Among the many "behind the scenes" occurrences that take place in order for us to present a performance are the contracts we must sign. These bits of legalese, although sometimes complicated, actually are the road maps for our ultimate destination . . . a solid and memorable entertainment for you, our audience.
The contracts consist of two parts: the first, as you would expect, is the money. It spells out the total price for the performance, when it will be paid, how it will be paid some require cashier's checks and to whom. Most arrangements call for a down payment to book the act and the final payment the day of, often directly to the performers. However, in the fine print of the money paragraphs are the scary sentences . . . all about how the performer will be paid if they show up whether or not they perform! The first time I read one of these my blood ran cold. I always think, "What could happen?" But the acts of God that would create those situations are rare, and frankly, most performers and theater managers do everything they can to see that things go well. I clearly recall tense moments tracking arrivals at the Buffalo airport during blizzards. Picture an act arriving just in time to quickly unpack their equipment, do rapid sound checks and throw on their clothes for the 8 o'clock curtain. The curtain goes up on what appears normal, but lots of people backstage and back of the house are whispering "whew."
Included in the money paragraphs of the contracts are who will pay for transportation and how long they will be in Warren, including what hotel accommodations are needed. Sometimes snorers want special consideration.
The second part of most contracts is the technical rider. This document can be just a few pages or two dozen, all spelling out the specific requirements to perform at our venue. It is such an important document that when the contract arrives for signing we all jump on the "tech rider" to determine what the challenges will be. In our case, size is often the greatest compromise. Our proscenium, the stage opening, is only 34 feet wide, a small stage. Add to that, the stage is shallow and has small wing space. It simply wasn't built for Broadway extravaganzas. Our size has dictated that some road companies leave about one third of their set in the truck. They carry enough with them to fill the largest stage but pretty easily whittle down to the basics in our house.
Next are the complicated requisites for lighting and sound. Our tech people study these carefully and when we cannot provide exactly what is asked, they either rent the equipment or work together on the phone to solve problems in a different way. Our new sound system is making planning easier and creates many large smiles upon arrival.
At the end of the tech rider are the cast's requirements. Most of these are really reasonable and when I put myself in their shoes, being in a different town most nights, I'd like to be able to plan on a few creature comforts too. Dressing room requirements are stated. Some want showers available after the show, or for their crew after breaking the set, but we can't provide that. Mostly they shrug, but we do tell them up front.
Food is merely a matter of paying attention. Most performers don't eat before the show but want snacks available during set up and technical check times. Fruit bowls, cheese, crackers, coffee, tea, water, some juices . . . all spelled out. The Cirque ensemble who performed in January needed high protein meals. Understandable. Singers don't drink milk or eat dairy and no one wants soft drinks or any food that could create gas. Totally understandable. Some specify pizza for their stage crew at midnight, some want hot de-caf at the ready with half and half and artificial sweetener, the pink stuff, please. Some need a steamer, a comfy chair with footstool, seedless grapes and a name brand beer chilled to 42 degrees. Whether it's spelled out in the contract or a simple verbal request, we aim to please.
One of my first days at the theater, three and a half years ago, a very young singer demanded that her bra and thong be dry-cleaned overnight. I apologetically told her we couldn't accommodate her. When she flounced away, their stage manager said something to the effect that she wouldn't be making demands like that much longer. And truthfully, most of them don't. The show-biz life may seem glamorous, but most of these talented people just want to get through the day and are masters at being flexible.
For tomorrow's performance, Vicki Lawrence has requested some bananas and apples in the dressing room. If she wanted the apples to weigh 7 ounces each and the basket to be lined with linen, we'd do it. But thankfully, she didn't, and we're looking forward to meeting the lady behind the laughs, the human being behind the contract.
See you in the aisles.