Being near the bottom of the entertainment food chain is sometimes a really desperate / weird / irritating place to be, but at least its not THE bottom. I always thought that jugglers took precedence over clowns and mimes, but I recently had a gig that placed me below a mere PART of a mime, a performer playing a HEAD OF LETTUCE on a table in a buffet line. What follows are the sordid details:
I got a call from Larry Keough, a fellow performer here in southern California who does mostly mime and folk-singing, with a little juggling on the side. He wanted to know if I was available to work a walk-around job with him at the La Costa Resort & Spa, a world-famous relaxation destination for the pampered elite in nearby Carlsbad, CA. It would be a quick 3 hours and include a 15 minute show. Since that evening, a Wednesday, was a lousy night for TV watching, I agreed to join him.
Larry and I have done team juggling a few times before and have always managed to muddle our way through. I figured we'd just do the same thing this time -- no big deal. Famous last words...
We arrived an hour early (Hello!?!), as requested by the booker, to find a rectangular circus tent set up behind the spa's tennis courts. Inside was a single center ring surrounded by tables. On one side was a small stage with a podium that read "MCI Consumer Markets" and where "Joe," our contact person, was setting up his magic props. Larry had told me earlier that the gig was actually booked by "Dum Dum" Productions, one of the cheesiest party-planning agencies in San Diego and definitely NOT known for quick payment of their acts. Rick, the on-site "Dum Dum" representative, approached us and handed us some VERY interesting copy directed to "all entertainers performing in the MCI Cirque de Excellence Theme Party," which included the following "Items to take note of:"
1. Please do not eat or drink inside the tent during the function. If you need water, please let a "Dum Dum" or "Surfside" rep. know. (It turns out that the party was actually being overseen for La Costa and MCI by a company called "PIG" -- Production International Group, the parent company of "Surfside," who brought in some "Dum Dum" talent including "Joe," who called Larry, who called ME! Sheesh! No wonder it takes so long to get paid around here! By the way, who do we talk to if we have to PEE?).
2. Please interact continuously with the guests, but be careful not to go overboard and offend them in any way. (Who have you people been hiring lately? Don Rickles?).
3. They may be a tough crowd, but please, no heckling or badgering the participants. (Does self-defense count on this one? You'll see what I mean later...).
4. No product jokes regarding telephone companies, MCI or their competitors, etc. This is not appropriate for this group. (Guess I won't be juggling these seven "calling circles" after all. Bummer).
As Larry stifled a giggle and I recalled the Damp Rabbit in Singapore, Rick informed us that we were scheduled to do TWO 15 minute sets in the center ring. Needless to say, we were not happy to hear that since we had only slapped together enough material for ONE lame performance. We realized that this was going to take a bit more effort than we had planned. How could we kill another 15 minutes in the ring? Luckily, we were able to borrow some taped calliope music from the organ-grinder (it was a circus -- of course there was a monkey man!) and then worked out our intros with the ringmaster. Shortly, as we tried to loosen up with a little club- passing, one of the MANY on-site "reps" explained that the fire marshal would not allow Larry's 3-torch fire juggling. Lovely! We're standing on concrete covered with wet indoor-outdoor carpeting and they say no fire. Guess we'll just have to stretch the first set even more (now, where did I leave those animal balloons?...).
Larry and I wandered the tent in a daze, anxiously waiting for the party to begin and contemplating all the last minute changes and surprises. Nearby, Vernon Ballesteros was preparing to take his place as a "head of lettuce" in the buffet line. He would be sticking his head, painted a wonderful shade of green, through a hole in the table and wearing a helmet of foam lettuce leaves. Vernon, a fellow San Diego performer whom Larry and I have both worked with in the past, had proudly told the two of us earlier in the parking lot that he had booked HIS gig directly through the "Surfside" company and would be "talking produce" for only TWO hours of the party. Man, I never thought I'd be ranked lower than lettuce...
Well, to finish up this whine-tasting tale, Larry and I made it through our 3-hour gauntlet of dodging drunk revelers, but not before they started throwing the party decorations at each other -- literally. The tables had all been adorned with bunches of helium-filled balloons, tied with colorful ribbons to water-filled balloon "weights" to keep them in place. By the third hour of carousing, someone got the adolescent idea of throwing the base-balloons back and forth. Soon, everyone had detached the balloon bouquets from their tethers and began sailing water balloons at each other across the center ring. A lighting rack had been hung across the top of the ring to illuminate the acts performing below. Now the rack served as a goal post for tipsy water-bomb tossers and, yes, the inevitable did finally occur. A forceful pass slammed a water grenade directly into the lighting bar. Liquid drenched the web of electrical cords but, luckily, no sparks or power outages accompanied the dousing. At last, the ringmaster mercifully announced that the circus was over and the festivities would continue elsewhere.
The attendees staggered out. Larry and I drove home. We expect our checks in time for Thanksgiving.