Flamingo Foils Failure

Posted on February 10th, 2012 by Viveca in Circus Life

I remember many moons ago when I was new to this work, attending this horrid event at which a crowded room full of pretentious black-clad graphic artists tried to ignore the four colorfully clad clown doctors strolling among them. Afterwards, the four performers told me stories of their worst jobs ever—magicians producing dead birds, costumes falling off onstage, dogs running amok in the audience, etc. I guess my story wasn’t that bad, but it sure wasn’t that good either.

Where to begin? Hmm, well, the “client” we were dealing with (an event planner) got fired by the actual client and never told us—she just kept acting like she was working for them, so for two months we were making plans with someone who wasn’t passing them on to the people who were actually in charge.

The client insists they really, really want the star of our show to appear on the job. He agrees but asks for a certain amount of money. I agree to it and book it accordingly. As soon as the client signs the contract based on that amount, the star says it’s not enough. It’s exactly what he asked for. So he’s uncooperative all along. Then the client starts telling me how he’s told her he’s not making enough money to do this job. He’s already got a contract with another show for next year so I have no leverage with him whatsoever and am now afraid he just won’t show up.

After we’ve agreed to provide the entertainment, we discover that the lighting designer is someone my partner Karen and I have refused to do business with. Karen sued her several years ago (for breach of contract, I think) and won. She also tried to steal the name of Karen’s act (Serious Foolishness) for the Lincoln Center series (eventually modified to Serious Fun). More incompetent than evil, really, but still, we were not so pleased to discover her at one walk-through.

Then the day of the event the star calls me from O’Hare. They won’t let him on the plane because “he has a promo ticket, but he needs an e-ticket.” I could not make heads or tails of their jargon. They claimed the fare hadn’t been paid, but they wouldn’t take my credit card without making a new reservation for a full-fare ($1,000+) ticket. The star waits at the airport while I scramble to call the client and the airlines. I’m still at home, so I call the office for one of the numbers I need. My assistant Eric tells me there is an eight-page fax from the fired event planner changing the order of everything for the evening that is only hours away.

We deal, the star gets on the plane. Eric calls back, the client has sent another eight-page fax, canceling the first one. I get dressed, pack a nice dress for the event, and wait for Karen to pick me up so we can load in all the set stuff.

Next call, “Hi, This is Patrick McCarty (Karen’s husband). Do you have a car?” Karen has broken down on the New Jersey turnpike, and her cell phone, which is off anyway, isn’t working. I drive the hour down from Manhattan to get her. Patrick drives the hour up from their home on the Jersey shore. We spend the drive on our cell phones to each other trying to figure out where she is. I actually see her car as I pass it going the other way, so I pay the toll make an illegal, “for official use only” U-turn to get back to get her.

Her car is on the shoulder between the four lanes for cars only and the four lanes for trucks, etc. It is terrifying. We load all the show stuff into my car. Patrick tries to fix Karen’s car, but it will not be fixed. Karen and I leave for the event in my car. Patrick stays to wait for the tow truck. (Note to self, maybe there are some advantages to getting married). We make it to the museum and set up the trampoline and other props and set pieces. The event is at the American Museum of Natural History—cocktails by the rotunda, dinosaurs, and African mammals followed by dinner under the blue whale in the ocean room. Pretty cool actually.

Karen is supposed to be doing a sound check, but none of the many techie guys milling around know whether they’re doing sound for us. Finally she gets the DJ to agree to deal with our sound. I steal a ladder and set up. The event is kind of sucky for a variety of reasons that had nothing to do with us, but our part goes well. People love the walk-around performers, especially the fortune telling.

Meanwhile I’m fighting with the event planners to try to get a light and some bottles of water in the “dressing room,” actually a curtained off area in the dark North American forests hallway. We get them. I don’t know how those clowns put on their full faces in the dark. I can’t even put on lipstick (but of course I’m incompetent that way).

