Avoid the OOPS! How To Prepare For Guest Entertainers And Speakers
Seasoned Entertainers and Speakers have a "show-must-go-on" mentality. Here are some tips to help event planners cover the bases for their hired talent to avoid glitches. My readers always have great tips to add - so I welcome you to share your comments and tips! P.S. If you need to brush up on showbiz terminology, check out my blog on 13 Showbiz Words Event Planners Should Know.
Read the rider
This is a no-brainer, however worth mentioning as certain speakers and entertainers have specific needs that are key to their performance. The size of the stage, audio & lighting needs, distance from dressing room, tables backstage, etc., should all be outlined in the rider. Ask for a stage plot if one is not already provided - this will give you a map of how the entertainer visualizes the set-up of the stage, instrument placement, podium placement, prop placement, etc.
This is actually for the planner's benefit more than the talent's, as inability to find parking can make an otherwise punctual performer late for sound check. Communicate with the entertainer on the best load-in zone and parking space(s). Provide a map if your venue is a large convention center or complex. Place a cone with a sign in the reserved parking space. Provide parking passes if required.
The Green Room is usually a comfortable space where the performer can warm-up, relax, and prep for their show. This is preferably a secure space where the performer can leave personal items when performing. A locker is helpful if the green room is not a locked space. The reason I recommend a Green Room is tokeep the entertainer's gear cases, water bottles, backpacks, etc. out of view so they do not clutter the venue. Also, we always recommendkeeping the performer out of sight until the show, making their appearance more magical and special and ensuring that their costumes are not spoiled.
The Dressing Room will need to be close to the stage - check with your talent to see if there are costume changes throughout the show and communicate the distance between center stage and the dressing room. For instance, in our touring show tech rider, we note that there are costume changes every 2-3 minutes and specify maximum distance a dressing room can be from the stage. Traveling down long hallways, staircases, and elevators can cause delays.
One solution our company has found is the pop-up dressing stall. (You can see a video demo here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmZbAqV4cIU&feature=youtu.be) This is particularly helpful for meeting spaces and ballrooms that don't have theatrical dressing rooms. I believe we spent about $30 on it and it folds up to about the size of a pizza, making it easy to travel with. Conceal the pop-up with pipe and drape - it is important to get floor-length, opaque curtains. The inexpensive banjo cloth is see-through when lit from behind - it often does not reach the floor.
A few things that are helpful to place backstage are:
-Iron or Steamer
-Glow sticks or rope lights to light dark pathways backstage
-Pitcher of water / cups
Some entertainers require a meal on-site. I highly recommend this to event planners as the performers will no doubt be on site over a meal time for set-up, sound check, and performance. If you do not feed the entertainers, they will often leave after sound check to scout out their dining options. This opens up the chance of your talent getting lost, caught in traffic, searching for parking.
Sound / Light Check
Always schedule a sound / lighting check early in the day so there is time to make adjustments and fix and problems. This must be the same operator that will be running the show - not Mr. Sound Guy's teenage son, wife, etc. Be sure that audio, video, and lighting equipment is attended at all times. Only once in two decades have I experienced theft, however a more common scenario is when another vendor or decorator accidentally moves equipment or dislodges a cable.
Insist that all wireless microphones have their batteries changed after sound check / before the show. This is a practice our sound designer is adamant about as she always carries a battery charge tester and tests even the new batteries before the show. In addition we always require that corded back up mics are set up and ready to go in an emergency. Also be sure to clarify whether the entertainer is expecting a wireless lavalier, wireless headset, or handheld wireless mic. Some performances require hands-free amplification, while a professional vocalist will need the ability to "work" the handheld mic so they do not cause distortion on loud notes.
If you are renting portable staging, inspect it for squeaks, and stability. Often times heavily used rental staging can become wobbly or creaky - this can prove hazardous for dancers and acrobats. Also, check the seams of the staging units to be sure they are even to avoid tripping. Use glow tape to mark steps and edges of the stage. One of our entertainers once fell off of a portable stage at Fort Knox as the edges were not visible once the room was dimmed and stage lighting brought up. Luckily, no injuries were sustained and the other actor worked it into the show as comedy!
