Talking To The Parent On The Phone
Houston, We Have A Problem Child
Entertaining At Large Parties
Entertaining At Small Parties
Birthday Parties In Public Places
TALKING TO THE PARENT ON THE PHONE
The phone rings and you answer. The parents asks "How much do you charge for birthday parties?" You answer with a dollar amount. The parent thanks you and hangs up.
But wait, you think, I didn't get a chance to tell what my party is all about.
Does this sound familiar? If so, let’s explore different ways of handling the conversations on the phone to turn them to your advantage and increase the percentage of parties that you book. It is all in the way you talk to the parent on the phone.
First of all, if a person is "shopping", that means they are going down the list of entertainers in the phone book and are looking for the best buy. Most of them do not realize that the "best price" is not necessarily the "best buy". They do not understand that every party is different. How will they know if you don’t tell them?
How do you get this information to the parent who calls for a price? You take control of the phone conversation. When they ask "how much do you charge?", do not assume they are referring to a birthday party. After all, they may be calling about a large corporate event, a shopping mall grand opening or an upcoming festival. First, you must ask "what type of event are you planning?" which puts you in control of the conversation. Now, they will start to answer your questions; and, in doing so, they will learn all about what you offer.
Once you are sure they are calling for a price for a birthday party, ask if it is for a child or an adult. Again, these are two different types of entertaining. They will usually tell you it is for their child and your next question is "boy or girl?" and "how old?" Next, "how many children are you inviting?"
By now, you have engaged the parent in this conversation. You know the age, boy or girl, how many children to expect and you are on your way. This is very important information, as your parties should be different if you are catering to a one year-old’s party as opposed to a 8 year-old’s birthday. Also, your prices may reflect a change depending on whether there will be 8-10 children as opposed to 25-30 children. How often have you simply answered a parent’s question on how much you charge with a basic dollar amount only to find out the party should have been quoted at a much higher price once you found out the details. Getting the information from the parent before you quote the price alleviates this problem.
Another important necessity here is to know your prices ahead of time and WRITE THEM DOWN. Take a few minutes to figure out how much you are going to charge for a party that is "in town" or close to you as opposed to a party 45 minutes to an hour away. Do you want to charge a slightly higher fee for more children? If so, figure out where the price differences will be. My basic fee is for a party in town, for 10 children or less for 1 hour. The price goes up slightly if they are out of town, if there will be 11-15 children, 16-20 children, etc. There is an added charge if I add 30 minutes of face painting. This "schedule of fees" should be written down and taped next to your telephone. That way, when a parent calls you and asks your price, you have it right in front of you. I have been clowning for 16 years and I still have my price list in front of me at all times. You never know what project you will be in the middle of when someone calls. Your mind may be a million miles away and suddenly you need to quote a price for an out-of-town party for 35-40 children for 2 hours. If your price list is there, you can give an intelligent answer. The worst thing is to "hem and haw" when asked a question. It makes you sound unprofessional and unsure of yourself. Do not put yourself in that position.
All right, let’s get back to the conversation. You know whether it is a boy or girl, how old and how many guests will be there. The next thing you need to do is let the parent know what you will do at the party. Once they hear about your wonderful program, they can envision it happening for their little one’s birthday. When you are finished describing your "show", you can quote your fee. If you offer any options / choices, now is the time to explain those and their extra fees (if applicable).
Now, the parent knows all about what you do and has had an opportunity to talk with you for a few minutes, thereby getting a clearer picture of who you are and what your personality is. This would not have happened if you had simply given them a price at the beginning of the conversation.
Often a parent who is looking for the "best price" will book a higher priced entertainer once they find out what will happen at the party. And, if they are truly checking around, they will hear what the other entertainers offer for their price and then truly make their decision based on "best buy" for "best price". But you must get your "foot in the door" at the beginning of the conversation to get their attention, ask the right questions, thereby giving yourself the opportunity to quote them the right price.
Talking to the parent on the phone is one of the most important parts of promoting yourself and your business. Always remember to have a smile in your voice when answering the phone. Too often, I hear parents tell me that the last clown they talked with on the phone sounded "grumpy" or "disinterested" or just plain "not funny". I am not saying you need to crack jokes while on the phone, but your voice must reflect the love and enthusiasm you have for what you are doing.
Also, seriously consider a separate business phone line. When that phone rings, you know for sure that it is a business call and you can answer with more than "hello". Also, if the call comes at a truly hectic time, you can let the voice mail pick up and you can get back to the parent when you are ready to be professional. Another hint…if you can not book a party because you have a dentist appointment, or you are having lunch with a friend or you want to go shopping that day, do not tell the parent this information as an excuse. Simply tell the parent you are already booked for that time and go from there. If a parent wants you on a certain day, they are more understanding that you are already booked at another event rather than the fact that you would rather go to lunch with a friend than entertain at their child’s birthday party.
I try to never lose sight of the fact that as Peppermint I am being invited into someone’s home to help them celebrate a very special event - the birth of their child. I count myself lucky to be included in this private occasion. By treating the party from start to finish with respect and professionalism, you will, in turn, earn their respect and appreciation.
Talking with the parent on the phone can be lots of fun. Never put any pressure on a parent to book. Never speak negatively about another entertainer. Never get upset with a parent. If you always leave the door open, they can come back to you the next time they need to book a party. If you sound like you know what you are doing, they will pass the word along to their friends and your business will grow accordingly.
Most important is to have fun!
HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM CHILD….
One of the most common concerns that a clown may have is how to deal with a problem child at an event, especially at a birthday party. Because of the small, confined area of a party, one or two over-active children can be disruptive. What is the best way to handle these situations? Let’s explore several ideas.
