Natalie's Final Birthday

                                        The Impressionable Years

                                        Oops!

                                        R-E-S-P-E-C-T

                                        Parties for B-I-G Kids

                                        Happy Holiday To You

 

NATALIE’S FINAL BIRTHDAY

"Hi, Peppermint" said the familiar voice on my voice mail. "We have another favor to ask of you. Natalie is dying of brain cancer. She is turning 9 years old and her party is Saturday. Can you make it?"

The familiar voice belonged to Gary. I had entertained at his daughter Kamila’s 3rd birthday in October of 1991. Six months later I received a phone call from him. He was calling from the hospital. Kamila had just been diagnosed with abdominal cancer and she was in surgery as we spoke. As he and his wife Renee filled me in on the details, their greatest fear at that point was that she might not make it through the surgery and they would never see their little girl again. I was dumbfounded that they were calling me at such a crucial moment. Their request was for Peppermint to be there when and if Kamila woke up. They explained that their daughter had enjoyed her party so much that they wanted to have something or someone there to make her happy again. I said ‘yes’ immediately.

Knowing that I wouldn’t be allowed into the recovery room right away, I got into makeup and drove to the hospital where I spent time in the waiting room playing with their other two children. Their older daughter (then 9 years old) is autistic and has Down’s Syndrome. Their son was just a year older than Kamila. When it was time to go, I left several surprises for them to give Kamila when she awoke. I assured them I would be back as soon as the hospital would allow me to visit. I made good that promise.

Kamila went through chemotherapy and radiation and is a cancer survivor. This wonderful family has kept in touch with me over the years and they make a point of coming to various public functions when they know I will be there entertaining. Gary and Renee are actively involved in Candlelighters and have found numerous ways to help other families who are going through what they have been through. Gary likes to grant what he calls "mini-wishes". This is similar to Make-a-Wish Foundation; but, as Renee explains, it is without much of a budget. Gary has a talent for putting things and people together to help a child. That is where I have been brought into the picture.

I receive calls from them when a child is close to dying. Sometimes it is simply to provide something to distract the family, if even for only a few minutes, from the ordeal they are going through. A few months ago, it was for Derrick (8 years old) whose little brother and sister were starved for attention. I paid a visit to their home and, when I walked in the front door, I immediately had two little ones attached to my sides. They talked non-stop to me as I was setting things up for a show. Derrick’s school principal was there, as well as his best friend, an older brother and several teenage caregivers. I stayed for about an hour, performing a magic show, making balloon animals and painting faces. Derrick, whose face was swollen from the medications, wanted to be painted as Frankenstein. Lots of pictures were taken and I managed to stay cheerful until I got to my car. My tears were from a mixture of emotions: first at the sadness of the situation but also the wonder I was filled with. The wonder of being a clown and being invited into people’s homes at such an important, albeit sad, time of their lives. Gary called me two weeks later to tell me that Derrick was gone.

This time, the phone call was for Natalie. Her party with her friends was scheduled for 2:30. I called Gary back and regretfully told him that I had several parties already booked into that day and wouldn’t be available until 6:30 that evening. He called me back to tell me that there was going to be another party that evening for relatives and friends and 6:30 would be fine.

Gary and Renee faxed me information on Natalie and her family. In part, it read "Natalie has been battling her brain cancer for over five years. She has been through numerous surgeries and has been left with very little sensory functioning. She is almost deaf and her sight is also impaired. She is unable to speak due to the surgeries and a tracheotomy that was inserted last month. She will not be able to smile or laugh since her facial muscles have been paralyzed from all of the brain surgeries. She is also unable to walk. Over the weekend, her tracheotomy tube became clogged and she was rushed to the hospital by ambulance. However, she is totally alert and can nod her head and with great difficulty speak words. In all of this time and through all of the invasive and life limiting procedures she has endured, she has never once complained."

I always like to call the parent(s) before I make a visit to a sick child to introduce myself to them and also get any other information they think I might need. Natalie’s mother informed me that a friend of hers had just died of mouth cancer and had just been buried two days before. Natalie wanted this woman’s little boy invited to her birthday party, because she felt he could use some cheering up. Her mother said this was just like Natalie…to always be thinking of everyone else. After hanging up, I began planning for this special birthday.

I wanted everything to be as normal as possible. I knew there would have to be adjustments made throughout. Each magic trick was carefully chosen not only for the visual impact, but also making sure that everything I said (with my "patter") would be including Natalie regardless of her physical limitations.

When I arrived at their home, I was surprised by the large turnout of people. There were 75 to 80 people there, crowded in the kitchen and family room. I found out later that, as word spread about my coming, more and more of their friends and co-workers were invited. As I walked through the front rooms, everyone became very quiet as they focused in on what I would be doing.