Depending on who you ask, the stage manager's duties vary widely in the industry. However, when it comes to events you will thank yourself a thousand times over if you designate a stage manager. This person will have a copy of the master schedule, call times, and cue speakers, award recipients, entertainers, audio and lighting team, etc. The stage manager brings cohesion to a multi-faceted presentation. A clear com system is a theatrical communication system (think walkie talkie) that keeps your team on the same page - I recommend this for large venues in particular.
Questions, Questions, Questions
I speak as one who has lost my voice from answering many many questions at an event. Prevent the frog voice and create info sheets for your speaker / entertainers. The info sheets could include an item such as a map of the venue (mark dressing room, green room, dining area, restrooms, etc.), a detailed event schedule with start times, names and contact information for audio, lighting, stage manager, etc.
Let your artist know ahead of time if there will be an opportunity to have a merchandise table. Check with the venue to see if there are restrictions - sometimes a venue requires a percentage of all sales. Ask if the artist is expecting a volunteer to watch / man their table when they are backstage or onstage (you don't want anyone stealing merchandise). Make sure to provide WiFi access codes for credit card processors.
Whether your entertainer is a household name or a local favorite, you can actually set the tone for how they are received by the audience. Treat them like a star and your audience will too. Something as simple as putting some special treats in an artist's greenroom can go a long way. An energetic pre-show announcement highlighting some of their achievements builds excitement. A post-performance announcement encouraging guests to get the artist's autograph also reinforces what special talent your organization selected.
When my sister and I were kids, just starting out, an organization decked out our dressing room with a picnic table, picnic baskets, picnic food, flowers, and balloons. Overall it was an inexpensive, yet memorable gesture that we remember to this day. We strive to show the same appreciation to guest artists and musicians that we hire today. This is your opportunity to be a presenter that will stand out in their memory for years to come.
Before the Show
Pay the artist their balance. This is not so they can say "yippee" and skip town before the show! It keeps the performer from having to track you down after the event when you may be in conversation with your guests or busy with other tasks. Be sure to ask the preferred method of balance payment (check or credit card) - not all artists accept credit card payments due to fees on large transactions.
After The Show
If the artist performed to your expectations, exceeded your expectations, or went above-and-beyond for you in any way, let them know. An in-person thank you goes a long way. Be sure to write a brief testimonial to the artist or agent either in a note or email. If you want to go the extra mile, you can give them a five star rating on Google, Yelp, social media, etc. The artist may even mention your organization on their website or promo materials or in future press interviews. The artist will also be more likely to book with you again, or recommend a trusted, fellow entertainer. And who knows, he might just become the next Jay Leno . . . and to think YOU knew him when, and helped give him his start!
- Have a NO TEXTING / GAMING / CELL PHONE / FRIENDS rule for all audio and lighting techs. I have performed at some very high end events where pro audio engineers missed cues due to texting or joking with their girlfriend - it is good to have a house rule for smooth sailing.
- Hearing alien voices? It could be a frequency problem with wireless systems. Pro audio engineers will know to scan for open frequencies, however occasionally folks forget to do this - especially if they are outside their usual booking region.
- If there is an intermission, plan in advance how you are going to call folks back to their seats. A bell, digital sound effect, pre-recorded voiceover, and flickering of lights are all commonly used.
- "The Line of Death" as we used to call it in theater. Don't worry - no violence here - it is merely a tape line off stage left and stage right that performers and speaker should stand behind in order to remain out of the audience's sight lines.
- Bring a copy of the Artist's contract with you. Not that you anticipate a dispute, it is always best to have the details in front of you should clarification be needed at any point.
- Set the mood. Your stress level is contagious - be mindful that others will be affected by your anxiety. Only discuss problems with the parties who are in charge of fixing them.
- Enjoy the event you no doubt have some level of love for events that drew you to this career in the first place. Don't forget to enjoy the day and enjoy the show. If you would rather not enjoy the event, check out my article on Event Planner BURNOUT in 9 Easy Steps!
Now its your turn! I love hearing from my readers - feel free to post and share what has worked well for you in the past. Best wishes on your events!
Lacy Miller is an entertainer and artist manager at SSL Entertainment and The Gracie & Lacy Show based in Charleston, SC.