There are many reasons why a child might be a "problem". Quite often, this is the one who just needs a little attention. The simple solution is to acknowledge them, give them a moment, listen and then continue with the party. If a child gets long-winded (i.e. describing the latest Disney movie in detail), tell them you will have more time for them after the show or maybe while doing balloons (so as not to disrupt the flow of your activities or show).
Then there is the child who needs more than acknowledgment. Bringing them up to the performance area to help with a magic trick or to assist you may help in quieting them down. Of course, don’t let this child take too much attention away from the birthday child. There are times when a party guest is much louder and more aggressive than the birthday child. You will need to concentrate your efforts to keep the focus on the right person. If necessary, bring the birthday child up first and then let the guest assist both of you.
Once in awhile, you will have one of those children that can be a big problem (i.e. hitting other children or you, grabbing your props and running away with them, shouting at the top of their lungs to drown everyone out, etc.)! How do you deal with them? First, I try to acknowledge them. Sometimes they are entirely too disruptive to cooperate. When that happens, I remind them that they need to "find their manners," because, anyone who has lost their manners will be the last one to get a balloon. If they don’t settle down, stick to your promise and let everyone else have a balloon first. This is not "challenging" the problem child; it is giving them limits and consequences in a nice, but firm manner.
Some years ago, I had just arrived at a party. Immediately, the children surrounded me as we walked into the living room. I felt myself get kicked in the leg, and thought it was an accident. When we got into the room, I got kicked again and noticed the little boy who did it. I gently reminded him to be careful, so that no one would get hurt. When everyone sat down, he kept jumping up, trying to step on my shoes, aggressively trying to look into my trunk, was very loud and generally attempting to focus the party on himself in a negative way.
I was concerned he would hurt himself or someone else. I asked him nicely several times to sit down on the carpet. When that didn’t work, I closed my trunk lid and sat down on top of it. Looking very concerned, I explained to him that I didn’t want his fingers to get caught in the trunk lid when it closed and, if he was moving around, I might accidentally step on his fingers. Undaunted, he continued.
This time, I sat down and addressed all of the children. I explained how sorry I was that I couldn’t continue until "Steven" settled down because I was afraid someone would get hurt. The children, then, became the disciplinarians and, as a group, used peer pressure to get him to stop. I had no more problems with him at all.
Set some boundaries before the show starts. Lay a rope on the floor and explain that the area behind it is for them, while the area in front of the rope is for you. Suggest to the parent ahead of time to lay blankets on the floor and have the children sit on those. This becomes the "audience area" and keeps them from encroaching into your ‘stage area."
The age of the children can also make a difference in how to deal with the disrupter. Younger ones (2-8 years) fall into the suggestions above. Middle school-age children can be an entirely different matter. They are at an in-between age where they don’t believe everything they see; they will try to correct your "clown mistakes" and try to act wise for their years.
You may be surprised at a party for 3-4 year-olds when a much older cousin or neighbor shows up. Be prepared to have something in your bag of tricks for just such times. Another possible problem is when they start to guess how everything is done and begin every new trick with "I know how you’re doing that". Then it is time to give them some grown-up attention. I usually stop and ask how old they are. When they tell me, I say "No wonder you are figuring things out. At your age, you can not only figure out the magic trick, but you could do it, too. But, let’s not spoil it for the others sitting around you by telling them how it’s done. You can tell me your ideas later and we can talk about them." This way, you are giving them some attention and also respect for their age and intelligence. I have never had a problem with an older child after that.
Other situations to consider with birthday parties are what time of the day it is and the location. If it is starting right after school lets out, the children have a lot of pent-up energy that needs to be released. Keep that in mind when you are planning those parties. Play some game(s) that have them using up some of that energy in a positive way. If the party is at a public location, such as park or fast food restaurant, and it has a wonderful play structure, recommend to the parent ahead of time that the children have some free play time before you arrive.
I want to emphasize that you should never get into a verbal dispute with a child. You cannot win. First, children do not argue reasonably, especially at a party in front of their friends. Second, even if you succeed in proving your point, it will have cast a negative cloud over the party.
Several years ago, I had another clown tell me that he was at a birthday party and encountered a heckler. When he couldn’t get the child to settle down, he issued an ultimatum: "If you don’t behave, I will have to leave. So, do you want me to leave?" Fortunately for everyone, the child cooperated. I asked the clown what he would have done if they’d said yes, they wanted him to leave? He answered that he would have left the party! Never ask that type of question to children. They might not give you the answer you want. You have been hired by a parent to entertain their child and his/her friends. You do not have the option of giving control of whether you stay or leave to a preschooler.
Sometimes, the parent(s) will step in and help; at other times they are too busy (with other parents, getting the cake, etc.) and it is up to you to take care of things. Use your imagination, common sense and be gentle but consistent in your expectations of their behavior. Let them know what is acceptable and what is not, and stick to it.
Remember that having a problem child is not a regular common occurrence. The percentage of disruptive children at parties is small compared to the parties that run smoothly and fun. If you are experiencing disruptive children on a regular basis, you might want to reevaluate your show. Perhaps it needs some fine-tuning to keep the children interested and involved.
Above all, relax and have fun with the children at your parties – remember always to be professional!
Entertaining at LARGE Parties
"…and how many guests are you expecting at the party?"
This is a very important question that needs to be asked. The answer can have a great impact on how you will entertain at that party. The average birthday party consists of 10 - 15 children; therefore, you must take it into consideration if there will be 25, 50 or 125 guests attending.
The main show portion of your party, which may consist of comedy magic, puppetry, children’s songs, etc., does not change significantly with the number of children there. This is due to the fact that you are entertaining them all at the same time. You may delete one magic trick or choose the type of songs that you sing to accommodate the larger group; but your basic show remains unchanged.