Natalie was lying on the couch. She only weighed about 25 pounds and was wearing a beautiful purple dress. Her 7 year-old sister Olivia and 4 year-old brother Nick were also there. Siblings, cousins and friends surrounded Natalie. They seemed to be hovering closely in a protective way. After all, no one knew me; they didn’t know what to expect. I decided to make her a balloon flower to start with, instead of my usual balloon hat. She would be able to see the flower right in front of her and enjoy it.

After that, the party progressed fairly normally. Within a few minutes, the children started inching closer and closer to me. We still made sure that Natalie was included in everything, but everyone visibly relaxed. The magic show was a lot of fun with Nick and Olivia being the main helpers. Even Natalie got to hold a magic wand. Because she was unable to smile or laugh, I had to watch her eyes to know I was getting through. When the show was over and I started making balloons, Nick proudly said to me "Peppermint, aren’t you glad that I was here to help you with the magic?" It was clear to him that things wouldn’t have worked well without him. At this party, he was taking care of his big sister in the best way he knew how…by making the magic work.

The balloons were a big hit with all of the children, including the teenagers who have been generously and selflessly giving of their time to help this family during the past several years. Gary had informed me during the initial phone call that Natalie’s father knew how to twist balloon animals, so I called him over and got him involved. He had fun and the kids thought it was wonderful!

When I started painting faces, I sat down next to Natalie and asked her what she would like on her face. Because she was unable to speak, I gave her the choices, one at a time and waited for her to give me the sign language gesture for "yes". She chose Princess Jasmin. All of the adults "oohed" and "aahed" over how beautiful she was and took lots of pictures. You could see her eyes shining with delight!

I spent the next 45 minutes painting the other children’s faces. Little Olivia informed me that she wanted me to come to her next birthday. The mother laughed and said she felt that a precedent had been set and I would undoubtedly be back many times in the future. I tried not to think about the fact that Natalie wouldn’t be there for any of those future parties.

Soon, it was time for me to leave. I was amazed to realize I had been there for 2 hours! I said my good-byes to Natalie, thanking her for letting me help celebrate her birthday. It was very difficult, because I knew as well as everyone else there that this would be her last one.

As I walked out the front door, Natalie’s dad came up and said he needed a hug from Peppermint. All of the adults standing there were thanking me profusely. I had to fight to hold back the tears and swallowed hard more than once. I made it to the car before I let the tears come.

The following day I received a phone call from Gary with a wonderful message from Natalie’s parents. One thing they wanted me to know was that there were a lot of people at the party who did not know each other. They said Peppermint became the catalyst for this group. It gave them all something in common they could talk about and helped to ease the strain of the evening. I had never even thought about something like that.

What I do think about is this: Birthday parties are more than just "fun and games". They can be therapeutic, the "tie that binds", one last memory or a much-needed distraction from life’s problems. I firmly believe that every child deserves to have a wonderful birthday, no matter what the circumstances. Natalie deserved to have a party, just like anyone else, for this one last birthday….her final birthday.

 

The Impressionable Years

Children in preschool and Kindergarten are wonderful to perform for because this age is so easy to play with. They enjoy almost everything you do (i.e. magic, balloons, face painting, puppetry, singing, games, skits, etc.). They love to be entertained. They have vivid imaginations. For most of them, it is their first "venture" into party socializing and birthday parties are at the top of the list.

This age group is very aware of the most recent animated movies (i.e. Aladdin, Simba the Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas) and television programs (i.e. The Rugrats, Sesame Street). The characters in these shows become "real" to the preschooler. They get to know them through repeatedly watching the videos, reading the books and being inundated with the media promotions that saturate everything, including the fast-food industry. If you have any doubt of this, watch what McDonalds puts into their Happy Meal Boxes® for toys…whatever the latest popular animated character happens to be.

Children in this age category LOVE clowns because we are life-size cartoon characters. They will frequently tell you how much they love you, as well as tell you every little detail about their lives. Parents are usually caught by surprise when their little one tells the clown, in front of everyone else, something that has happened in their home recently. You have become an "instant friend" to the preschooler and this friendship can last a lifetime!

In the same respect, if a clown frightens them by being too loud or aggressive, this fear can also last them a lifetime. Remember this around the little ones who are timid and shy. Give them their space and be gentle in your voice and not too aggressive in your actions. You can tell almost immediately when a child is frightened. They will hide behind their parent or, if they’re being held, will bury their head against their parent’s shoulder, refusing to turn and look at you. Sometimes, they will start to cry. When this happens, I will stop approaching and say something like "It’s okay, sweetie, sometimes I even scare myself!" The parents will chuckle at this statement and the child visibly relaxes at their parent’s reaction. Then I let them know I’m heading in another direction by saying "I’m going right over there, now; so you can watch me from here. Come on over when you’re ready." Once they see I’m not threatening or scary in any way, they usually join in with the rest of the children within five to ten minutes.

