When They Don’t Know What It Takes

So let’s say you’ve started touring your show at venues that are actually covering expenses and paying you. Congratulations! If you’re in the USA, I’m guessing that most of the bookings are at colleges and universities. Sweet! I’m also guessing that the show might be getting booked at conferences or other private events. Lovely!

Now, you don’t have a booking agent yet, so you’re doing all of the work: reaching out, promoting, following up again and again, negotiating your rate when somebody finally expresses serious interest, and figuring out the logistics when the booking is confirmed. Not to mention rehearsing regularly and staying in physical and vocal shape for your show.

Or you might have a booking agent and still be doing a ton of work because the agent has numerous clients they’re promoting and you want more bookings than they can get you individually. That’s normal unless you’re a celebrity, in which case you’re probably not reading this blog.

In order to coordinate the details for each booking, you’ve been corresponding with the campus/venue/organization’s liaison. Lots of back and forth, answering questions, etc. So by now you’ve realized something: not every liaison understands what theatre is, nor what it takes to present a solo show.

Sigh.

Watch out for these warning signs that the liaison is…er…uninformed:

1. They may not want to provide enough time for a tech rehearsal, even though they want the show with all the bells and whistles: lighting, sound, projections—and even though they won’t pay for your own techie to accompany you. They expect their techie to magically understand the timing for every cue, without having enough time to practice running every cue. Bwahaha!

  • Try not to lose it when you have to explain for the third time that this show is not a lecture delivered at a podium. (Didn’t they see the trailer? And when have they ever seen a lecture delivered with light changes and countless sound cues, and not just projections???)
  • Be prepared for the under-rehearsed techie to make several mistakes during the show that lead to a domino effect of woe.
    • At one venue, I had to stop mid-performance twice to tell the techie how to fix the cues. Fun fun fun.

2. They may hire a “professional” technical operator who reveals themselves to be less experienced during tech.

  • You’ve had one person in the booth running the lights, sound, and projections in the past and they did a great job, so you know it’s possible. Nonetheless, it may be very hard for some techies to multitask in that way if your show is cue-heavy.
  • Be prepared to ask for two booth operators if your show is cue-heavy.
  • To spare yourself these headaches, consider cutting down the cues in your touring version.

3. The liaison may request the show with all the bells and whistles, and then mere days before your arrival, ask you repeatedly if you actually need someone to run the lights. Um…what?

  • Do not be surprised if the person they finally find to run the lights has never worked in theatre.
    • Try not to panic about this. They can run your simple lighting cues at least marginally well if they’re a functioning human who can also read a script. After all, they turn lights on and off every day in their own home.
      • Even if they mess up, you’ll still do your job well, and the show will work despite the technical glitches.
  • Of course, after the liaison sees the show, they’ll understand about the lights.
    • But maybe not even then. Take that as a compliment: it means your performance was so riveting that the design elements barely penetrated the liaison’s consciousness. You rock!

4. The liaison may fail to alert you to the fact that the person learning the cues at the rehearsal is not the person who will run the cues during the performance. You may learn this in the middle of tech. Wh…wh…whaaaaaa—?

  • When this happened to me, I was fortunate to be accompanied by my husband. He had never run the cues for this or any other show, but he is a brilliant man and was my savior at that booking.
  • As obvious as it may seem, you must nonetheless stipulate in advance that the techie in rehearsal has to be the techie at performance.

5. The liaison may do everything perfectly before the show…and then botch the opening because they don’t understand that the whole thing is an intricate work of choreography between the techie and yourself, so any new element will throw off the rhythm. For example:

  • The liaison may fail to tell you that someone will deliver a speech right before your show. Perhaps you’re like me and have lovingly chosen pre-show music that is followed by a specific song that plays while the lights go down, which gives the piece a certain ambiance right from the get-go. Your techie will have to figure out how to coordinate the sound and light cues around the speech without stopping and starting them abruptly and making things seem disjointed, since the cues were built to flow from one to the next without interruption.
    • Remember to thank the techie afterward. They are the show until you say your first line.
  • The liaison may fail to instruct staff to not bother you as you’re about to make your entrance.
    • At one non-theatre venue, a random volunteer tried to to give me a handheld mic as I began my performance, even though I had never once expressed a need for a handheld mic and in fact was wearing a lavalier that worked fine. I had never even met this volunteer. I’ll let you imagine the awkwardness that ensued. Woohoo!

6. If the venue has problematic acoustics, they may give you the type of lavalier mic that flops around on your collar, causing dull thuds and loud brushing sounds at inopportune moments during the show.

  • Bring some body tape that will help to stabilize the thing somehow.
  • Good luck.