You will need to make adjustments at any time you are dealing with the children on a one-to-one basis. This might be balloon animals, certain types of games, face painting, skits, etc. Let’s look at making balloon animals. Generally speaking, single balloon animals take 1 to 1-1/2 minutes per child, depending on the complexity of the animal you are making. If there are 12 children at the party, you need to allow 15 minutes for balloons. The more children there are, the more time you need to allot for this activity.
How do you handle making balloons for 30 kids? One option is to offer only the balloons that take you 30 - 45 seconds to make (single basic balloon sculptures like swords, wiener dogs, etc.). This can be done very quickly for each child. Another option is to make up half of the balloons ahead of time and take them with you to the party. As you pull them out of the bag, you ask "who wants a bunny?", "who wants a kitty?", etc. and pass them out. Then you can quickly make the other 12 - 15 balloons within the time you normally allow for this part of your hour show.
If you play games, you will need to focus on games that everyone can play at the same time and in place to speed things up. If you have ever tried to play "pin the nose on the clown" with more than 8 children, you know to avoid those types of games with large groups. Everyone does things a little differently, but I personally choose to never play games at parties that require one-on-one play.
My favorites are two game ideas I got from Bruce "Charlie" Johnson. Because my main show consists of comedy magic, these types of games are a nice lead-in to the magic show. The first is to take three magic coloring books and use them like the old "peanut under the walnut shell" game. The twist on this is, when the children choose the wrong book, you take the blame by saying there are too many books, removing them one at a time. In the end, when the color disappears, you suddenly "realize" that they have played a game on you by taking the color out and putting it back into one of the discarded books. You let them tell you which book they put it in; and, of course, they are right!
The other is a wonderful magic game Bruce created called "ABC-ESP". With this game, you teach the kids how to "read people’s minds". The birthday child gets to choose one card and, without letting anyone see it, gets everyone to know which one it is by looking through the ABC book one more time. The guests figure it out and, at the conclusion, they all get a big round of applause for knowing the right answer. It never fails and they all succeed. These are both non-competitive games where everybody plays in place, at the same time and all are winners.
Face painting is an option that I offer for each party. As soon as I hear how many children are expected, I know how much extra time I need to a allow for this activity. If you know that it takes you 2 to 2-1/2 minutes per face, you can plan accordingly. You can paint 10 - 15 faces easily in 30 minutes. However, if the number starts to climb, you need to either allow more time or make some adjustments. For example, learn how to streamline your face paint designs to go more quickly. I normally offer a choice of every face design that I paint. However, when there are a lot of children at a party, I offer only the ones I know I can do very quickly (cat, bunny, pirate, dog, etc.). I try to stay away from the ones that require covering the whole face or a lot of "fill in" or details (cheetah, Batman, Simba the Lion King, etc.). Also, instead of giving them a choice of 15 different colors of face glitter, I use only one color. I also will paint "twins" and "triplets". If 2 or 3 children want to be a 101 Dalmatian, I paint them all at the same time.
Because I specialize in full face designs, this is the style that I promote when booking the party. Therefore, it is not an option for me to paint a small heart or other simple design in order to save time when entertaining large numbers of children (unless, of course, that is the only kind of design a child wants…I never force them to have full face designs). But, if you normally paint the "tattoo" styles, you can cut your time by simplifying your designs too. For example, if you offer hearts, balloons and swords with snakes, they go much quicker than unicorns, dragons and roses.
Birthday parties which are held in a child’s classroom may involve 20 - 25 children. Always request that a teacher stay in the room during the party, because they know the children and are aware of any behavior "situations" that might come up. Classroom birthday parties will offer a broader spectrum of personalities than you normally encounter at a private, home party. This is due to the fact that there will be children who normally won’t be invited to a home party, due to their personality, attention deficit disorders, etc.
Several years ago, there were 28 children in a 7 year-old birthday boy’s classroom. In the front row, there was James, a boy who literally could not sit still. He kept jumping up, running to where I was and loudly disrupting what was going on with the party. He wouldn’t even allow us to sing "Happy Birthday" unless he stood up front right next to the birthday boy and me. The birthday boy’s parents were in the back of the classroom looking panicked and helpless, not knowing what to do. Judging by the other children’s reactions, this was typical behavior for James. I stopped and asked the children where the teacher was, because I had a question and I knew she would have the answer because, after all, she was the teacher. They informed me that she had left the room but, they assured me they would let me know the minute she returned. True to their word, I was told moments later that she was back. I called her over and expressed my concern that someone might get hurt if he kept jumping up and hurling himself at others (me included). She immediately went over to James and was able to take care of the situation. The rest of the party went smoothly.
I think it is wonderful when a parent decides to include all of the classmates in this type of party. But keep in mind that the teacher is better equipped in knowing how to handle the child who cannot sit still for more than a few minutes, no matter what you do. Take advantage of their being there to help.
Sometimes a school party wants all of the "same grade" classes included. This may increase the number at the party to 125+ children. In situations like this, offer to do your "show" (i.e. magic, puppetry, children’s songs, etc.) for all of them, then go to the birthday child’s personal classroom and do any one-on-one activities (i.e. balloons, face painting, etc.).
Also, be aware that schools have their own set of rules. Check with the teachers or school administration ahead of time if you have any questions as to whether what you do will be allowed. I recently entertained at a school that did not allow balloons. So, I was given permission by the teacher to make the balloons, write their names on them and they were placed on a shelf to go home with them later in the day.
The largest "at home" birthday party I entertained at was this past Summer. When I asked the mother how many children she was expecting, she replied that she was inviting 90! Her daughter was turning 5 years old and had requested 100 children. The mother was concerned that her daughter would be disappointed that she had not invited the full amount. I gently asked if she thought her daughter would notice the difference. She laughed and said "probably not" and relaxed. She was also hiring pony rides and inflatable toy structures, so we decided that two clowns would be needed. The little birthday girl was a sweetheart and all of her friends were well mannered and fun to be around. It turned out to be a very nice party. How different it would have been if I had not asked ahead of time how many children were expected. I hesitate to think what a "surprise" it would have been to arrive at the party expecting the normal 10 - 15 children only to find 85 - 90!