Three to five year-olds have wonderful imaginations. They believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and clowns! Their imaginations are wonderful. You also have to be careful with what you "suggest". Never lead them to believe that something is scary, or dangerous. This will frighten them. In my early years of clowning, I was making a balloon for a 4 year-old and told the group that it was magical and could make people disappear. Suddenly, one of the little girls turned to her mother and asked her to take her home because she didn’t want to be "disappeared". When I realized she was serious, I quickly assured her that it was just imaginary. I learned from that experience to choose my words more carefully, especially with this age group.

This age group is too young and innocent to be hecklers, so you very rarely have troublemakers. If you do have one, it is usually because they need a little bit of attention. Listening to them for a minute will usually appease them. If not, invite them to be an assistant, either with a magic trick, the puppet show or part of a skit. What you include them in, of course, depends on what you do with your birthday party show.

Preschoolers enjoy playing games. They are very sociable. Try to incorporate games that they can all play at the same time. It is extremely difficult for any age group (but especially these young ones) to stand in long lines for games, balloons, face painting, etc. So, try to stay away from one-at-a-time games (i.e. pin the nose on the clown, tossing beanbags into a clown’s mouth, etc.)

One of my favorite games for preschoolers is "Button! Button!" (available from Bob Gibbons’ FUN TECHNICIANS, INC.). You show a jar full of different colored buttons. Then you dump them all into a brightly colored fabric bag. One at a time, the children reach into the bag and pull out a button, without looking at it, and hold it tightly in their hand. Once every child has a button, you have the birthday child reach in and pull one out and show it everyone. Then you ask to see how many children pulled out the same color as the birthday child. They are so surprised to find out that they all have the same color! Of course, they are all winners and everyone gets a big round of applause. The secret is that all of the red buttons are loose in the jar, while the other colored buttons are connected with thin elastic. Once the buttons are dumped into the bag, you reach in and "mix them all up". In doing so, you pull up the clump of tied buttons and hold them out of the way with the hand holding the bag. Nobody can see this "clump" and everyone pulls out the same color. It is simplicity in itself, but the little ones (and parents, too) and truly amazed!

Another game I like is the Magic Coloring Book. Even though this is primarily a magic trick, I like to use it as a game, which then is a nice lead-in to my magic show. This trick has so many different variations that you could almost do an entire show with it! An easy routine for this age is to show them the new coloring book you just got as a "gift". I refer to it as a "gift" which gives me the opportunity to remind them to say "thank you" when they unwrap their presents that day (i.e. "Oh let me show you the new coloring book I just got as a gift from my friend Willy. I was so excited, I almost forgot to say "thank you". You know, it is very important to say "thank you" when someone gives you a gift.") Then, show them the fun pictures that are there to color. When you realize there are no crayons, ask them to help with the colors from their clothes. First, ask anyone wearing the color "blue" to toss it up. The little ones will "scoop" up the blue from their clothes and "toss" them up towards you. Now you get to move the coloring book around, as you try to "catch" their colors. Call out each color that you know is in the book. If there are children wearing all pastels and your book only has primary colors, please include their colors so they can participate, too. When this is done, open the book back up to show them all of their colors are now in the book and the pictures are beautifully finished. Of course, they all get a big round of applause for helping you!

Another game that can be played using the Magic Coloring Book is the one played like the peanut under the shell game, described in my article on parties for large groups (The New Calliope, May/June 1997). Because this game takes concentration and the ability to focus their attention, I find it is not suitable for 3 year olds. But, it is fun to use at parties for 4 to 7 or 8 year-olds.

My magic show is very visual for this age group, similar to what I use for two-year-old parties. However, three to five year olds will notice the "magic" happening. Try not to get too complicated or subtle with your tricks, as it will go right over their heads. Most of them know their colors, so it is fun to say the colors wrong. For instance, pull out two silks, one blue and one red. Call the blue one red and the red one blue. The kids will immediately correct you. Each time in your story, or "patter", when you refer to that scarf, make the mistake of calling it the wrong color again. They will be giggling and shouting to correct you, over and over. Finally, you get it right and give them a big "thank you" for teaching you the right color names. It is a learning experience at the same time as it is a fun magic trick.

Often in my shows for preschoolers, one or two will want to come up to "show me the right way" of doing something when I make mistakes. (And Peppermint is constantly making mistakes). The best way I have found to handle this is to thank them for offering to help, but it is time that I learned how to do it myself. I remind them that, when they are learning something new, it is important for them to do it by themselves. They nod their heads and agree with me. Then, they sit back down and "help" me by talking me through my mistakes. This is where the comedy is so much fun. You can take them literally, which leads to all kinds of interactive fun.

For instance, I may be looking in my trunk for my magic wand. The kids can see that it is in my left hand, which is holding the trunk lid open. They will yell, "there it is"! I ask "where?" and they say "in your hand". I look in my right hand and show them there is nothing in it. They’ll say, "no in your other hand". I transfer the wand to my right hand and show my "now-empty" left hand. By this time, they’re laughing and yelling and pointing at my right hand and, surprised, I now find it, too. (This is a wonderful comedy bit I got from Angel Ocasio who uses a balloon). This is just one example of taking the kids literally with a lot of fun results.