7. They may expect you to set up in 10 minutes when you normally need 30-45 minutes.

  • I assume that your cues are on your laptop. When setting up, you or the techie will need to make sure that your laptop can “speak” to the projector. This can take up to 45 minutes if the venue’s projector is testy.
    • Every other venue’s projector is a special snowflake. From hell.
  • You’ll make it work. You’ll just be harried as all getout, which is exactly how you want to feel right before you do a sprint triathlon while emoting, which is what a solo show is. Oh, wait, no, that’s now how you wanna feel. (I’ve completed a sprint tri so I know whereof I speak.)
    • Nevertheless, you’ll make it all work. As usual.

8. They may not warn you that even though you’ll be performing in a theatre, this particular one has no dressing room, no green room, nothing. You may find yourself motionless in a two-square-foot area in the tiny wing for 20 minutes before “places” is called. If you budge, the audience will be able to see you before the show starts…thus ruining the reveal.

  • Of course, you can open your show the opposite way: idling on stage in full light as the audience enters, or taking a seat in the house and chatting with them, no fadeout, etc.
    • This wouldn’t work for my show but I understand why some solo performers keep their top of show “loose.” Smart for touring.

9. They may fail to tell you that the theatre has multiple entrances, every one of which will be locked when you arrive. You’ll learn this because you’ll make your way slowly around the building, pulling your super-heavy carry-on with all the props in it as you try every single entrance. The only way in will be through some labyrinthine tunnel shown to you by a kind stranger who does not work at the theatre.

  • Isn’t touring  your solo show a blast? Yippee!

10. They may fail to tell you that your show has been slotted in between class periods. So you will be unpleasantly surprised when, at the 50-minute mark, 90% of your audience walks out.

  • I just kept going as the mass exodus occurred over the last 30 minutes of my 80-minute performance. Good times!

11. They may only pay you enough to cover expenses. You may find out later how much they paid their previous keynote speaker. You will learn the difference between celebrities’ stipends and non-celebs’ stipends, and boy howdy, it’s a doozy. It will be particularly shocking when you know that the celeb just stood behind a podium and read an essay they wrote, while you used your entire body to play over 30 roles, covering every inch of the playing space.

  • Don’t be bitter. They had no idea what to expect from your show even if they saw some footage online. No one truly knows what you do until they see you do it “live.” And we’re not celebrities, so we’re proving ourselves with every performance, because we have to.
  • Just make a note of what to charge when you’re better known, cuz baby needs a new pair of shoes and pronto.

12. They may forget to pay you. You may not realize it yourself until you’ve parted ways because you’ve been so focused on the tech rehearsal and performance.

  • You will get paid eventually because the agreement is in writing, but if you were counting on that income to pay some big bills the very next day…
  • The first time you have a paid booking, put as much of the money into savings as you can, precisely because a future booking might pay you late.

There’s more but of course the moral is obvious: have a contract. Not a letter of agreement—a contract. The more pages with more stipulations in legalese, the better.

Now let’s say that you’re just starting out and deeply need (psychologically and/or financially) any paid bookings coming your way. You may not feel ready for a fancy contract because you’re afraid it will scare prospective customers away.

You’re right in some cases. If I had used my current contract back in 2014, I’m sure I wouldn’t have booked some of my performances that year, because the liaisons would’ve run scared. I did have a letter of agreement that helped to prevent various problems not listed above. I tweaked it over time to prevent some of the above after I had experienced the pain. However, while it was a proper document that would hold up in a court of law, it did not look like a There Are Actual Lawyers Involved contract. A very serious-looking contract shows the liaison that they’re booking a serious professional, so the liaison had better have their act together.

I don’t regret using my old letter of agreement when I toured my show in the past, and I’ll always be grateful for every paid booking. But now I understand more fully what the show offers and how much my work is worth. Plus, I’m at a different psychological place with the show itself. I love touring it and I know the toll it takes on me if the venue’s staff aren’t able to support the performance in a knowledgeable, professional manner. If a liaison wants to book my show, they will sign the new contract, which will make the above list of painful experiences unlikely because they would literally be in breach of contract, legally speaking.

Even if you want to stick with a two-page letter of agreement vs. a 10-page contract-with-rider, I urge you to add some specifications based on my warnings above. Seriously: make sure that every liaison agrees to give you directions on how to enter the venue and lets you know if there are events (like classes) scheduled 50 minutes after the show begins, and make sure they sign the agreement. (Because come on. That was some ridonkulousness I shouldn’t have had to go through.)

As for me, I’ve been touring my show for a few years now. I’ve seen how it affects people from different walks of life and I know what it takes to give them my best performance. I’m ready to take the next step. Intimidatingly Professional Performer Land, here I come, contract in hand.

BONUS: Here’s a fantastic post on all the jobs involved in being a touring solo performer. I swear, somebody throw us a parade!


Announcement: I’m leading new solo show and memoir workshops in October and November. Give me a holler here if interested.

Thank you for reading my sixteenth post! I love your comments, so if you would like to leave one, but don’t see a “Leave a Reply” box below, scroll to the top and click on “Leave a Comment” or “# Comments” under the post title.

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