It definitely helps to know the number of children ahead of time, so you can present a clear picture to the parent about what will happen at the party while you are there. In addition, you can plan and pack for your party confident that your show will be suitable for the number of guests attending.
Most important, have fun!
Entertaining at small Parties
Birthday parties come in all sizes, from average, approximately 8-15 children, to large, up to 90 or more (see May/June 1997 issue) But my favorite is the smaller party which can be anywhere from 3 to 7 children. Let’s take a look at what can be done to make even the smallest party successful.
First of all, having a small number of children makes it into a more intimate gathering of friends. There are a number of ways to make your normal show work just fine. In the last article, we talked about entertaining at large parties where the main portion of your show is unchanged while the one-on-one activities need attention to encompass all of the children. In the smaller, more intimate parties, you are free to expand your show, add to what you are already doing and really play with the kids.
In any party situation, you can expect a variety of personalities. Some children will be more outgoing than others. In a large party, it is almost guaranteed you will encounter a smorgasbord of personalities. In a small party, this can also be true. However, there will be times when everyone will be outgoing and other parties where they are all quiet.
I have walked into birthday parties where 4 or 5 children are sitting very quietly. In fact, the entire house is quiet. The children seem unsure as to whether they should make any noise at all. I try to let them know right from the start that it is okay for them to join in, to laugh and be silly. Start with a song (Happy Birthday is a good choice) and let them sing it normal, fast, slow, soft, loud…the number of years the Birthday child is old. This is a wonderful warm-up and the kids are usually laughing and ready to join in whatever you do next. However, if the children are loud and aggressive to start with, this is a good opportunity to bring that energy level down a ways. Have them sing the song as quietly as they can for the final time. This ends them on a "quiet note" and is an easier transition into your next activity.
Sometimes, in a small group, they are reluctant to be spontaneous. Some of my activities "play" better when the children react and interact spontaneously. When they are reluctant to do so, there are ways to bring them out. For example, I love the "balloon routine" where you bring out a deflated round balloon and ask the children for instructions on what to do with it. Then, whatever they tell you to do, you respond literally. When they say "blow it up", you hold the balloon over your head and blow up at it. They’ll laugh and say "no, put it in your mouth" at which point you put the wrong end in your mouth. They’ll say "no, the other end" and you hold it sideways in your mouth. This routine continues on until you finally get it right. Of course, I give them credit for being such good teachers. Occasionally, you will encounter a group who are so quiet, they won’t respond right away. This is the time to improvise. I’ll tell them I need to check my "instruction book" inside my trunk. I’ll open my trunk, look inside, pretend to read instructions and then I’ll say "oh, it says to blow it up". At this point, I will make the "mistake" of blowing up at it. If there is no reaction, I will ask them if I did it right.. Sometimes they will take it from there and the routine continues. Other times, I will look back at the instruction book again, playing along until they join in.
This can work with other aspects of your show. The "blooming bouquet" is one of my favorite magic tricks. I show the flowers, smell them, which tickles my nose and makes me "sneeze". When this happens, all of the flowers fall off the stem. I unsuccessfully try to put the flowers back onto the stems. Finally, I place the stems under my arm and turn around to find the magic wand from my trunk. When I am turned around, the children can see new, more colorful flowers have appeared on the stems. They will usually react with laughter, screams, etc. When I turn to see what they are reacting to, the flowers have disappeared. They will tell me what has happened and I think they are trying to play a practical joke on me. I will turn again to find the wand and, once again, the flowers appear. This continues on with the build-up being the children trying to get me to see the new flowers, instructing me how to turn, where to put the flowers, etc. until finally they are successful. I always react very surprised to see their magic has actually worked and the flowers have come back better than before. If you encounter a group of quiet children, you may have to prompt them to say something. You could tell them you felt a "tickle" when you turned around and ask them to look for something. I like to ask them to watch the flower stems and let me know if their magic has started to work. This type of prompting usually will set the stage for the rest of the party and their reactions will come naturally from then on.
Other aspects of your show might need to be adjusted. Puppetry can be affected if you also need a lot of interaction with the children. You might have the children be part of a skit that involves your puppet, giving each of them a part to play. This can be improvised on the spot allowing for spontaneous ad-libbing from the children, your puppet and you.
As far as games are concerned, a smaller group of children allows you more flexibility and time. You can be more creative and play one-at-a-time games. It is okay to play "pin the nose on the clown" when you are dealing with 3 to 5 children. There are no long lines of impatient children to contend with.
Any size party can be made to appear more intimate by getting down to the children’s level. I sit down on my trunk in between what I am doing to ask the children questions or explain what is coming up next. With a small group, this action helps to emphasize the feeling that we’re all joined together for the party. It includes everyone. This is similar to the children’s shows on television where the host is sitting in a "living room" talking to the television audience. It gives the audience the feeling that they are a part of the show.
If I am ready to bring out my puppet (Tricksy Rabbit), I will sit down and tell them I have a bunny rabbit that I would like them to meet. But he is very shy and we have to be careful not to scare him….and whatever else I want to tell them before I bring him out and start that portion of my show. If the children are quiet or shy, they will "identify" with the rabbit being shy and it gives them a sense of belonging and connecting. If the children are loud or aggressive, it has the affect of quieting them down as they do not want to scare the rabbit. Once I bring Tricksy out, he’s usually so shy that I have the children welcome him to make him feel more comfortable by saying "Hi Tricksy" after we count to three. Then he is more than happy to stay and play!
