Being a performer is like being a contractor in any other profession. You sign a contract, you go to the site, you do your job. However, as any plumber, landscaper, computer programmer or other professions will tell you, jobs are like trail mix. How you ask? It’s generally bag of flakes, fruits, candy and mixed nuts-often heavy on the flakes and nuts.
With items like town fairs, corporate parties, and renaissance faires –they are concerned with liability, they want to cover their assets and they want it in writing. Explaining these things to your backyard party planner in a way that doesn’t get strange quickly can be a task. We have had private parties that were lots of fun (just did one that was a repeat performance) weddings that were a blast, and kids birthday parties that made us smile a lot.
But I suspect you aren’t you aren’t reading along for the “Everything was butterflies and kittens and we received a great tip” stories. (As an aside, never take a job that is run by a “committee” unless you have a hard contract)
Two parties where it all went kind of sideways.
The goth club Halloween party
It’s never a good sign when carnies have turned down a job and then it is offered to you. Another non-written rule that came from this this is that anyone who hires you with less than three weeks to Halloween is probably not someone for whom you’d like to work. But one half of us were on our way to the Mobile faire and the other half stayed behind to do a scenarios at midnight. The troupe was the second act on the docket, the first being an NC-17 uhm “scene” with a lot of props and not much clothing. Our folks are pretty easy going and tried to be polite in a small dressing area but it was definitely distracting. Also distracting? The club had low ceilings and no one knew how to shut off the strobe lights. But the show had to go on, so our folks-in makeup, prosthetics and dodging table, patrons and working in a strobe did their thing. They tried a storyline and the patrons didn’t seem to get it.
*A scripted disarm and when one patron tried to grab the sword while smirking
“Nice fighting D’Artanian” our member dragged the patron AND the sword across a table to continue the fight.
* No one seemed to sense how much danger they posed/could have received in a cramped space with swords and limited light
* at the end of it someone yelled “You Suck!”
But it did end, our folks went backstage and the DJ/guy in charge gushed about how great it was and asked if our folks wanted to stay and do more (with no additional pay) When told what a lone member of the crowd had critiqued he said.
“That’s great, you actually got a reaction out of them!”
The Bridal shower.
This party is why we have a “no surprise party” clause in party contracts. It started out innocently enough when the Mother of the bride wanted us to stage a sort of ‘hero saves princess’ scenario for the bride and groom-with the couple’s full permission. Fenix typed up a script, it had an equally opportunity scenario for the groom and all the sword fighting would be done within our group. In fact, we had some fairly funny adult humor built into the fights and our players did such a good job that those who couldn’t do the job were sorry about it. We were double-booked for the day and our most easy-going, funny players were doing the coed bridal shower while the rest of us did a festival. After all, expectations were set and it was a happy occasion!
We had a signed contract, the Mom holding the party had made sure our folks would be fed, could stay for the party and she loved the skits. It was all good.
(Cue unsettling music)
So our “bad guy” (who is a giant marshmallow and a sweetheart) “stole” the bride to another part of the party and our “crazed substitute” bride (for you movie fans think either ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane’ or ‘Black Swan’) the guest have a rollicking good time until it’s time for the rescue. Sadly, at this point it’s clear that 1) the groom cannot tell reality from fantasy 2) the Mother of the bride has set this up to show her daughter that her beloved is a possessive jerk with ISSUES 3) we have danced into this public mess and are now part of the drama playing out publicly.
Our members had their hands full keeping the groom from grabbing a sword and doing what he wanted. And then, when the ‘bad guy’ was brought to justice by our players, the groom had to be manhandled off our member and reminded that we are just actors paid to be here and he needed to cool his cajones. Only an application of a strong arm seemed to get through. Needless to say, no one seemed to find this part humorous.
And nobody wanted to stay for dessert (imagine)…..and we received a better tip, but NOT WORTH IT.
So can you learn from our mistakes? Absolutely, contracts, listening to your gut and having other options are great. However, if you were starting out like we were you really can’t afford to turn down too many jobs. We’ve had some great private parties (and those are a few blogs forward) that were very lucrative. But being in a unfamiliar situation where you are at the mercy of an employer’s circumstances can turn quickly so be sure that you have good team mates, that you have it in writing, and have an escape plan!