Questions You Should Ask Your Clients Before Every Gig

Questions You Should Ask Your Clients Before Every Gig

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Featured Image: Joe Janicki and Lauren Beth Stein, Photographer: Barbara Bresnahan

You get a phone call at 9:30 in the morning:  “Hi! Is this blah dee blah dee blah, the fire twirlers?  We want to know if you’re available to perform at our regional hot dog eating competition?  We think you’d be the perfect fit!”  Your mind is filled simultaneously with thoughts of “they like us!  They really like us!” and “okay, what is all the information I need to gather from this person before this phone call is over?” (and maybe just a smidge of, “wait…was that a backhanded compliment?”) Phone calls like that used to catch me a little off guard, although I’ve slowly become less stressed out about them.  Still, there’s a reason that all of us should be charging a booking fee on top of the rate for our shows.  Figuring out the details of a gig is a lot of work.  Never fear though, as there are definitely ways to streamline it.  One way that I’ve made the process easier for myself is by creating a checklist of all the questions I need a client to answer in order to prepare for a gig.  To further streamline this process for you, I thought I would just share this checklist in its entirety.  Some of these questions might seem more obvious than others and some of them I mentioned in my article about how to determine rates for your show, but I wanted to create a comprehensive list since I think it’s helpful to have them all written out so you don’t forget anything in the moment.  In the cases of somewhat less obvious questions, I’ll be elaborating as to the reason for their importance.  (sorry, that last sentence there felt very college essay).

As an aside, a lot of these questions are ones that you might want to use to create a simple form for clients to fill out when they’re looking to get a quote.  Example here.    

This might sound strange, but if clients don’t have an answer for something, make sure to have an answer for them.  You don’t want them to feel overwhelmed.  For example they don’t know what theme they want for the show, give them a couple of options, or pick one for them and tell them why you think it would be good for their event.    

Ask and Ye Shall Receive, a Gig, Hopefully


-Probably the most important question you need to ask is: what is the date and time of the performance?

When you’re working on booking a bunch of gigs simultaneously, it’s a good idea to keep potential gigs listed in your calendar alongside finalized gigs so that you don’t accidentally tell someone you’re available and then have another gig come though.  As much as possible, try to get them to nail down a precise time so that you’ll know if you’ll be able to take other gigs that night as well.    

Depending on the time of performance, you may also want to inquire as to how much ambient light there will be.  Although fire performance in the pitch dark sounds ideal, it’s really not the greatest from the audience or performer’s standpoint.  The audience loses out because you’re not as visible as you should be, your facial expressions and nuanced body movements get lost in the shadows, and you turn into disembodied trails of fire.  Meanwhile, it’s quite easy to lose track of props, etc. in the dark.  

-Where will the performance be taking place?

If the show is indoors or outdoors, that may determine whether you can use fire.  The distance of the show from your home will factor into the cost of travel.  The location may also dictate whether or not a permit is needed.  Make sure to discuss permitting with the client and establish who will be responsible for obtaining that permit.

Location, location, location.  Subject:  Sennyo Senn

Location, location, location. Subject: Sennyo Senn. Photographer: Krystin Nicole Railing

-Do you want a choreographed show, ambient performance or roving?

Different types of performance work better for different events.  If the client is looking to stop the rest of the event and have a captive audience for your show, then a choreographed show is great for them.  If they want people to be able to watch you while they eat hors d’oeuvres and socialize, ambient or roving performance might be better options.  If you’re going to be doing ambient performance for long stretches of time, you should discuss when, how many and of what length breaks you will be taking.  Give yourself whatever you think you will need in terms of rest and refueling (not literal but snacks and stuff).  I usually give myself about a ten minute break per twenty to thirty minutes of performing, but this can really vary from gig to gig.  I booked a gig for September that requires 4 and a half hours of non-fire roving, and the agent didn’t specifically mention anything about breaks, so I checked in to make sure breaks were going to be allotted.  She reassured me that they would be, but it’s always good to check.  

-How long of a show do you want? 