Puppetry works wonderful with this age. I am not a ventriloquist, so my puppet "speaks" through me (e.g. he "talks" to me and I relate it to the audience). Sometimes the children will accept my rabbit "Tricksy" as being real from the start. Other times, they will yell, "it’s a puppet". At that point, Tricksy will bury his head in my shoulder and I will quietly tell the children that Tricksy doesn’t know he’s a puppet; he thinks he’s real. So, we don’t want to hurt his feelings. This is a wonderful, positive way to allay any concerns or fears that a small child might have. The little ones always settle down right away. They certainly don’t want to hurt the puppet rabbit’s feelings. This, of course, is immediately giving real-life emotions and feelings to the puppet and helps "bring it to life". Tricksy is my most requested part of my show. Any of the children who have seen him before always ask me right away if I brought him with me this time. There are times that I wish I could send him out to do parties on his own!

Skits and plays are wonderful to use in your presentation. Use a familiar story, nursery rhyme or event and give each child a part. If this is a large party, you might give them the part of being different animals in the story. For instance, if there is a dog in the play, have the boys bark whenever a dog is mentioned in the story. Have the girls meow like cats or chirp like birds. When your play is about superheroes, you could have them say "my hero" whenever the hero’s name is mentioned. This gives all of them a part and holds their attention, because they are waiting to hear when their next part comes along.

This is the perfect age to sing songs in your party. They know most of the words to all of the songs (i.e. Happy Birthday, Hokie Pokie, and Old MacDonald), and no one is intimidated or self-conscious about their voices. If you are talented enough to use a musical instrument, by all means do so. I have parents call requesting a clown who plays an instrument and who will sing with the children. I will sing and/or use a tape recorder. But I haven’t yet figured out how to transfer my piano from party to party!

Balloon animals are very popular with three to five year-olds. Making balloons doesn’t have to mean becoming a balloon-making machine. Try to come up with little stories about each balloon that you make. If you are making a swan, ask how many of them know the story about the Ugly Duckling. Then ask them what their favorite part of that story was. They’ll all have their own opinion, even if it is the same as everyone else’s. Even if five children have already told you their favorite part was when he turned into a real swan, the sixth child will have to tell you the same thing! When I make a bunny rabbit, I ask them for names of famous rabbits (i.e. Bugs Bunny, Peter Rabbit, Roger Rabbit, The Velveteen Rabbit, etc.) This also can lead to little stories about each one of these familiar characters. If the children are unfamiliar with The Velveteen Rabbit or Leo the Lop, it is also a wonderful time to suggest books to parents from the library.

Listen to the children as you are making balloons and painting faces. They are a wealth of information on what is important to them. They will be discussing their favorite characters, videos, games and television shows. All you have to do is pay attention to learn and keep abreast of what is currently popular. Stroll through the children’s section at the bookstores, watch cartoons, and catch an afternoon matinee for the latest animated movie. Walk down the aisles at the toy store and pay attention to the areas where most of the kids are congregated. This will help keep you informed and in tune with what is going on for this age.

Most important, have fun with this age and they will have fun with you, too!

(Note to everyone who wrote: Thanks for your letters and e-mails about Natalie. I appreciate hearing about the caring clowning that others are doing. Karen)

 

OOPS !

’d like to thank each and every one of you who have communicated with me via e-mail, letters and faxes. I appreciate your comments and your own stories about birthday parties. There have been a number of inquiries about how to handle the situation when you have a party booked and then realize, for one reason or another, that you aren’t going to be able to fulfill that commitment. And that is exactly what it is…a commitment. So, let’s look at how this situation might arise and how to handle it. First the accidental double booking:

You didn’t mean to do it. But there it is, right in front of you. Two birthday parties booked into the same time. Now what?

Let’s back up for a moment and think about the "good old days" when you used to dream of booking more than one party in a day. When first starting out, you normally have one or two parties booked into a weekend, and usually they are on different days. So you get into makeup, perform at your one party for the day and head home wishing you had somewhere else to go. After all, your makeup is still fresh and you have all of this energy left. (By the way, this is a great time to schedule a visit to the hospital.) You daydream about what it will be like when you can book two or maybe three parties into the same day. "Yes" you think "that will be perfect!"

So, here you are booking several parties into each day of the weekend and suddenly you realize there are two booked into the exact same time. You must have forgotten to mark one on your calendar. What should you do? How do you handle this? Well, there are several ways to take care of this situation. Let’s explore what to do and what NOT to do.

When you call the parent to tell them you can’t come to their party after all, do not just tell them and then hang up. This parent has been planning their child’s party around your entertainment and has probably included you in the invitation information. The other guests have been told you will be there. The parent is feeling safe and secure, knowing that the party will run smoothly, because they have hired you.

