By Jim Brumbach
There comes a time in every new planner’s career when they receive the grand announcement, "We’re going to bring in (insert famous person’s name here) for our convention next month." This is about the time when folks become familiar with the phrase "flop sweat". If you come from a theatrical background, you know flop sweat is caused by the fear of failure before an audience. In this instance, your "audience" could be your peers, including office/cubicle-mates, supervisors, or even the client themselves. If and when this happens, I suggest excusing yourself and finding a convenient place to shower, as it’s not a pleasant experience for those around you.
Let’s first examine how to deal with famous people, a.k.a. "stars", and I’ll share some of my own experiences with these brain damaged folks.
When I say brain damaged, I don’t mean it in a literal sense. I do, however, wonder on occasion where these people’s mothers were and what they were doing while their fathers were dropping them on their heads.
Don’t get me wrong, I love working with stars, as it’s a great character building experience, and common folks not in the business tend to go, "You worked with so-and-so?" "Oh my goodness, you are so cool. What were they like? Did you actually talk to them? Do you think you could introduce me?" This is when it’s handy to have a bucket of cold water nearby to douse your interrogator.
Never forget the average person doesn’t understand this is just a job and you’re not really the famous person’s new best friend. Of course, if the individual you’re having this conversation with is someone with whom you would like to become romantically involved, feel free to stretch the truth a bit. Let them know how you spent most of the weekend on the phone with their personal assistant, arranging meetings and lunches with our famous personality. You don’t need to mention that the lunches were with the client’s people, and the meetings were where the star was scheduled to appear. You still did the work, and that is what’s important.
Anyway, to deal with a star or famous person is to be a broker in the sometimes odd and outrageous. Take the Red Hot Chili Peppers for example. They require a meditation room, whole pitted dates and figs, aromatherapy candles, 10 pairs of white crew socks, and plaid cotton boxer shorts. When Clarence Clemens is out on the road with The Boss, he requires water crackers and Beluga caviar.
The best way to make your dealings with the famous and strange is to give them what they want. If they require boxer shorts, give them two pair of boxers. If they ask for purple roses ala Prince, make sure there’s several dozen available. I have never worked with a major artist or personality that didn’t have their requirements spelled out to the minutest detail in their rider. They will tell you if they need (6) six PG Tips tea bags in their dressing room, or (12) twelve litre bottles of natural spring water, not Evian, with the labels removed, backstage.
Remember that most famous people are used to being treated as though they are special, and our job is to make the event a success. Therefore, if the celeb is unhappy, the event could be jeopardized. You may be responsible for any or all of their needs, from arrival to departure. If that is the case, I implore you to read, re-read, and once again peruse the artist rider to make sure all your bases are covered. I will hit some of the main points that are standard to most artists and celebrities.
You will probably be responsible for transportation from the airport to the venue. This may not apply if you are dealing with a touring act that may be arriving with their buses and fifteen semi trucks. Let’s assume the star is coming by air and arriving at the airport. I know this sounds silly, but plenty of famous people travel by helicopter to a show. It would be appropriate for a limo or town car to be dispatched for transportation. If given the option, always provide a limousine, and make sure the driver shows up early. It gives an added sense of privacy and security to someone famous that has been traveling for hours and was probably mobbed at the airport by fans and well-wishers. It also allows for stretching of the legs and an opportunity to conduct other business with assistants who are accompanying our V.I.P.
It may be up to you to provide security for our visiting dignitary. I was responsible for ushering Michael Jackson into a show, and let me tell you, that is an experience. Before you start to judge based on recent events, remember that we have a job to accomplish, and we have to distance ourselves from what’s printed in the press. If you have any qualms about working with someone famous, I suggest you distance yourself from that particular event or show. Anyway, on the one hand you have Michael trying to meet and talk with everyone he comes across. On the other hand are Michael’s private security detail and the outside security guards trying to protect Michael from himself. This could have proven disastrous if the proper arrangements weren’t made in advance. By the way, Michael sent out for several magic kits during this particular outing. This was no easy feat on a Sunday night at ten o’clock.
