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Bob Baker
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Into Thin Air is Jon Krakauer’s extraordinary book about an expedition to climb Mt. Everest that went tragically wrong. What struck me when I read the book was that there was no one error that led to the disaster. Rather, it was a succession of small mistakes, minor oversights, and bad decisions--none very consequential in and of themselves--that together culminated in the loss of several lives.

I bring this up because I had a similar situation in a show I did last night. No one died (except me), and I have thought a lot about what went wrong and how to prevent a recurrence. I wanted to share my experience with you so that you can learn from—and avoid—my mistakes.

The most embarrassing aspect of all this is that I know what the right things to do are. I just didn’t do them.

The show was a Holiday party for the publisher of a chain of local newspapers. It took place in the ballroom of a local catering place. The layout was bad. The tables were placed on three sides around a large dance floor with the DJ set-up on the fourth side. I was to perform out on the dance floor.

OK, three mistakes right there:

1) I did not send the agent who booked me specifications of how the room needed to be set up for me. In their tech sheets, both Jay Johnson and Ken Groves specifically state that chairs should be set up on the dance floor so the audience can be near the performer. In fact, Jay and Ken will not perform if the room is not right. Last night everyone remained at their tables for the show and were so far away from me that there was no audience involvement in the show. I could not control the room.

2) I didn’t get there early enough to check out the room and have them change the set-up for me. Although I arrived an hour and a half before my show, the guests were already having cocktails and the room was set. I should have found out when the guests were invited for and set up well before that.

3) I didn’t have the gumption to make them set up the room properly for me. I should have insisted, but I didn’t want to make waves. So I performed in a bad set-up.

Then, although I had my own sound system, I was not familiar enough with it to make a necessary change. My wireless headset was on the same frequency as the wireless mic of the DJ in an adjoining room. I have never had to change the frequency in dozens of shows before and didn't know how to do it, so I asked the DJ in my room if I could use his wireless mic on a gimcrack I always have with me. Then, I could not do a sound check, and I don’t think that the audience heard me well through the DJ’s speakers, which are designed for thumping disco music, not the human voice.

Next big mistake: my introduction. I had printed it out nice and large for the host to read—and left it at home. I was going to go home and get it, but he host said he didn’t need it—he’d just say, “Here’s out entertainment, Bob Baker,” and turn it over to me. Even that didn’t happen. Instead, the DJ introduced me while people were finishing their dinner. He just called everyone’s attention and introduced me. I didn’t even know that he was going to introduce me. I had no time to prep him, no time to ask him to get everyone settled down, quiet, and paying attention before I started.

There was no clear break for the guests to get ready to be entertained. They weren’t even all turned around to face me. I had to compete with people finishing dinner conversations, folks hanging out loudly at the bar, people going to the buffet for seconds.

So I never had the audience engaged with the show. I never ruled the room. I was just an intermittent distraction to whatever was going on at their tables.

To me, the most humiliating aspect of this is that I know all this stuff. I just didn’t apply my knowledge.

Here are my big take-away lessons:

1) Let the people who hire you know exactly what you need before you arrive with the specific statement that unless the room is set up correctly you won’t perform and they sacrifice their fee. Optimize the show space for you.
2) Even if it means getting there a few hours before you are to start, get there early enough to check sound and lighting. Know the details of how to work your own da**ed equipment. (Or at least pack the manual with you!)
3) Choreograph everything ahead of time. Prepare whoever is going to introduce you. Make sure he/she gets everyone seated appropriately and paying attention before introducing you. Have your introducer read your intro aloud with you ahead of time so he/she gets it right. Have extra copies of your intro stashed in your travel cases.

I learned some tough lessons last night. Or maybe I should say re-learned them. I am reporting them here for two reasons: catharsis for me and the fervent desire to spare you from what I brought on myself.

Whew. I feel better.

A little.

Bob
tacrowl
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Maryland
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Bob -
Great post. Sorry you had to go through that - but everyone has - including Ken & Jay. In fact, that is how they developed those policies.

As performers, we have often heard we are there for the client and should do whatever it takes to make them happy. The thing that makes them happiest is a successful show.

BTW - I'd like to share a concept that I learned (again) just last week. For some reason, venues seem to enjoy putting the stage against the long wall so people can be "closer" to the stage. Unfortunately that can make for an incredibly wide room - which makes it very tough for the "ends" to see. There is a reason theaters are deep - and from now on, my requirements will include the stipulation that the stage must go at the end (not side) of the room.

Tom
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Howie Diddot
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San Francisco & Los Angeles California
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I learned as an event photographer for many years the importance of proper room set up; I witnessed many failures because of lack of communication; even now as I do my magic/vent shows in a living room of homes performing for children, I email a memo requesting that conditions be met, like leaving a parking space in front for me, not feeding the children during the show and requesting privacy before the show as I set up.

Every parent has agreed with my requests and it has made it very nice for me to arrive and set up.

Bob, I am sorry to hear of your mishap, we all learn for your experence
ColinDymond
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Gloucestershire, England
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One of the things you get after performing for a while is the confidence to know what is right and not be afraid to tell hose in charge. I know exactly the best place to set my kids show and if I think the spot give to me by the host won't work I'll tell them.
As for the room latout I think that needs to be sorted well in advance as the set might even be done the night before. They won't want to move them if they can get away with it.
Good luck for the next show!
ChrisJ
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Lapeer, MI
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Great post Bob. It sounds like a rough outing but it also sounds like it was a learning experience and I for one appreciate you sharing ti with us. Helps serve as a reminder that we can "tractice" vent but need to also focus on the business side of things.