It is important to secure a replacement to entertain in your place. As you explain to the parent that you have some good news and some "not-so-good" news, let them know that the "not-so-good" news is that you are not going to be able to entertain at their party after all. The good news is you have a wonderful replacement. At this point, the parent has the choice of a) moving the day or time to accommodate your schedule, b) accepting the replacement you have secured, or c) finding someone else on their own. Be sure that, when you secure the replacement, you give them all of the pertinent information about the party so that, when they call the parent, they have it all in front of them already. Make this as easy on the parent as you possibly can.

I receive calls from parents who are in a panic because the clown they thought was coming to their child’s party had just called and canceled, leaving them with no replacement and having to quickly try to find someone else on short notice. If the original entertainer had secured a replacement, this would not have happened. Parents should not have to panic about anything surrounding hiring you as an entertainer. If they do, this can be definitely be a deterrent from them ever calling you back and, also, giving your name out to their friends when they’re looking to hire someone.

This hurts your credibility and, consequently, your reputation. Your reputation should be one of the most important things for you to always consider. What is your reputation based on? Everything….how professional you are (on the phone and in person), whether you’re always on time or not, if you do what you said you would do, how you interact with the children and adults and if you are reliable. The old saying "your reputation precedes you" is a reminder to do the best we can to make sure that reputation is a good one.

Sometimes having to cancel a party is due to illness. The old saying "the show must go on" holds true most of the time. However, there are situations when we must cancel. I broke my foot last spring and had to book out my parties for a short time. I had secured replacements for each party before I called the parents. After explaining the situation, I was able to give them the name and information about who would be coming to their party, including what they would do and their phone number. I also assured them that the other clown already had all of the information about their child’s birthday and was really excited about coming to their party. In addition, I told them that the other clown would be calling them later on that same day to touch bases with them and be available to answer any further questions they might have. Just recently, I had a parent call me to book for their child’s party this year reminding me that I had broken my foot last year and hadn’t been able to come. She assured me that their party had been a lot of fun and thanked me again for taking care of things for her. You always want to leave a good feeling about what you do and how you do it.

Another situation that tempts entertainers to cancel a party is if they get a "better offer" (i.e. a better paying job). I sincerely hope that no one does that. It is not fair to the parent, the child or the replacement entertainer. If you find yourself tempted to do that, please take a few minutes and look at your clowning schedule. Does this come up during the summer months when there are a lot of company picnics on the weekends? If it does, you might want to consider not booking parties during "prime times". Birthday parties rarely conflict with company picnics if you book them in the morning on a Saturday (@ 10:00 am) or after 5:00 pm. Parties booked during the weekdays or evenings during the week are also less conflicting with corporate events.

Being careful to keep track of your bookings can alleviate the possibility of double-booking an event. However, mistakes do happen. And we also have to face situations when we cannot take an event that we’ve already scheduled (i.e. illness, injury, etc.). But, when that happens, do everything you possibly can to minimize the confusion for the parent.

One more note…I’ve received many inquiries about the "Button! Button!" magic trick / game (The New Calliope March/April 1998). Please note that it is a creation of Bob Gibbon’s and it is available from Bob Gibbon’s Fun Technicians, Inc. I had failed to give him appropriate credit for this in the last issue.

 

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Performing birthday parties for 9 - 12 year olds requires respect for their age and intelligence. They also need "hands-on" activities. Obviously, you can’t expect to entertain them with the same party you use for pre-schoolers. They would be unmerciful! As I’ve mentioned in past articles, what you do for pre-schoolers needs to be visual and fast-paced. However, with the pre-teens, you can be more subtle and sophisticated with what you do.

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a parent while planning her middle school aged child. She told me that the entertainer she had hired the year before tried to perform a show aimed at a much younger crowd. In addition, when the kids would make comments or questions on the magic he was performing, he either verbally put them down or he ignored them. Consequently, the "audience" became very abusive and the end result wasn’t a pretty sight. This parent’s final comments were that she would never hire him back again.

Keeping that in mind, I adjusted the beginning of my party. After welcoming everyone, I explained that I would be performing a magic show. Taking into consideration their age and intelligence, I told them that I fully expected them to try to figure out how things were done. I also explained that some of them would get it right. In addition, I told them that everything I would be doing they could each do themselves and, possibly, do it better. I invited each and every one of them who was interested to come up to me after the party to discuss the magic with me. But I did ask them not to ruin it for their neighbor who might not be figuring it out by telling them how it was done. Because of this "pre-speech", I had the very best "audience" in the world that day. After the party was over, several came up and discussed magic with me. I had one trick with me that was homemade. I asked if they would like to learn one trick they could go home and make for themselves. Of course, they eagerly said "yes". It was a wonderful time had by all.

I received several bookings from that original party. Why? Because I respected the age of the audience. They are intelligent. They are inquisitive. They think they know it all. Becoming an ally instead of an enemy makes a lot of sense. Give them something to think about, something to create, something to do. This really works.

In addition, you need to know when to temper your character with this age group. If your clown character is real silly, you should consider toning that down for pre-teens. They’re into being "cool" and won’t react in a positive way if you are being too silly or too goofy. With this age, you should be more "human", more even-tempered and a little quieter. They will receive this as respect for their age and will respond accordingly.