For smaller parties, you can obviously add more to your show - more games, more songs, another magic trick or two, etc. You can also add more helpers. Instead of asking only one person to assist you, have two or three come up at a time. For the magic tricks, I always have plenty of magic wands in my trunk. I love to hand a different wand to each child and let all of them help with each trick. If you perform a skit, give them each a part to play. If there are props used, let them each hold a prop.
Sometimes a small group can be so quiet in a big room that your words seem to echo. If that bothers you, bring along a small cassette player and have some fun music to enhance what you are doing. Incorporate this into your show with the "hokie pokie" and other fun songs.
When entertaining a smaller group, take the time to look around at your surroundings. Go ahead and notice the pile of presents. I like to look at the presents and say "I’m checking to see if any of them are addressed to ‘Peppermint’". The kids will quickly correct me and tell me the gifts are for "Megan" (the birthday child). I usually respond by telling them my middle name is "Megan". They always laugh and let me know they think I’m being silly. Sometimes the birthday child is holding a favorite toy. This is a great time to encourage them tell you about it. If they want to show you something special, let them.
When the party is outside, the children might want to show you how they can do a somersault or cartwheel. You can actually let the children be part of your show by encouraging them to be your "warm-up" act. They can sing a song, dance, tell a story or joke or whatever comes to mind. Of course, you become the emcee and announce each "act" and then call for the applause after each one. This is a wonderful opportunity for the parents to see their children performing as part of the party (a Kodak moment!).
If you are making balloon animals / sculptures for each child, this is the time when you can get "generous" with what you make. You do not have to limit their choices. With larger groups, you need to offer the easy and quick sculptures (dogs, swords, bunnies, etc.). When you are entertaining a smaller number of children, you can expand to multiple balloon creations. If the child wants a sword, go ahead and make the belt to go with it. The parrot can be sitting on a hoop. The bear can be holding onto a heart.
Face painting can also be more elaborate when you are not pressed for time. Offer choices to include complex tattoos (fire-breathing dragon, cascade of flowers, etc.); or, if you do "full-face", play with the designs that require more time (i.e. cheetah, butterfly, leopard, etc.). With a larger number of children, this is not a group participation and I recommend that the Birthday child open presents at this time. However, with a small party, this is a fun time for the children to stay and watch as each face or hand is done.
When the small party is for older children, plan on several "hands-on" activities. This will get them really involved and interacting. You might teach them how to make their own balloon animals. If you want, you can blow up lots of balloons ahead of time and take them with you in a large plastic bag. When you get to that portion of your show, give them some basic instructions and then let them create. They will have a great time and can take home balloons that they made themselves. Of course, you will still want to make them each something from you. Also, be prepared to blow up lots more balloons while you are there. This is a lot of fun and can really add time to your party.
Also, don’t forget to include the adults. This is important at any event, but can be essential at small parties. I wrote an article entitled "Birthday Party for One" which was published in The Calliope, March/April 1994. The party was originally booked for 10-12 children for 1-1/2 hours to include magic, balloons, puppetry, games and face painting. The night before the party, the mother called and said the numbers were down to 3 guests. When I arrived, no one had shown up…just the birthday boy turning 5. I felt panic inside but assured the Mother everything would be okay. As I looked around and noticed the parents and grandparents, I realized I did indeed have party guests. The next hour and a half were filled with complete one-on-one attention to "A.J.". He became my personal assistant with the magic. He got to choose what balloon each person got, plus he got a duplicate of each one. In addition, he helped pick out what faces were painted and choose the colors I used. He showed me tricks on his play structure, he took me inside to see the ice cream cake in the freezer. And I sat with him while he opened his presents, finishing up with reading a Dr. Seuss book together. When I left, the mother thanked me profusely for making the party so special. That party was definitely the smallest I have ever done!
As long as you know before hand that the numbers will be smaller than normal, you can plan accordingly to ensure the success of each party. Ask the parent to let you know if the number of guests changes prior to the party. Make a quick phone call the day before to "touch bases". Taking the necessary steps in planning for each party ahead of time allows you to relax and have a good time, knowing that you are prepared for what is inside that door once you walk in. Most important, have fun!
BIRTHDAY PARTIES IN PUBLIC PLACES
I had just finished a company picnic and was heading to a very exclusive athletic club where I was booked for a 3 year old birthday party. The mother and I had party planned this one at great length. The party was to be held in the café. Since I’ve entertained at this club on numerous occasions, I was very familiar with the surroundings. We talked about how the tables would be arranged, at what point the refreshments should be served, etc. Taking into consideration when the children would be ushered into the gymnasium for some games (run by the club), we had the party well planned out. I was booked for 1-1/2 hours to entertain with my 1 hour show (games, magic, puppetry and balloon animals) plus 30 minutes of face painting.
However, when I arrived, one of the athletic directors met me at the door and announced they had decided to switch everything around. She led me to the large gymnasium where 15 children (ages 2 to 4) were playing basketball and told me I had 15 minutes for my "show". At that point, they would move all of us to the café and immediately start serving cake and ice cream. That is when they wanted me to "finish up". There went all of our planning, right out the window.
Time to panic? Heavens no! This is a birthday party in a PUBLIC PLACE. Anything can happen and anything can work. This is the time to be flexible. Nothing should be "written in stone" as far as birthday parties in public places. You never know what is going to happen and it is best to relax and go with the flow.
