The Pro Shop is a monthly feature of opinions and advice on matters affecting the careers of cabaret professionals. This month’s writer is Bernie Furshpan, booking manager of New York’s Metropolitan Room.
Booking Your Show
What Performers Do Right, What They Do Wrong,
and What They Fail to Do at All
By Bernie Furshpan for Cabaret Scenes
What’s it like to be a booking manager? With over 30 years of experience in this industry, I know a thing or two about it, and about performers. From silver screen starlets to Broadway stumble bums, I’ve worked with the likes of them all. The very first thing that I can tell you is that performers are like snowflakes—no two are alike… ever! But even so, I believe, thanks to my experience, I can help you enhance your career, whoever you are. And on the other side of that coin, keep you from unknowingly standing in the way of your own success.
To start at Square One, how about getting booked in the first place? At the Metropolitan Room, we’ve been fortunate to book as much as six months in advance. However, my experience is that most venues book about three to four months ahead, especially if you’re looking for that Friday or Saturday night spot. To initially impress a booking manager favorably, get in touch early and be patient. Because bookers are very busy people, if you don’t get a response right away, it doesn’t mean that we’re not interested. Chances are we just haven’t had the time to look at and evaluate your CD, DVD, the great reviews and whatever else you’ve sent us. Regrettably, some venues may not have the courtesy to respond if they aren’t interested, so following up politely to see if your communication has been received is sensible, but always be polite and understanding. You may well want to solicit them again down the road.
And this is absolutely vital: if they express an interest, be honest and be realistic about expectations for your show. Whatever you do, don’t lie about your draw. Tuesdays and Wednesdays have to get booked as well as Saturday nights. You’re much better off being honest than grandly stretching the truth and disappointing a venue. Telling a booking manager that you can pack the place and having only three friends and your mother showing up will result in an awkward, undesirable and indelible result. But if you were realistic about what your show was likely to draw, and then you match or surpass it, you’ve made a friend and the booker likely will look forward to booking you again.
Performers, in spite of their individualities, do exhibit similar qualities and some common idiosyncrasies. So, before I rant about all the many things performers do wrong (I’ll save that for later), let me now assume you’ve nailed the booking and talk about the things you can and should do right that are guaranteed to please any venue owner or booking manager.
A headlined performer at a cabaret venue is no amateur; you are professional. As such, you keep your composure. Occasional difficult circumstances at cabaret clubs may occur, and being understanding and objective helps. Like lawyers or doctors or other career professionals, you don’t allow emotions to affect your business relationships or discussions with a club, any more than it should your performances. Imagine even interviewing a chauffeur who is visibly agitated because of family or other issues, much less the doctor or lawyer. You’d never hire him to drive you hither and yon. Let that analogy sink in a bit.
In running a tight ship at the Metropolitan Room, the one thing that invariably pleases me are performers who are organized. One very much aware that doing my job keeps me very busy, so when reaching out to me via email, they are concise, covering all the bases in no more than two or three emails. Anticipating the questions I’d need to ask them, they saved themselves and me a lot of time and effort.
I enjoy working with performers who have an obvious entrepreneurial career drive and spirit. They clearly want to build their audiences and entertainment industry recognition, so they are energetic with marketing and promotion. Press kits are completed and submitted to us early, and with important credits, reviews, images and bios—once again, making my job much easier and more effective. These kinds of performers also visit our venue, giving our team an opportunity to meet them, discuss any special issues and better prepare for their upcoming shows.
All in all, readying a show is like baking a wedding cake… before the wedding guests (our audiences) can enjoy a slice (your performance), my choice performers have given me ALL of the ingredients to do the job successfully.
Now, I’ll present the portion I saved for later: “the things performers do wrong” and how to avoid them. (Please hold your applause.) The one thing that can make a booker’s life difficult, louse up a performer’s show, and hamper his/her career, is a lackadaisical attitude.
Failing to respond reasonably promptly to a booking manager’s communications almost surely affects the way you and your upcoming show are treated. It’s important to respond to all correspondence within 48 hours, preferably within 24. If it’s a telephone call, it’s even more urgent. Your prompt response signals your diligence and your respect for others. Lack of it…well, you get the idea. Also, try not to be overly demanding! Pushy performers are a pet peeve. Understand that as a venue owner I wear many hats and am needed for many things, often at once. We will get things properly straightened out. I promise!
One glaring performers’ omission is manifestly worth correcting—for me, for press people, for audiences, for everyone. It’s not having accessible information, including contact details, easily available via an Internet search. Lots of people may have valid and beneficial reasons to want to reach you. Make it easy. You’ll be glad you did.
As a child I was always taught to do my research. “Know what to expect” is a mantra I live by. So, simply put, do your homework. Long before your performance dates, do your research on how the club is run and its booking routine. I understand that a lack of such knowledge may be the result of insufficient information provided by other clubs’ booking managers, but do your best and politely request what you need from them.
In my case, I do provide comprehensive information well in advance, both during booking and after booking, to make sure there is little chance of misunderstanding. Performers asking questions clearly covered in their contracts, shows me that they unwisely didn’t read the contract. When a performer repeatedly calls or writes me, confused about something already dealt with, it’s a good way to distance a relationship.
My specific venue, the Metropolitan Room, is a highly-respected cabaret showcase—among performers, audiences and the local and national press. With a little more than three decades of experience under my entertainment marketing and business belt, here is the one smart thing I find that many performers fail to do at all (drum roll please…): Show their gratitude and solidify their relationship with the booking manager. Now don’t misquote me, there certainly are plenty of performers who do practice this gracious act, and it is very much appreciated. But there are the few who aren’t thoughtful enough (or don’t care enough?) to say “thank you” for the booking. For my part, I appreciate that doing a show puts a lot of stress and pressure on a performer, and my acknowledgement of a job well done with “That was great,” or “Wow, good job,” can make a world of difference to how you feel about the whole experience. It works both ways. Believe it or not, booking and managing a room is a difficult and stressful task. Want a return booking? Stay on sociable terms with the booking managers, here and everywhere. An easy practice that will stand you in good stead is simply to follow up with a gracious email. Let the booking managers know you appreciate their efforts and thank them for their time.
To sum it all up, remember that as a performer seeking the booking or already booked, you are a professional, just like that doctor or lawyer. You’ve studied your craft, and practiced it, and have known good times and bad times. Your “bedside manner,” or should I say your openness and social skills, will solidify your win with a venue. I wasn’t surprised to find out that mediocre doctors with great bedside manners are less likely to get sued than perfectly good doctors who don’t understand the need to polish their bedside manners. In dealing with musical directors, techies, audiences or those hard-working booking managers, it is something for performers to think about.