Thanks again for sharing this Bob.

Happy Holidays!
Dickens & Dave
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North Central Florida
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Quote:
On 2011-12-18 10:29, Bob Baker wrote:
The most embarrassing aspect of all this is that I know what the right things to do are. I just didn’t do them.

Oh, well, we all have to do something like that every now and then to keep us humble. Smile
Sorry to hear about the problems, but you can't be sorry about the way you're using it - as a reminder and lesson learned so it doesn't happen again, in the end, that makes it a positive thing.
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"Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest."
Wanlu
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Manila, Philippines
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We all have our share of bad days...

A bad day reminds us how to appreciate good days...

I admire you Bob for sharing this... yodaman!!! Smile
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MT
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Thanks Bob. This is really helpful.
ventgreg
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Here's another tip I've learned from experience. Be sure the stage height and dimensions are appropriate to the size of the audience. Here's my rule of thumb. If the group is less than 100 people, I perform from floor level. 100-300 people, the stage height should be approximately 16 inches and above 300 people, approximately 3 feet high. Overly high stages for smaller audiences can be the kiss of death. More often than not, your contact person or meeting planner will comply with your wishes on stage height. Just be sure to give them 3-4 weeks notice of your requirements.

Lastly, I ask that "reserved" signs be placed on the back tables (for banquet events) and those tables/chairs be used only as a last resort. The signs can easily be removed if the tables are needed. These simple little tricks can have a huge impact on the audience response and more importantly, lead to a satisfied client wanting to use your services again.

Greg Claassen

P.S. Be over prepared and arrive early. The meeting planner will love you and it will lead to more shows.
KeithS
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Thanks for the important reminders, Bob!

Early in my performing career, I performed in a talent contest at a local night club. Each week for about 10 weeks the first rounds would be held. I had won my night, and it was a great success. The final round, which included all 10 winners, was held in another part of the club, as the main room was being renovated. The new stage was in-the-round, making it that one whole side of the audience was facing my back with my hand in my figure. Needless to say, my act was not as strong. Of course, I learned never to perform in such a situation.

Live and learn.
Doug Arden
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Bob:

Sorry to hear about that disaster of an evening. The good thing is you're a real pro, and you will learn from this. Just think, you'll sleep like a baby knowing you only had to endure this once.

Doug
Dr. Solar
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Citrus Heights, Ca.
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Happy Holidays.Sorry to hear of such problems. Guess that Is why I do very few Xmas gigs. Way too big a rooms, dinners abound, drinks flying, babysitter wanted. It must be great to supply a litany of demands, and then get them. I'm sure not there yet! You know what they say about best laid plans...

Be well.
"look for me in all things forgotten"
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ventgreg
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Corporate meeting planners want their event to be successful so if you take the approach that these are "suggestions" that will lead to a successful event, nine times out of ten, they will follow through with your requests. I never call them "demands" and of course always ask in a gracious way. Also be sure you make the set up requests well in advance of the event and do it in writing and with professionalism. You'll be surprised with the results you get. You'll be rewarding them with a great evening of entertainment which all will more fully enjoy. They'll actually thank you for your attention to detail after the performance is over.

Greg Claassen
CaptKirk
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THANKS for sharing with us the problems you encountered. We can all learn something from your bad experience and hopefully alleviate those same bad situations when performing in the future. You are a TRUE PRO and I certainly applaud you for your professionalism and for sharing with us!!
Bob Baker
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Thank you all for your comments and support.

And here is an interesting denoument: I e-mailed the agent who booked me about what had happened with a link to my original post above. He called me and said this sort of thing happens all the time to his performers. He said, "At an affair like the one you did, some people just aren't interested in the entertainment and ignore it."

Then he asked me two questions: 1) "Did the people who were watching you enjoy the show?" Yes they did. 2) "Did the client pay you?" Yes he did. The agent said, "Good. I'll call you again soon."

More lessons learned.

Bob
Wanlu
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Manila, Philippines
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When we don't get the reaction that we usually get... we tend to worry too much that the show bombed. Happened to me a few times (countless few times Smile) Our tendency is to feel bad and we get worried... but what bad days should really do to us is to make us work harder to improve our act and everything else that goes with it.

I bet Bob is so excited to perform again and kill... Smile
"The Old Path"
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Joseph_Then
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Quote:
On 2011-12-20 15:49, Bob Baker wrote:
Thank you all for your comments and support.

And here is an interesting denoument: I e-mailed the agent who booked me about what had happened with a link to my original post above. He called me and said this sort of thing happens all the time to his performers. He said, "At an affair like the one you did, some people just aren't interested in the entertainment and ignore it."

Then he asked me two questions: 1) "Did the people who were watching you enjoy the show?" Yes they did. 2) "Did the client pay you?" Yes he did. The agent said, "Good. I'll call you again soon."

More lessons learned.

Bob

In this case I think your agent is quite understanding. You see, even agents themselves want to ensure that their event runs well and they rely on the hired Emcee, performers, etc. to make it look good. There will be one or two events that just doesn't quite make it.

It happened to be before: In this event, the Emcee gave me the "I Give Up!" look when I ask him about the audience. No matter how hard I try when I performed, it goes down the drain. The good thing is that my agent understands that this is one-of-a-kind hiccups that can happen and they still continue to use me till now.
-----



Joseph Then

Singapore Ventriloquist
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