The show performers arrive, and Karen talks everyone through the show, but the client isn’t ready for us to begin. They’re running late and promise us a 15-minute warning. So everyone relaxes, and suddenly there’s our warning way before we expect it. Three of us were in the, well, actually the men’s room, and the two others had their animal costumes off, so we had to button up while racing through the back of the room the guests were in.

Did I mention this was a benefit for a foundation that does research on a particularly horrible disease? Well, a woman is giving a moving, horrible speech about someone, maybe her mother, dying from that disease, and the emcee comes back, and “without further ado, here’s Circus To Go!” and all the guests are still shell-shocked from the speaker. We are NOT ready, but the spotlight’s on and everyone’s waiting, so we push the performers out into a parade through the room, well, all but one of them, who’s still putting on his stilts because our “15-minute warning” was about three minutes ago. The show starts before I can figure out how to sneak him across the room to the stage. He’s wearing a ten-foot flamingo costume so he can’t exactly tiptoe through now that the show’s started, and there is no other way around the guests.

The ringmaster and a clown do a little bit, and the ringmaster introduces Bello, and guess what? Bello isn’t inflated. He needed the 15-minute warning we never got. So John’s trying to stall, and in comes Kim from the back of the room to save the day and make the stall. Anyway, Bello gets ready, and the show is fine. The audience sucks, but the show is fine. Everyone does great, especially John as ringmaster, who unrehearsed did a huge assist for Bello in the trampoline act.

Oh, I almost forgot. During the show, this maybe 102-year-old woman in a white pantsuit with silver sequins walks up to the stage escorted by a dapper maybe 80-year-old man in a bow tie and straw hat. Bello kisses her to the crowd’s delight, and John introduces her as Bello’s aunt, and escorts her back to her seat. Later I ask Bello who it was because I thought the client had asked him to do something special for a VIP guest. He says it actually was his aunt, who is on the board or something, but she did just wander up there during the show!

So we pulled it off. Karen and I still can’t believe we even made it off the highway. The performers leave, we wait for all the guests to leave, and we load the trampoline into the truck and the set stuff into my car. We don’t want to bother unpacking all the stuff into my house just to pack it all back up again tomorrow, so we decide to leave the car in a garage overnight with everything in it. Karen calls Patrick to tell him she’ll take the train home and come back into the city tomorrow to get the stuff.

Then we think it over. She’d have to make a whole separate trip in, etc. so we decide better we unload the car into my house, and she stays with me overnight and gets everything another day (she won’t have time to make the train if we unload, but if we leave the stuff in the car, we’d definitely have to get it out tomorrow). She calls Patrick with the change of plans.

Then I realize—why unpack the stuff from my car in the city? I offer Karen to borrow my car to drive home and unload the stuff there. We go through our calendars, and I’m pretty sure I won’t need the car for a while and this is perfect. She calls Patrick with the good news. She’ll drive home right away. Since we’re right there, we pick up my friend King Rob whom I’m meeting for drinks.

Then Karen notices my car is a stick shift: she doesn’t remember how to drive a stick shift. She calls Patrick with the change of plans. Patrick tells her she can make any decision she wants but to please stop calling every two minutes because it is after midnight (note to self: some disadvantages to getting married).

I decide Karen can drive a stick, and we trade places so she can practice. King Rob, who’s maybe 6’2″ tall, is folded in half on top of the cones and props in the back of the car with the seats folded down. They drop me off at my house to unload my stuff, and Karen and King Rob go for a ride around the block to practice. I finish everything I have to do and wait on a street corner for them. I have an interesting conversation with a drunk woman on the corner who tells me that her boyfriend beats her up but the police won’t arrest him because he’s a celebrity. Every time a police car drives by she shouts at them to arrest her boyfriend the celebrity.

I wait. I wait. Only Karen and an Englishman could get lost driving around one block in Manhattan’s grid system. And the saga ends. Somehow they find my house again. King Rob and I go out drinking. Karen drives my car home.

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