Performers' quirky requests are just part of the game

August 30, 1994|By Carol Rust | Carol Rust,Houston Chronicle

Cookies and milk for the entire Vienna Boys Choir? Seven nuns, hold the stage fright? Three Czech beers, set side by side in special glasses?

June Christensen rarely registers surprise anymore at the requests she gets from performers as director of operations for the Houston Society for the Performing Arts.

The culprit is what she refers to as the "tech rider," or a clause in performers' contracts that specifies technical needs, such as stage equipment, instrument stands or special props. It can include snacks and meals, cars, a certain type of hotel room and sometimes outright quirks from quirky performers.

"If these people have been on the road for months and there is something we can do to make their lives happier, we will go the extra mile to do it for them," she says.

"If Mikhail Baryshnikov wants to go golfing while he's here [he did], I'll try to find him a golf partner [the limo driver who picked him up]."

Violinist Itzhak Perlman's pianist always wants a plain cheese sandwich on white bread, followed by a chocolate candy bar, before he performs.

When monologuist Spalding Gray comes to town, Ms. Christensen marks everything else off her calendar.

During his 90-minute monologue, Mr. Gray sits at a special table, in a special chair, sipping water from time to time from a special glass. Before he arrives in Houston, Ms. Christensen has already scoped out a couple of possible table and chair sources at antique dealers and scheduled an hourlong Shiatsu massage for the day of his performance.

The day before, she takes him around town and he selects his prop table and chair. He selects the glass from which he sips water while he's onstage, as well as three glasses that Ms. Christensen will fill with Czech beer (Pilsner Urquell) shortly before his performance is over (so that they're ready for him to drink immediately after he walks offstage).

Ms. Christensen has that part down. But Mr. Gray, who affects a homey, rumpled look for his performance that includes a plaid shirt with a white T-shirt underneath, almost stumped her last April when he handed her a thin, black, ribbed sock and said he needed another one like it. He'd lost the other one, he told her, and that was the only kind of sock he performed in.

Ms. Christensen took a big gulp when she read the technical rider for the White project, choreographed by the New York-based Ann Carlson.

Among other things, Ms. Carlson said she had to have six ballet dancers, six modern dancers, five visually impaired people, 25 grade-school children and seven nuns for the performance.

Ms. Christensen put notices in parish newsletters and contacted the assistant to the archbishop in Seattle, where the performance premiered, to get his blessing.

By show time, she had nuns to spare.

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