This is a question that I tend to answer for the client before they can answer it.  A lot of clients don’t have any point of reference for choosing the length of a circus show, so I usually will tell them the length of our most popular show but let them know we could do less or more time if desired.  You should also discuss overtime fees, meaning an extra charge if you’re kept waiting in excess of X amount of time or if you are asked on the spot to perform for an additional amount of time.

The length of show may also determine how many people you want to include in the show.  I generally only work with one other person, but for a longer show, say 40 minutes to an hour, I would start to suggest bringing in additional entertainers.  The client may already have an idea of how many entertainers they want and maybe even specify the desired gender of the entertainers, but they will likely request this without you having to ask about it.

-What is the type of event?

Is it in someone’s backyard?  Is it for a large corporation?  This can help you with what to expect in terms of audience reaction, e.g. certain pieces of your monologue might work better on an audience of bachelor party attendees than high profile businessmen at a corporate fundraiser.  This can also give you a rough guess of what the client might be able to afford so that you might offer a 15-minute show rather than a 30-minute show to someone just throwing a backyard shindig.  You should find out if there is any type of theme or special occasion:  is it a luau? Wedding? Halloween show? Or even a Monster-High-themed LED show?  (That was a real request, by the way, and I’m glad to say I had to google what a Monster High was).  This will in turn determine your music, choreography, the props you use, etc.  Juggling torches are awesome, but do they belong in a luau show?  Probably not.

And then sometimes you put on a coconut bra.  Subject:  Liz Knights.  Photographer: Adrian Feliciano

And then sometimes you put on a coconut bra. Subject: Liz Knights. Photographer: Adrian Feliciano

-How many guests are going to be at the event?

Is this going to be a show for 10 people or 10,000 people?  If there are only a handful of people, more intimate things like fire eating might work better whereas you might need to use bigger fire props if there are going to be huge crowds.  If there are only 10 people, you might not need a mic for any spoken portion of your performance, whereas you probably would to reach 10,000 people.  This also might determine whether you need personnel for crowd control as well as barriers.  By the way, if you’re performing in a grassy area and need a visual barrier, garden stakes coupled with caution tape are a great and inexpensive option.


Andrew Insect in a baseball stadium. Photographer: JC Photography

-What is the age range of the guests?  

This is mostly to find out if there will be any kids in the audience, meaning you’ll need to keep it family-friendly in terms of music and costuming.  If the event is mainly for kids, you’ll want to get even more specific about the ages because what’s cool music to an 8 year-old is decidedly not cool music to a 15 year-old.

Also, speaking of costuming, you will want to discuss with the client what type of costuming they are looking for.  This may be dictated by the theme of the event, but you definitely at least want to find out what they want given a scale of family-friendly to downright kinky.  I did a gig recently where the client specified “sexy, but not too sexy because last time we were at this venue, the governor showed up.”  Roger that.  No bootie shorts.

-What will the stage consist of, both in terms of material and size?  

Will you be performing on a pedestal in the middle of a club?  On the bow of a boat?  These things matter a lot.  They may determine the length of show you can do if the stage constraints limit which props you can use.  Make sure to find out if there are any overhead obstructions/ceiling height if you are indoors.  If you’re doing fire indoors, read more here about how to proceed with that as safely as possible.  

Oh shit, get your towels ready. It's about to go down. Subject:  Liz Knights.  Photographer:  Jeffrey Stolzberg.

Oh shit, get your towels ready. It’s about to go down. Subject: Liz Knights. Photographer: Jeffrey Stolzberg.

-Will there be food and drink available on site?

I generally don’t worry about including food in the contract because I’m allergic to everything under the sun, but you can definitely ask the client to provide food and water.    I find that most clients tend to offer this anyway, and, more often than not, you’ll probably be performing at an event where food is being served, so it won’t be difficult for them to just give you some of it.  

-Do you have your own DJ/sound system you would like us to use or should we bring our own?

In some cases you will need to send your music files to the client ahead of time.   Always have a backup CD/mp3 player in case!  If you need to be able to plug in your sound system, make sure they have an electrical outlet/extension cord that can accommodate this.

