I was interviewed this week for a column on Playbill.com about how dressing rooms are distributed on Broadway.
At the end of the article I talk about “extras” that agents often try to get tossed into contracts: couches, microwaves, TVs, VCRs, humidifiers, expensive wallpaper, plants, refrigerators, shag carpeting, air purifiers, bottled water. I’ve even seen a few “dressing room designers” in my day.
The problem with these requests is two-fold:
1 – They cost money. Duh.
I’m a big fan of spending money on things that the audience is going to see. Wouldn’t it suck to have to tell your set designer that he can’t have that extra drop, knowing that you just spent $20k on a dressing room that is empty most of the day? (The funny thing is, the great and dedicated actors would probably rather you spend the money on the show . . . it’s the agent that gets in the way. I often say that to the agent . . . “Sure, your client can have a new tiled bathroom, but when we can’t give her the dress she wants in Act II, you can tell her why.”)
2 – The bigger problem I have with these “extra” requests is that they are often a prime example of the negotiating tactic that I call “the nibble”.
The biggest issue with any deal is money, right? So that is usually done first. Haggling about money can last for days, weeks, even months, depending on how complicated you want to get. Just when you’re done, and you are patting yourself on the back because you came in on budget, the agent says, “there are just a few more things.”
Did you feel that?
Like a fish on your leg when you’re standing in a lake.
“We need a private dressing room with a couch, paint, microwave, TV (with cable), a phone installed . . . ”
“Oh, and car service, weekly massage, makeup reimbursement . . .”
I call it the nibble because the requests are usually relatively small, in terms of the big picture. They are too small to jeopardize the whole deal, and psychologically, you’re most likely in a place where you just want to finish it so you end up saying yes. They are only little things, right? Piranhas wouldn’t kill you with one bite. It’d be whole bunch of little ones.
To protect yourself from being eaten alive, make a point of asking the agent or the lawyer (ewww) up front for all of the client’s requests. It doesn’t mean you have to grant them. And it doesn’t mean you won’t, either. In some cases, you’re going to have to provide the custom cabinetry, the dog-walker, and the green M&Ms. But you need to know in advance, before you settle on a salary, so you can determine what you can truly afford.
So get all the details out on the table so you can call the agent on it if they try and nibble at you later. And don’t be afraid to say no if you can get away with it. Do you think someone would turn down a job over a microwave?
They may seem like little things. But remember, a bunch of little things, add up to one big one.