Theater Rider

No brown M&M's

In theater, dance, and live musical performances, a rider is a set of requests or demands that a performer sets as criteria for performance, which are typically fulfilled by the hosting venue. Some rider requirements are attempts to avoid specific problems from previous shows. Some venues cut corners to save expense, leaving the touring crew with inedible food, etc. ‘Unreasonable requests’ (if legal) can be contractual obligations. Failure to meet such terms can compel performance fees to be paid without a performance.

Riders typically include hospitality and technical sections. Since the 2010s, inclusion riders, which provide for certain levels of diversity in casting and production staff, are used in the film and television industry.

The hospitality rider is a list of requests for the comfort of the artist on the day of the show. Common requests include specific foods and beverages (typically ice and water, but sometimes alcoholic beverages), fresh towels, transportation and hotels, a runner (a person or persons hired to act as a personal shopper/driver for band and crew needs), a number of complimentary (‘comp’) tickets or guest lists (free tickets for friends and family), security personnel and/or locking rooms, and access to a private bathroom and/or shower.

The technical rider specifies the types of equipment to be used, the staff to be provided, and other arrangements directly relating to the performance, such as an input list, which will highlight every single stage connection that the engineer is going to be making and it gives them an idea of how many channels are going to be required of them for the show and a stage plot, a rough block diagram that shows where each band member is going to be placed on the stage.

Examples of other typical technical requests include the specify a make of piano (e.g., Steinway) and a standard of tuning for the instrument; larger items like amps, cabs, and drums are more likely to be requested than guitars, which many musicians treat more personally. Requested sound reinforcement systems (microphones, signal processors, amplifiers, and loudspeakers in enclosures all controlled by a mixing console) are generally described in terms such as ‘a professional quality 3 or 4 way active system. Frequency response (e.g., 45 Hz-20 kHz) and power (either in wattage or dB SPL) specifications are also common. Lighting requirements may list  the number and type of follow spotlights to be used, the number of lighting technicians, and power requirements.

On occasion, an artist’s rider may be seen as unreasonable or excessive for a given performance. It is often the case that such riders were devised for larger or more complex performances. In situations like these, the stage manager would talk with the band manager about alternatives. Some requests or requirements are used to avoid certain conditions and small venues (e.g., if an act is required to perform as a condition of grant money). Such clauses make it difficult to put on a show and/or limit production quality. An example could be a ballet choreographed for a 60 feet by 60 feet stage. Adapting to a smaller stage could require removal of vital parts of the performance. Another example is asking for an unnecessarily large power supply.

Some rider requirements are attempts to avoid specific problems from previous shows. Some venues cut corners to save expense, leaving the touring crew with inedible food, etc. ‘Unreasonable requests’ (if legal) can be contractual obligations. Failure to meet such terms can compel performance fees to be paid without a performance.

Van Halen requested in the technical rider that a bowl of M&M’s be provided in their dressing room with the brown ones removed. Failure to do so would not only mean that the band would not perform, but the venue would still have to pay the full fee. The objective of this was not due to any excesses on the part of the band, but was a method to determine how much attention to detail the crew at a local venue paid to the requests specified in the rider. Should the bowl be absent, or if brown M&M’s were present, it would give band members reason to suspect other, legitimate, technical and safety issues were also being performed poorly or were outright overlooked. David Lee Roth stated in his autobiography that this request was made as a result of faulty workmanship at a venue on an earlier tour which nearly cost the life of a member of Van Halen’s road crew. He added that at Colorado State University-Pueblo, where he found brown M&M’s, the management’s failure to read weight requirements in the rider resulted in the band’s equipment sinking through the floor and causing over $80,000 of damage.

Johnny Cash required an American flag on stage. Paul McCartney requested a sweep of the venue by bomb-sniffing dogs before the show. Elton John required that his dressing room be kept at ’60 °F (16 °C) in summer and 70 °F (21 °C) in winter.’ Deadmau5 requested an inflatable pool toy at all of his performances for use during the show. Laibach requested for a 1980s tour that the venue provide a deer head with antlers to use as a stage prop. Lady Gaga requested for her performance at BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend that her dressing room be covered in Union Flag bunting, Pimm’s and fish and chips with battered Mars bars to be served and, most unusually, her staff to speak in Cockney accents for the entire event. Michael Bublé who is an avid ice hockey fan since childhood, requires ‘one local team hockey puck’ in his dressing room as part of his rider contract to concert promoters in every city.

Guns N’ Roses lead singer Axl Rose gained attention by the extensive and sometimes bizarre requirements in his rider document, which include a cubic melon, seven types of cheese, six lamps, a rug and two bear shaped pots of honey. Until 2010, he also demanded his dressing room to be all black and decorated with red and white roses. The Wonder Years singer Dan ‘Soupy’ Campbell stated in a video interview with Rock Sound that they had put Hi-C Ecto Cooler on their rider as a joke, but once they got to an unnamed college in the UK, a woman on the staff apologized to the members of the band for not being able to locate the drink, due to it being discontinued, and so found the list of ingredients, compared them to modern juice drinks and found a near equivalent, before the band revealed to her that it was indeed a joke.

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