Find out what the security requirements are, and who is responsible for coordinating the security forces. You may only need one guy from Bob’s Rent-A-Guard. You may also need to arrange a full police or Secret Service escort for the duration of the event. This is an area that requires close and serious attention, or something bad could happen. There are lots of crazies in the world, and you don’t want to be known as the person who allowed a U.S. President to be pied in the face backstage at your event. If you have any questions, consult the rider.
You will also need to provide dressing or lounge areas backstage for our famous person/people. On most occasions these are relatively straightforward, and not too difficult to accommodate. It’s often a private room or area with a phone, some food and beverage service, a bathroom (cleaned with disinfectants and anti-bacterial agents if it’s Beyonce from Destiny’s Child), and a sofa or some chairs. I can tell you that David Spade specifies a Nerf football and a straight back folding chair in his dressing room. In case you’re wondering, he has a bad back. The football helps him stretch and the chair is for good posture.
I said on most occasions. Of course, there are exceptions to any rule. Aerosmith must have a meet-and –greet/reception area decorated in an Eastern Indian theme. The Rolling Stones must have, get this, a snooker table, not a pool table, complete with racks and cues. What’s amusing about this is the Stones carry their own snooker balls. Paul McCartney needs to have (6) six foot and (2) four foot full and leafy plants. He insists that the plants be just as full on the bottom as the top, such as palm, bamboo, or peace lilies. Tree trunks are not allowed. And Paul can’t have any "weedy" type flowers, such as ragweed, as they are irritating to allergies. That’s always good to know. If in doubt, check the rider.
When it comes to catering, we finally get to follow Alice down the rabbit hole. This is where things go from mighty weird to practically impossible. Remember the famous stories about Van Halen trashing their dressing room because someone forgot to remove the brown M&M’s from the candy dish? It was clearly spelled out in their rider that there were to be "no brown M&M candies either backstage or in the band’s dressing room areas". Someone missed this little tidbit and it cost the promoter a bundle to fix the damage.
Food bills can be astronomical, but you have to keep in mind that someone, possibly you, agreed to this weirdness ahead of time. If you have Jimmy Buffet, remember to have a case of frozen Snicker bars at the ready. Otherwise he won’t be obligated to play, and you still have to pay up for the night. If you think you can skimp or substitute in this category, think again. Not only will you have a very unhappy artist or star on your hands, you will be in breach of contract and if they are serious about their contract rider, can refuse to appear on stage. Never be the person who couldn’t get Crosby, Stills, and Nash onstage for the Presidential Award Ceremony because you didn’t tell the caterer to refrain from using mayonnaise in the veggie pasta salad. If you’re unsure, check the rider.
Did I mention to check the rider?
Always exceed someone’s expectations. That way you will be on the receiving end of lots of compliments and not tirades. And I do mean tirades. If your famous friend is having a bad day and something is amiss, I promise you will bear the brunt of their anger. Don’t be discouraged with working with celebrities and stars.
I’ve only run across one of these tirades while working a show in Orlando many years ago. It was a famous brother/sister act from the seventies. Hint, hint. I was doing an audio check and he decided he wasn’t happy with something or other, so he decided to stop by the console for a quick "consultation". I should say he screamed for about five minutes before his sister came over and dragged him off the stage. Literally dragged him by his collar. She basically gave him a time-out and came back full of apologies. What was nice was that she was sincere and bought the entire production staff lunch for having to endure her brother’s tantrum.
There’s still the strange and genuinely weird artist that you’ll occasionally encounter in your career. I was working a comedy show a couple of years ago and I was told that this particular performer had to have two packs of AA batteries at the end of each show. I never was able to figure out why the person making more than $50,000 per show needed two free packs of batteries.
Of course my all time favorite is the night our comedian (yes, I’ve worked with lots of comedians) from Saturday Night Live didn’t show up backstage when it was time for him to go on. We quickly sent someone to his room and found him sitting on the bed in his pajamas. When he was asked why he wasn’t dressed and in the theatre, he said "the #$(%* airline lost my luggage with my clothes." We convinced him to perform in his jammies, and went back to his room to find out what happened. The butler (nice place, huh?) explained that his suitcase was in the closet the entire time and he had, in fact, flown in on a private plane.
We laugh to this day about that story, and I hope you too have some fond memories of working with famous people, even if it is at their expense.