First you need to figure out how to expand on your normal birthday party. Take a look at what you normally do. Figure out what is going to work with the older children. What parts should you keep in and what parts should you leave out? Once again, think about what might be "too silly". If you sing songs and substitute the wrong words, this is great for the younger parties, but probably won’t work for pre-teens. A puppet show that is a strong, professional show will probably work for any age. Magic, balloons, face painting, balancing, juggling…these are definitely skill related and all ages enjoy this type of entertainment.

When performing magic, you should choose tricks that are more suitable for this age. With the younger children, your magic should be visual and colorful. Anything that is too subtle or abstract goes right over their heads. However, the pre-teens will observe that something is happening. They will enjoy anything that motivates them to think and "wonder" how its done. Expand on this main portion of your show.

So let’s put this into action for your pre-teen birthday party. Upon arriving at the party, I quickly size up the situation. If the party is mostly girls, they enjoy any party situation. They join right in if I start talking about shopping at the mall, trying on makeup and clothes, which boyfriend is the cutest, etc. I tend to become one of them. Moms later will quietly tell me they wish their daughters would confide in them the way they confide in Peppermint. We just turn it into a "girlfriend" party, once they find out they can tell me anything. I had one 13-year old girl call me up and book me for her own party. All of her guests were the same age. There were also 5 moms who stayed and joined in the fun.

With 9 – 12 year old boys, it can be a slightly different reaction (i.e. "oh no, here comes a clown!") If that happens, I will loudly announce "Oh no, I must be in the wrong place. I was looking for "Justin’s" birthday party. But, I realize I’m in the wrong place. After looking at all of you, I can see this is an Arnold Schwarzeneger look-alike contest, not Justin’s birthday party." This gets their attention and they will quickly tell you that it IS Justin’s birthday party. I always act amazed and tell them they all look like body builders. They will usually comply with my request to see their muscles, going into hysterical body contortions that vaguely resemble a body builder contestant. Once they’ve convinced me that I’m in the right place, I begin my show. (The last two paragraphs may come across as sounding "sexist"; but anyone who has entertained this age group knows that there is a definite difference in how you interact with parties with all boys and parties with all girls.)

It is a longer, more involved show than what I do at my normal party. I have more time because I eliminate the parts that aren’t age-appropriate (i.e. singing "Happy Birthday" 10 times, playing game(s), etc.). Instead, I use Bruce Johnson’s "ABC-ESP" magic trick as a game / lead-in to the magic show (The New Calliope, May/June 1997).

As far as the magic show itself, the tricks that I select are more sophisticated and more involved. There are times when the surprise ending of a trick may be a $5.00 bill for the birthday child (I add this to my fee for the party). That’s always a sure hit! Don’t ever "play down" to this age group. Always "play up". By that I mean, assume they are intelligent and give them something to think about. They will recognize the respect you are giving them.

At this point, I have found it best to really get the kids involved in some hands-on activities. I recommend several options to the parent while planning the party. One of the favorites is balancing peacock feathers. I bring in enough for each child to get one and then teach them how to balance and play with the feathers. They get to keep their feather to take home (I also include the cost of the feathers in the fee for the party).

Another option is to teach them a sponge ball routine. Once again, I bring enough sponge balls for each child to get two and take home with them. I demonstrate and teach a basic magic routine and then, once they have that figured out, I show them several variations. A large percentage of magicians started out with the basic sponge ball routine as their very first trick. I always wonder if this might be starting a new Copperfield or Burton along towards a future career!

There are lots of other hands-on activities you could utilize. It just depends on what you normally do with your parties, what your special talents are and what you feel comfortable with teaching a group of pre-teens. Juggling scarves or balls would be fun. A simple puppet construction project would be wonderfully creative and could result in a puppet show being put on by the party guests. Hat manipulation, improv, short skits…the choices are many!

Once that activity is finished, I begin teaching them how to make their own balloon animals. I blow the balloons up prior to the party, making sure I bring enough for each child to make at least 4 balloon sculptures, allowing for mistakes and popping. Be prepared to give a lot of help to each one in twisting their first and second balloon. After that, they suddenly catch on and then its fun to watch how creative they can get. Of course, you can still make a balloon animal / sculpture for each of them if they want. But, I have found that they would rather make their own at that point. I’m kept busy blowing up more balloons as they become more proficient at balloon art.

Obviously, this is not a one-hour party. I book this as a minimum of 1-1/2 hours, depending on the number of children. It is best to hold the numbers to a maximum of 15 kids. It also helps if there are several adults around if there are younger siblings involved, as they will need extra help. Interestingly enough, the parents jump right in and start making balloons, too. Its fun to watch each child’s pile of balloons build up. As they walk out the door with their peacock feather and armload of balloons, I hear them telling their parents that it was the "most fun party" they’ve ever been to.