-Is there a backup indoor location for an LED or unlit show in case of bad weather?

You will want to inform the client that weather can affect your ability to perform (assuming an outdoor fire show).  Not every client will realize that rain equates to fire and LED being no-go’s.  I’ve had my fair share of clients who thought we could do our LED show in the rain if we couldn’t do fire (why anyone would want to stand there in the rain and watch us is beyond me), but, yeah, okay, I’ll do that if you’re also willing to pay to replace my broken waterlogged LED props after the fact.  If you do fire manipulation that can be affected by wind conditions (i.e. fire eating/fleshing/breathing), you’ll likely want to forewarn your client of the possibility that you will not be able to do these things in the event of harsh wind conditions.  Note where the gig is located.  If it’s right on the ocean, say, there’s a higher chance that wind is gonna mess with you.  Typically, my partner and I require 24-hour notice for a change in plans owing to weather at which point the client can either reschedule the performance or still pay us the entirety of our rate.

Lauren Beth Stein is prepared for any weather!  Photographer: Tom Pecart

Lauren Beth Stein is prepared for any weather! Photographer: Tom Pecart

-Would you like fries with that?

Okay, not fries per se, but this is your opportunity to upsell aspects of your show.  Perhaps they would like some fire roving as guests enter the building in addition to the feature LED show or they would like to have fire breathing in the show for an additional cost.

-What is your contact information?

If the client is reaching out initially via phone, don’t forget to get their email address and vice versa.  

-Who will be my point of contact the night of and what is their contact info?

This will most likely be the person who initially contacted you about the gig, signed the contract, etc., but that’s not always the case.  Also, if there’s any question as to the cell phone reception, inquire about that as well.  I have a gig coming up this weekend in a part of Maine called Mount Desert Island.  When I heard “Desert Island,” I couldn’t help but worry a bit about how many bars my cell phone I was going to get.  The client confirmed my suspicions that reception was generally bad although fortunately not for one particular carrier which happens to be the one I have.  Still, I’ve been at other gigs in places like West Bumfuck, MA where we were supposed to be the surprise entertainment, and we get there and neither of our cell phones work so we have to kind of sneak around trying to find our point of contact without anyone noticing us.

On a complete side note, my favorite point of contact story (really only New Englanders will appreciate this) was when I was given a phone number and the name “Elliott,” and the night of the gig, I’m on the phone with Elliott, letting him know we’ve arrived, he says he’s just run out to get something and will be back at the venue shortly, and when he gets there, I realize that the whole time I had been talking to Elliott Jordan of Jordan’s Furniture.  He’s a really nice guy, by the way!

-Where can I go to unload my things and park?  

You should try to ensure that there is some place close to your actual performance location to unload all of your equipment.  I know that we practically fill up an entire car considering our props, fuel, sound system, etc., so it isn’t practical to be lugging all that stuff across an entire fairground, say.  Ask the client to reserve a parking spot for you as well.  I’ve found that for gigs in the city, you’re kind of on your own in that regard.  If you know you’re going to be shelling out big bucks for parking, just include that in your rates.

-Are there are any special directions for finding the location?

Have you ever gotten lost on your way to a gig?  I have.  It isn’t fun.

Some of these questions don’t need to be discussed immediately, but you’ll want to cover them at some point.  Don’t leave them until the last second or you’ll wind up looking forgetful and unprofessional.  Once you’ve gathered the answers to all the relevant questions, you’ll want to discuss rates and the deposit which you should then solidify in a contract.  Let the client know their options  (cash? check? Paypal?) for paying and to whom they should be giving/sending the payment.  If it’s a corporation, they may also need you to fill out a w9 for tax purposes.

So that’s my list.  Have any questions?  You better; I just gave you a ton 😛

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Elizabeth Knights

Liz is a circus performer and teacher. She works with numerous spinning props, specializing in poi, partner poi and fans. She manages a monthly column on performance in the flow arts called "The Art of Performance" for F.I.R.E. Magazine. Liz performs both LED and fire dancing at Cirque de Light