So, what did I do? Well, I jumped right into my show and trimmed it down to 15 minutes. I obviously had to leave some parts out. They had already played games and basketball in the gym, so I eliminated my games. I also cut down on the magic, due to time limitations. But, I decided that Tricksy Rabbit (my puppet) would work better in the time I had and he would be the one to "announce" when it was time to move to the café (he talks through me). The activity director had also instructed me to keep all of the children quiet as we moved from the gym to the café due to a wedding reception being video taped in a room that we would be walking by. So, Tricksy Rabbit helped quiet the kids down, too (he is very quiet and that set the mood for all the children). Once we moved to the café, I joined in singing "Happy Birthday" while the candles were blown out. Then I proceeded to walk around the table and make balloon animals for each child. When that was done, I set myself up at another table and let each child come to me as they finished their cake to get their face or hand painted. After the face painting, the hour and a half was over and so was the party. The birthday boy’s mother lamented (after the party was over) about her frustration with all the changes the club had made. But she also expressed her appreciation for my flexibility in working with the situation.
This had not been the best scenario for a birthday party. But it was, after all, in a public place. A certain percentage of birthday parties are held in public places; and, if you are going to entertain at them, it is best to plan accordingly to make the best of each situation. Let’s explore some of those now.
A "public place" might be a restaurant or a fast food establishment, a park, children’s museum, athletic club, swimming pool, recreation center, Church basement, school classroom, children’s gym, arcade, etc. As in any entertainment situation, one of the essential keys is to party plan ahead of time. Talk with the parent and ask questions about where it is going to be. Find out what the place is like, what else is going on, if this is the only party that will be there at one time…anything you can think of to help you get a clear picture of your surroundings and help you plan accordingly.
A birthday party at a park can be a lot of fun. If there are play structures close by, I ask the parent to allow at least 30 minutes of "free play" prior to my arrival. That gives the children a chance to burn off some energy and allows them to focus on the entertainment once I get there. I prefer the children to be sitting on blankets on the ground. This is the "audience" area and keeps them from encroaching into my space (looking in my trunk, etc.) I also recommend name tags for the party guests. This keeps other children who are playing on the swing set from "joining" the party and doubling the number of guests.
I remember one little boy’s party at a park. The picnic table was piled high with presents. There was a wonderful cake, decorations and balloons. There was no doubt what was happening here. While I was asking each child’s name, a mother walked over with her young son and set him down with the rest of the guests. She then walked away. When I got to this little boy, he just sat and smiled. So, I asked the birthday boy’s mother what his name was and she helplessly shrugged her shoulders. She had no idea who he was. I quickly got the attention of the little boy’s departing mom and explained to her that this was a private party. She acted nonchalant and seemed unconcerned , but obliged by taking her son away with her.
This could have been avoided if each party guest had been wearing a name tag. Remember, if you let one extra child join the party, it is possible that five more will join in from the swing set. In addition, a lot of parents do not know how to handle a situation like this and it is left up to you to take care of. So, I always recommend name tags.
Fast food establishments can also present some obstacles to work around. Usually, a meal is part of this type of party. The servers do not hesitate to walk in front of you and ask questions of the children and/or parents right at the crucial moment of the magic trick’s conclusion. How do you avoid this? I ask the parents to have the meal served at a specific time. If the food needs to be ordered and/or served at the beginning of the party, I ask the parent to take care of this before I arrive. If the food needs to be served in the middle of the party, I let the parent know at what point I will start making balloon animals. This is a good time for the food to be served since it won’t disrupt my magic show.
There is a wonderful ice cream parlor in Portland that caters to children’s birthday parties. They have several large rooms that can accommodate a lot of people. They usually have 3 or 4 parties running simultaneously. Right in the middle of your show, the servers come running in with sirens blaring and banging a big drum. When this noise dies down, they all sing Happy Birthday very loudly to that particular party and then serve their ice cream. It doesn’t matter what you are doing to entertain, you cannot compete for the children’s attention during this time. So, I don’t compete…I play right with it. I let the children (who are there for my party) know that each time this happens, we will all sing right along with the servers. It might interrupt what I am doing, but actually lends some continuity and fun to the show because we all feel like we are part of one huge party.
This particular establishment also has arcade games. If the children are playing the games prior to my arrival, I ask the parents to "round them up". But I also go around to the games and have fun with the kids, announcing whose party I’m there for and letting them know the show is ready to start. But I definitely ask the parents to have the children at the table(s) by my arrival time, to eliminate this as it is time consuming. Once again, talk to the parents about this ahead of time. Of course, it doesn’t always work the way you have it pictured or planned. If the parent "forgets" and needs to take 10-15 minutes to gather everyone up, this is a good time to make the balloon animals for each child as they sit down. It may be reversing the order you usually have for your party; but, remember, this is the time to be flexible. Be willing to change things to make it work.
There are a number of children’s gyms that cater to birthday parties with wonderful play areas plus a "cake room" for refreshments. These parties are usually booked out for 1-1/2 hour time slots. When I am hired to entertain at one of these, I know that the children will have 30 minutes of free play. Then I perform a 30 minute show. At this point, the children are ushered into the "cake room" and I make balloons as I walk around the table.
In a situation where the children will be swimming, this can be done at either the beginning or end of the party. If it is a hot day, the children usually like to swim first. There isn’t much chance that they’ll get cold while you are performing because of the heat of the day. But, if this is at an indoor pool in cool weather, I recommend that the swimming come at the end of the party so they don’t get chilled while sitting watching your show. If you are painting faces, they should swim first so the water-base paint won’t wash off.
At a children’s museum, I will usually call ahead of time and talk with someone in charge to make sure I know what their schedule is like. If I have never been there before, I will ask what the layout of the party room is like. Will the children be seated at tables or on a floor. Are there mats for them to sit on to be comfortable? If not, you might consider bringing along a small (12 foot) parachute to place on the floor or ground for the children to sit on (a sheet or blanket will also work). This focuses on the audience area, gives them something to sit on instead of the floor and this size parachute is easily washed and dried. This also works perfect for outside parties, too.