Most important, have RESPECT for this age group and they will respond in a positive way!

 

PARTIES FOR B-I-G KIDS

dults, the ultimate "big kids", have birthdays each year and love to celebrate those special milestones (i.e. 30th, 40th and 50th). Society’s traditional treatment of these birthdays is "over the hill", with everything black and ominous. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Adult birthday parties can be fun and colorful too. Let’s take a look at what can happen at parties for the big kids.

When a call comes in for an adult party, one of the first questions they ask is "Do you entertain at adults parties?" and the second question is "What do you actually do at an adult party?" The first thing I stress is that, as an entertainer, everything I do is "G-rated". I make that priority information when party planning an event for adults. There is nothing off-color or negative that I offer as "Peppermint".

There are a number of ways to handle a party for adults and we’re going to explore these now. As usual, I like to get a clear picture of what the party is all about. It is important to ask these questions before deciding what will work and what can happen.

First of all, will it be all adults or will it be a family-style party with lots of kids? It may be that they want to hire you to entertain the children only. In this situation, I handle it similar to a normal children’s party aiming the entertainment at the age group that will be there. You need to find out if the children will be in a separate area than the adults or whether it will be a mixed group. When it is just the children, you can proceed similar to a normal children’s party with the focus being on a generalized birthday theme. If the adults will also be included in your show, it is easy to involve the actual birthday "guest of honor" by making a birthday balloon hat, letting everyone sing happy birthday to him / her and even handing them a magic wand to assist with part of the show. Once again, this is information you will need to find out when party planning.

Some adult family-style parties are run more like a company picnic type of situation. If this is the case, I might decide to start with face painting, then make balloon animals for the children, run some games and end with the comedy magic show. The reason for having the show towards the end of the party is that the adults will be reconnecting with their children by then and are more likely to stay and watch the show after they’ve had a chance to socialize. I have found that the adult birthday guest of honor is more inclined to encourage the children be the focus for the entertainment when it is a family-style of party. The adults tend to stay more in the background when the children are around.

How you entertain at each party can be different depending on a variety of factors. It may be inside in one room, as opposed to being outside in an expansive lawn, or at a park, in a church hall, etc. I always ask if the children will be in the same room or different area as the adults. I also stress that I am not there as a babysitter and there will need to be adult supervision if I am in a separate area. At one outdoor party, I was with the children in a canopied area that was totally separate from where the adults were. The adults had live music and their meal was being served dinner style by the caterers. Boxed lunches were brought to the "children’s area" which is where I was. There was a babbling brook that meandered through this landscaped area with stepping stones and little bridges. The adults were focusing on their meal and the music was too loud for them to hear the children. If you are there to entertain and are the only adult available, there is no one to take a child to the bathroom and also no one to watch as a little one might try to lean over the bridge and fish out a ball that they dropped. You should not be the only one responsible for supervising the children. You are there as an entertainer. This is an important piece of information that needs to be addressed while party planning. (By the way, at that party, there were several teenagers hired to supervise the children.)

Adult parties that want you to focus your entertainment on the children are fairly easy because you can treat them like a regular children’s birthday party. However, when the hostess calls you and asks you about entertaining at the party for all adults, you will need to take a different approach in what you do. Once again, party planning is essential in putting this together in the best possible way.

When the host/hostess asks me what I do at adult parties, I offer a variety of options, explaining that it is their choice on how much time or how little time they want to hire me for. Again, a lot will depend on how they are planning their party, what they are willing to do to entertain their friends and how much they want to designate for you to do. Here are some possibilities.

A comedy magic show is what I am hired most for at adult parties. I offer a "roast" of the birthday guest of honor. I ask the host/hostess for as much information as they can give me about the birthday person (i.e. hobbies, habits, funny stories, idiosyncrasies, likes & dislikes, favorite foods, music, television shows, movies, high school / college information, what they do for a living, etc.). The more they can give me, the more I have to work with in putting together a show. I ask that they only give me information that won’t embarrass or make anyone uncomfortable. This is not something they can tell you on the first phone call. Most people need a few days to compile this information and they will usually call back several times with additional tidbits that they will suddenly remember. By the time I have all of this information, I feel I know that birthday person fairly well.

Then it is time for me to start selecting specific magic tricks that will incorporate this person’s life into my show. For instance, one man was an avid bicycle rider and had recently been involved in a minor accident. "Roger" was not injured, but his bicycle went over a cliff. All of his friends had been gently ribbing him about it and I was assured it was not a serious or negative incident which allowed me to use this as part of my show. The magic trick that I associated with this was a rope trick with my "patter" being how he had tried to use a rope to pull his bicycle back up. The storyline I used was a fun fabrication of the scene of the accident; the interesting part was the "Roger" stood there nodding his head at everything I said. People were laughing because he was actually agreeing with the comedy scenario that I had created specifically for his party.

