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Festivals & Events, Vendors & Entertainers

Booking, the Entertainers View, for a Fair, Festival or Event
by Katie Brooks, Nashville, Tennessee, KatieBrooksOnline.com

There's No Business Like It
It's been my privilege to work as an entertainer for 30 years. With that privilege has come the education that only "Hard Knocks" provide. Here now are some thoughts from the stage that might make the difference between mediocrity and standing-ovation success for an event with live entertainment. I hope that some of these ideas will be helpful to you and your staff.

At the time of booking:
Consider the interests of the audience you want to draw. Hire the best act for those interests that you can afford. There are numerous entertainers on all levels in all parts of the country. Use the Internet to peruse talent. Spend the time it takes to fi nd the appropriate act. Don't be afraid to ask for recordings, video or DVDs, and recommendations. If you have opportunity to go see this act live, do it. This first step will go a long way toward your success in this event.

Keep in mind that most legitimate entertainment agents can contract with almost all professional acts. These agents may add a bit of cost to your fi nal tally, but their value is tremendous. They will be able to help you match your budget and audience to good entertainment, and they will make contact with the acts for you. They will also have information about the reliability and the current status of the entertainment you are considering. You'll save time and headaches by using their services.

As an entertainer, I like to work with agents because it keeps all of my contracts in one offi ce. If I have a problem, I only have to go to one place for a solution. I can only assume that this would work as well for individuals booking entertainment.

Once you have chosen your entertainment and established a verbal agreement, secure a clear, signed contract with the act or its agent. This saves time and confusion… even with your free events.
Deal with the following questions:
  • What type of venue do you have?
  • What's the date and time of the entertainment?
  • How large will be your expected audience be?
  • How much sound/lighting/staging will you provide, or is the act expected to provide these things?
  • What time will the stage be available for setup?
  • By what time MUST the act be set up to make room for other events or other work on the stage?
  • What time can a sound check be expected?
  • How much money will be paid to the act, with the expectation of how much entertainment?
  • In what form will payment be made, when will it be made, and who will make the delivery?
  • What is your policy on CD and other promotional item sales? Do you expect a "house" percentage? If so, please put it in writing up front.
  • Will housing be part of the contract… either before or after the event (or both)?
  • Will any meals be provided?
  • Will water and/or snacks be available?
  • Are there liability issues you wish to address?
  • What are the parameters for cancellation?
  • Who will be the Point of Contact person between now and the event?
  • Who will be the Point of Contact person at the event?
  • What is your "dress code" or expectation?
  • What is your policy on free or discount passes for friends and family?
  • Check that you have correct spelling and billing information, and that you have current pictures, before your publicity goes out.
  • If you receive a contract from the act, be sure to read all of it, and be sure that you are willing and able to meet each part of it.
Two weeks before the event:
  • Send detailed directions to your event location, and to the stage and backstage areas.
  • Send names and phone numbers for those individuals who will be present to meet the act on the night of the show, and who will help the act to set up for the show. Be sure this is someone with knowledge about the stage, lighting, and sound.
  • Send out all necessary parking passes and/or gate passes.
  • If at all possible, prepare a clean, private, well-lit, secure, dressing area near to the stage. If needed, have two available-and mark one for men and one for women. A mirror on the wall is a real treat, and can make a difference in your entertainment's looks and attitude. A sink and towels are wonderful! (Proximity to a restroom is also very helpful!)
  • Check your contracts (and/or theirs) again to make sure that you're in compliance with all needs and requests.
A week before the event:
  • Make a quick phone call to be sure that there are no additional questions, and to remind the act of dates, times, and contacts. If there are any changes in times or directions, clarify and agree on these.
  • Place any necessary food or drink orders, and make arrangements for deliveries. Secure any needed coolers, bottled water, and other drinks, snacks, or food.
  • Find out travel plans, if possible.
  • Find out how much, if any, parking space will be needed near the stage.
  • Arrange any needed transportation from the airport, hotel, etc.
  • Confirm contracted needs with your stage/lighting/sound company.
The day of the event:
  • Arrive early. Walk through the stage and backstage areas one more time to check compliance with contracts, general cleanliness, and security. The more prepared and relaxed you and your staff are, the more confi dent and relaxed your entertainers will be.
  • Inform those posted at all security points from the main road to the backstage door of who is coming and about what time they can be expected. A clipboard with a typed list works very well. Include the names of caterers, etc. Show examples of all of your passes, and see that security knows how to direct acts as they arrive. Give the security personnel your cell phone number or your identifi cation on your event's communication devices.
  • Having a local phone book backstage can be an event saver!
  • Make sure that ample parking is available, near the stage, for all entertainers.
  • Keep your stage and shows on schedule. Period. This is good for everyone.
  • Have an emergency plan in case of bad weather or other uncontrollable factors that might cause you to cancel or interrupt your promised programming.
  • Whether contracted or not, keep some water available for your stage workers and your entertainers. Replenish this supply as needed.
  • Do all that you can to help with setup. (This might include simply staying out of the way.)
  • Protect your entertainers. If they express a need for privacy after a certain time, don't bring back "just one more board member" or anyone else. Most entertainers (not all, granted) need a bit of breathing room before a show to collect their thoughts and to dress. Most (not all, granted) will try to be congenial and welcoming to you and your guests… even when it may not be in the best interest of their performance.
  • Have payment ready to hand to the act in whatever form and at whatever time your contract states.
  • Remember that if the act was successful and well-received, a letter of congratulations and praise is always a nice follow-up. Most entertainers keep these for their publicity needs, and they create a general feel of goodwill which will likely benefi t everyone if you want to have the act return.
A few final thoughts…
I realize that this discussion places a heavy responsibility for success on the venue. In my opinion, that's only right. When entertainers are allowed to focus on what it is that they do, entertaining, instead of trying to fi nd someone to let them in the building, turn on the lights and sound, clear the stage, etc., then the show benefi ts. If you do your homework and preparations, and if you hire the appropriate acts, your event will be successful.

Trying to "save" money by using poor sound, stage, or lighting equipment will not give you a better show. These are the necessary tools for the entertainer to work. With good tools, the performer is able to approach the show with confidence and enthusiasm. With bad ones, the focus is taken away from entertaining and is put squarely on logistical matters.

Some quick notes on contracts, clauses, and nuances. Entertainers have real needs before a show. These may include sound, lights, a specific power supply or adapter, etc. Missing these details might lead to a poor performance, a panic, or a delay of the program.

Sometimes frivolous details (like seven Butterfinger candy bars and 25 Hershey kisses) are written into contracts so that the entertainers can easily see that the contract has been read and that the details have been honored.

Other, more general, requests, such as vegetarian meals, are made because of specific dietary needs, and because of a lack of time and opportunity for the act to manage these things on the night of a performance. After driving all night and day, arriving just in time to set up and do a sound check, there is often no time to get out of the venue and drive around a strange town looking for decent food, find the way back, and prepare for the show to start on time.

Bringing an act all the way to your event and then trying to renegotiate payment on the spot is not fair and will not create a better show. It's not the fault of the entertainer if ticket sales were slower than expected, or if your event happens the same night as a long awaited concert on the other side of town.

Entertainers have a built-in need to "entertain." They want the show to be successful at least as much as you do. If you will do the things that you agree to do, then it is probable that the entertainers will make your event a rousing success.

Finally, enjoy the show!