If the party is in a school classroom, I like to talk to the teacher before the party to run things by him/her. Every school district has their own rules and regulations and it is important to adhere to them. Some school districts do not allow any food items unless they are individually, commercially wrapped. This might affect something you do with your show and it helps to know ahead of time. One school I performed at did not allow balloon animals. However, I cleared this with the teacher prior to my arrival and I was able to make the balloon animals for each child. We used a Sharpieâ to write their names on each and the sculptures were placed on a shelf to be taken home with them later.
In a classroom situation, I always request that the teacher stay in the room while the party is going on. As I explained in the article on birthday parties for large groups (The New Calliope, May/June 1997), the teacher knows the personalities of the individuals in their classroom. But also, there are rules and regulations that the students know they must adhere to. Even if you talk with the teacher ahead of time, there may be issues that will come up where you need their guidance (i.e. what if a student needs to use the restroom during the party…do they need a "hall pass" or do they use a "buddy system"?). You are there to entertain for someone’s birthday, not to be responsible for each child adhering to the school’s rules. So, ask for the teacher to remain in the room during the party.
Several years ago, a brand new clown was hired to entertain at a birthday party. It was to be his FIRST birthday party. He carefully created a wonderful show and rehearsed it to perfection. The one aspect he had not taken into consideration was the location. It was being held at a wild and crazy play area, where the children run free. The activities range from jumping in a big tub of plastic balls, to soft climbing structures, tunnels, gymnastic equipment, etc. When the show was supposed to begin, there was very little or no attempt being made by the parents to gather the children up. The "first of May" desperately tried to organize the children, but with very little success. He couldn’t get close enough to where the children were because he wasn’t allowed on the gymnastic mats wearing his shoes. He came away from the party feeling very frustrated and felt that his first party was a flop. He called me and asked what he should have done.
First, I explained that party planning with the parents ahead of time would have let them know that the children should be in the "cake room" for the show at a specified time. Since this had not been done, I told him he should have "thrown his carefully planned party out the window". It was time to be flexible, time to kick off his shoes and play with the kids, creating a "follow the leader" type of activity which would eventually have led the children where they needed to be for his show. Blowing a whistle, beating a small drum or cymbals easily gets their attention. Once in the "cake room", he could perform an abbreviated version of his show, taking into consideration how much time was already used in gathering them up.
It was most unfortunate that this was his birthday party debut. But even if you have a negative experience the first time or two, use it as an opportunity to learn. Always take each experience and learn from it. Ask yourself "what worked, what didn’t work, what could be done differently the next time?" This is a way to grow each time you clown, each time you perform at a birthday party. The key is flexibility. If you do not "bend" (go with the flow), you will "break".
Birthday parties in public places are not always the easiest ones to do. But, keep in mind that party planning with the parent and flexibility with your show are important aspects of making these parties a success, too. Then give yourself permission to relax and have fun wherever you are. If you’re having fun, then the party guests will have fun too!
ONESY - TWOSY PARTIES
Birthday parties come in all different sizes and AGES! It is up to you to decide what age range you are comfortable with and what ages you are willing to entertain. In a personal survey that I conducted, I found that most clowns prefer to entertain children 3 to 8 years old. However, there are a lot of children having parties outside of that age range. You don’t have to eliminate those from your bookings. There is a lot of fun to be experienced at ANY age, even one and two year olds. Lets take a look at how.
When a parent calls you for their baby’s first birthday, it is important to ask two questions: "Will there be other children there?" and "Will there be a variety of ages?" Most likely, the answer is "yes" to both questions. Once you have established that other children will be there ranging in different ages, you know how to plan your party / show.
I receive calls from parents who have been told by other entertainers that it is foolish to have a party for a one year old! Imagine how devastated this makes those parents feel. All they want is to celebrate one of the most important milestones in their child’s life - their first birthday! Don’t take that away from them. If you prefer not to do parties for one year olds, simply tell the parents that. One mother was in tears as she related how cruel an entertainer had been to her on the phone (right before she called me) when he told her that her idea was "stupid and foolish".
When I was in Puerto Rico for the COAI convention in 1996, I was told that most parties there are for the child’s first birthday. The Puerto Rican birthday clowns explained that the first birthday is a huge celebration with lots of children and adults. This makes up the largest percentage of their birthday parties. They know that they will be entertaining everyone else. That is exactly what you do at a first birthday party - entertain everyone else!
When I am party planning with the parent for a first birthday, I explain that the party will be aimed at the other children there. I tell them that, even though their little one will be aware that some exciting things are going on, he/she will probably be more interested in crawling or toddling around or will be passed around from one doting adult to another. Therefore, the majority of my party will be aimed at the other children. Once this is established, I then describe what will happen at the party, pointing out the changes I make for a one year old. (A number of these parents have seen me at other parties, so I feel it necessary to explain where I make adjustments.)
What adjustments you make depends on what you normally do at your party. For instance, if you make a balloon hat for the birthday child, you need to let the parent know that you will make one and put it on the baby’s head just long enough for a picture (Kodak moment!). At that point, explain it will be taken off to ensure that the balloon does not go in the one year old’s mouth. If making balloon animals is part of your routine, remember that you should never give a balloon to any child 2 and under. Parents will occasionally request a balloon for these little ones. If that happens, give the balloon to the parent (not the child) and caution them not to let the child put it in their mouth.
Several years ago, I was making balloons at a company picnic and noticed a 2 year old chewing on a balloon given to him by his parents. Suddenly the balloon popped. No one made a move. I ran over and quickly swept my finger through his mouth, removing several pieces of broken balloon! I shudder to think of what might have happened if that little guy had been off by himself when the balloon popped. So, please always be extra-careful when making balloons for little ones. (By the way, I hope everyone has liability insurance.)
Other adjustments might be necessary if you normally use the birthday child as a key helper in your magic show, puppet show, skit, etc. I will always try to use the birthday child’s siblings (if there are any) to be my helpers throughout. If not, I will try to use as many of the guests as possible. This is a great time to bring as many magic wands as you can, or to bring enough props or puppets for everyone to help. It is a good idea to regularly refer to the birthday boy or girl, calling everyone’s attention as to why we are all there and having so much fun - it is in honor of a very special first birthday.
