I’m a lawyer and have been a full-time mediator for more than 20 years. Before I went to law school, I spent 10 years working as a professional dancer, seven as a member of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. I didn’t study dance until college, and was very surprised when Mr. Ailey took me into his company just a few years later. Ailey was a mostly black company and I had never studied jazz or other movement styles that were the basis of the Ailey repertory. Over my years with Ailey, I danced on stages all over the world. It was a thrilling life, interpreting the roles I was given – including a solo which Mr. Ailey choreographed for me during my last year with the company – and creating that magical connection with the audience night after night. It was also a hard life, physically and mentally demanding, always having to be “on” as a performer, and for months on end, every few days traveling onward to the next city, the next venue, the next time zone.
For creative artists, entertainers and performers – whether an author, painter, musician, actor or singer – disputes involving one’s work can be deeply personal. When you create, you imbue your creation with a piece of yourself, and in the process you open yourself to judgment, criticism, praise and exploitation. How can one translate that act of personal creation into dollars? And for those who have achieved significant success and celebrity as a result of their work, disputes can be even more difficult to resolve – fame and fortune can make one less open to the views and interests of other parties to a dispute, complicating the task of both counsel and mediator.
How can I as mediator help an artist, entertainer or celebrity stay grounded during the mediation and focused on what might best serve his or her interests?
First, be curious. What does each person at the table want? Why do they want it? I try as best I can to get an understanding, not just of the parties’ stated positions, but of the interests that underlie those positions. The better my understanding of the interests, the more I can help a person move towards a resolution that meets those interests. And the more it enables me, as mediator and former performing artist myself, to apply my own creativity towards finding solutions that may not otherwise have occurred to the parties themselves.
Second, find common ground and forge connections. At the beginning of a mediation, from my first “good morning” and throughout the process, I’m working to build a relationship with each of the parties, their counsel, and with managers, agents and any other personal representatives who may be present. This helps establish my credibility, and assures that I’m viewed as neutral, unbiased and committed to the people, the process and to the shared goal of working towards an acceptable resolution.
Third, work with the parties so they can see beyond the emotions and personal dynamics of the dispute and focus on acceptable solutions. If I’ve been able to get an understanding of a party’s interests and establish a connection upon which to build relationships, it helps make this all important task much more manageable. And, hopefully, the relationship that’s formed during the mediation will help a party accept that a settlement requires compromise, that there is value to be gained in the finality of resolution itself, and that thereby the party can respond constructively to the contours of an acceptable outcome.
In the final analysis, for the mediation of almost any dispute but especially those which involve artists, entertainers, celebrities and their work, I believe that relationship-building is a critical element for success. It’s born of curiosity and a genuine desire to understand the dispute from each party’s vantage point. It helps me gain the trust of everyone in the mediation – not only of the parties, but of counsel and other personal representatives as well. This in turn allows me to be more effective at keeping everyone at the table and the mediation process on track. And last and most importantly, it helps me to keep everyone focused on the task at hand – the collaborative effort of mediator, the parties and their counsel, working together towards achieving a resolution that, as much as possible, meets the parties’ interests and addresses their concerns.
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