the artists' ground transport, their payment per performance and their per diem allowances.

The agent makes sure they receive the music for their role and handles all the communications with theatre companies. The performers then just have to concentrate on learning the role, she says.

"They don't have to worry about the little things. I love it."

She is protective of the amount of personal appearances her artists do, ensuring for instance there are no early morning breakfasts arranged after a night's performance.

"This is to protect the artist and make sure they are not being exploited, to ensure that the contract is fair and just for both parties," she says.

Wright's ability to negotiate a contract has become more expert since she decided to study law in the mid-1990s after speaking to two veteran Australian agents. They were complaining that theatre companies were introducing clauses into contracts using more and more confusing "legalese".

Wright went on to complete an honours law degree at the University of Auckland, winning the senior prize in law in 2005. Her legal qualification has helped her considerably as the owner of an artist management company.

"I have got a policy where I ask companies to send me a draft by email which I review and comment for amendments. The legalese gets taken out and the terms are made understandable," says Wright.

When she qualified, her intention was to go on to practise in entertainment law but there was no work in the area at that time, so she worked as a barrister in a number of areas including family, civil and employment law.

Wright has now had the opportunity she's been waiting for.

Recently made an associate solicitor of litigation at the boutique law firm, Stainton Chellew, the lawyer/agent says the time is right to position herself as an entertainment lawyer for the arts industry while maintaining her business Pamela Wright Artist Management in her spare time.

She works on her agency business in the evenings.

"Most of the work is by email. I send emails at midnight, it works," she says.

In her new role Wright sees herself advising organisations on royalty agreements or helping theatre companies negotiate the rights to a show.

"Contract law is a big part of entertainment law," she says.

"I do think the dream of being an entertainment lawyer and an agent has come to fulfilment.

"You've got to enjoy what you do."

- NZ Herald

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