If you are booked to paint faces at a first birthday, there is an easy way to paint the one year old’s face. Simply paint a heart on the back of the parent’s hand, in that fleshy area between the thumb and pointer finger. Then hold the baby’s head still (gently) while the parent presses their hand onto the baby’s cheek. The heart will transfer to the baby and, just like that, you’ve painted their face! (Parents think this is wonderful!)
These adjustments work well when the party guests are different ages; but, what if the parent tells you that ALL of the guests will be one year olds? It can happen! The mother told me she wanted me on the floor with the little ones and their mothers. I decided this would be a challenge for me to create a party for one year olds. First you need to look at your party and figure out what will work, what you can keep in and what you must eliminate. Since there would be very little verbal interaction, I added background music consisting of the old favorites ("Happy Birthday", "Old MacDonald Had A Farm", "Hokey Pokey", "I’ve Been Working On The Railroad", etc.). Most parents sing these songs to their children or have cassettes to play for them which include these songs. Even if the child has never heard it before, the parents have and they will automatically sing or hum along. I brought along a variety of musical instruments (Playskoolâ brand) that the little ones could play with, without hurting themselves. The parents started playing with them too.
Next I brought out soft, medium-sized, brightly colored balls and rolled them on the floor to each child. They would reach out for them and sometimes roll them back. Once again, the parents (still humming and singing along with the music) interacted and helped the children.
I had decided to try some magic, and used several tricks that are very visual. One is a large picture of a clown that is black and white. After swirling a large-handled paint brush into Dry-Eraseâ colors on a paint pallet, I handed it to the birthday child and let her "paint" on the picture. Of course, the color doesn’t transfer and the clown stays black and white. After waving a large, soft magic wand, the children saw the color "appear" as I pulled the clown picture out of the frame. The parents were impressed and the little ones were delighted with the brightly colored clown. Next, I pulled a chiffon scarf out of my change bag and "discovered" it was the wrong color. Through their magic, the children and parents saw a different colored scarf pulled out each time until, finally, the right color was pulled out by the birthday girl. Yes, even a one year old can reach into a change bag and pull out whatever is in there!
A few more visual tricks followed and, finally, it was time for balloon animals (which the mother had insisted upon). I cautioned the parents about giving the balloons to the children and proceeded to make balloons for each of the moms and dads. They had fun selecting the balloons they wanted and I noticed that none of them gave their balloons to the children. They were keeping them for themselves! This concluded my birthday party for one year olds. It was very different from what I normally do, but it worked, the parents were happy and I had another party format to use for future "babies only" events. Once again, flexibility is the key.
Now, let’s look at parties for two year olds. Always ask the parent of a two year old if they have ever been around a clown before. Most of the time, the answer is "no". Then, ask if they have been around ANY cartoon, life-sized character (i.e. Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Chuck E Cheese, etc.). If they have, ask how the child reacted. Were they comfortable or did they act "shy"? (I prefer to use the term "shy", instead of "scared to death"). If the child has never been around other costumed characters, ask how they react to strangers. If the parents are enthusiastic about their child’s acceptance of clowns and other characters, then it is fairly safe to assume you can show up for the party without being greeted by the child running away frightened! However, if their little one responds to costumed characters and/or strangers in a negative way, you have a couple of choices: 1) Recommend waiting another year for clown entertainment; or 2) Send a picture of your clown character to see how they react.
I always send an 8X10 color picture of my clown character "Peppermint" ahead of time and ask the parent to put it on their refrigerator. That way, the toddler gets used to seeing me in their home. I become a familiar face before I even walk in the door. Parents will call and tell me that their little one is walking around the house carrying my picture, saying "my clown, my clown". This is a good indication of how the party will go.
I remember one party where the two year old met me at the door, took me by the hand and walked me past the living room (where the party guests were) to her bedroom to play with her toys. She had decided I was hers’ to play with and she wasn’t planning on sharing me. The mother came down the hall after a couple of minutes to help me persuade the birthday girl that the party was actually in the other room. We had a great time!
As with the one year olds, there will need to be adjustments in your party / show for the two year old group. First of all, remember that they do not sit still for very long. Your show needs to be like "Sesame Street" with a lot of action, bright colors and something new happening every few minutes. Otherwise, they will lose interest and wander off. But, don’t be surprised if they all want to come up and sit on your trunk or in your lap. Just be careful when you open and close your trunk (or suitcase) to be sure there are no little fingers in the way.
Two year olds love puppets. They will want to hug and snuggle whatever puppet you bring out. Play with this! Also, if you do any magic, remember to make it as visual as possible. You can use similar tricks to the ones I described above. The two year olds may not "know" their colors yet, but they can see if a different color is appearing. You shouldn’t expect them to "ooh and aah" over a magic trick; and, if it is too subtle, it simply goes over their heads. They are just having fun watching and helping.
And let them help! They love to participate, so encourage them to do so. Give each of them something to drop in your change bag, let them each put a pinch of flour in the dove pan when you "bake" a cake. (The "cake baking routine" is one trick I do at EVERY party. I crack an egg into the dove pan and let the birthday child stir in flour. After putting the lid onto the pan, we all think sweet, magic thoughts and say the magic word. When I lift the lid off, there is a Hostess cupcake for the birthday child. Of course, you can use a foam prop cake if you like.) They will be right there, ready to touch, explore, pick up, turn over and hold onto. Remember this as you plan for what you will be doing as part of your show. Give yourself permission to change your party to accommodate these little ones and their curiosity. Believe it or not, one and two year old parties really can be fun! Try it, you might like it!
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