One lady "Penny" hired me for her 50th birthday. She is an avid fan of Elvis. In fact, they had an Elvis impersonator as part of the entertainment. One of the tricks I used in her "roast" was the Spelling Bee. The letters I showed in the beginning read "P LIVES". At the end, it read "ELVIS P". The way this trick is performed, you show the stand, holding the letters "P LIVES". Then you take each letter out of the stand and shuffle them, placing them in a pile upside down on the table. The audience tells you (without looking at any of the letters) which space each card goes into. At the conclusion of that trick when you turn the stand back around, the letters had been rearranged to spell "ELVIS P". (This is a great trick for elementary school-age children using a combination of any 7 letters.)

One adult birthday party I did was for a man who owned a small construction company. The wife asked me to also include each of the employees in my roast. She gave me information about each one and I put together a show with one magic trick associated to each person. It was an interesting collage of stories, but each person beamed as their own trick was being performed.

This type of magic show, or "roast" as I call it, takes a lot of time to create. I usually put together about a 30 minute show. Some parties hire me just for the "roast". Keep in mind that all of the guests will be gathered around you for this type of show, usually around the perimeter of the room, so you need to play "big". This is different from the close-up style of entertainment with a group of children sitting on the floor in front of you. Sometimes you will need to contend with some background noise from the kitchen or caterers; but, for the most part, you will have their undivided attention. And you most certainly will be videotaped. If you don’t wish to have your show videotaped, please remember to specify this at the time you book the party.

This type of adult party can also be put together similar to a children’s party. I love to party plan with the host / hostess and offer ideas. If you are a balloon artist, this is something that can be offered. It can really add a fun element to the party. Some parties hire me just to make balloon hats for everyone. One party was being held in a barn. Hay bales were everywhere. The music and dancing was country western and everyone was having a ball. I was making balloon hats, starting with the 30 year old birthday "girl" and working my way through the crowd. At one point, they called me over to two guys sitting on a bale of hay next to the keg. They told me that these two guys had not moved once for the entire evening, sitting there like they were Siamese twins. I was asked to make appropriate hats for them. After talking with the two men for a brief minute, I was assured that they, indeed, had not moved from each other’s side all evening (not wanting to leave their seats so close to the keg). So, I made each one of them an identical hat and then connected the two hats together. That way, I informed the crowd, wherever one went, the other had to follow. The cameras started flashing and they somehow managed to find room for me to sit between the two so they could get me in the pictures too.

I should mention here that a lot of adult parties serve alcoholic beverages to their guests. As long as you establish your character as being G-rated, it is usually fairly easy to have fun with these groups without having any difficulty arising from their consumption of alcohol. Once again, if this isn’t something you want to deal with, you will need to make that decision at the time you are party planning, not once you get to the party

One man hired me for his 50th birthday party which was being held at a public park. There were 40+ people expected and he wanted balloon hats for each one. I made each person’s hat different and somehow reflected their personality or job. I would ask each one a little about themselves before making the hat. Those sitting close by would add their own little tidbits about that individual and then I would make the hat. It became the focus of the entire group because they all wanted to get their two cents’ worth in as part of each hat being made. For instance, the lady who loved her flower garden had a hat with flowers on it. The man who was an avid fisherman had a fishing pole with a balloon fish dangling from the top of his hat. The couple who had recently been married had hearts all over their hats.

Face painting for adults is also very popular. As I’ve mentioned in past articles, I specialize in full-face painting. For adult only functions, this can also be fun. The bald head is the perfect canvass for a smiley face or a spider and web. One bald man asked me to paint eyes on the back of his head. It was pretty hysterical seeing him walking around with two eyes in the back of his head. In addition, be prepared to get creative with your painting. The woman who has just had her 4th baby may want a baby rattle or diaper pin painted on her cheek. The construction worker might ask for a rusty pickup truck or tools painted on him. A paint pallet and brush on the artist’s cheek will be appreciated.

If the host / hostess wants to go all out and hire you for everything, it could also include running adult games. The best ones I have found are the old favorites from our childhood. Get some fun 1950’s music to play for musical chairs; passing an orange under their chins down the line as a relay race, lifesavers being passed from toothpick to toothpick, etc. This can all be coordinated with the host / hostess ahead of time. You can also make suggestions for game prizes to be Cracker Jacks, fuzzy dice for the car rear view mirror, Yo-Yo’s, paddle balls, etc. These can be included in your fee if you are asked to provide them.

In setting your fee for this type of party, you will need to take into consideration what was involved in pre-party planning, purchases, how much time you will be there, etc. A comedy magic "roast" is far more involved due to the personalization of the show and your fee should reflect that. Sometimes it is necessary for you to visit the site of the party with the host / hostess and a consultation fee may need to be added.

Adult parties are not for every entertainer. But if you decide to perform at them, you will find these parties can be a lot of fun. I really love to be involved in party planning with the host / hostess. Another benefit is that other bookings can come as a result of referrals from these adult parties. I have found that a number of corporate events are booked from each adult party I entertain at.

One thing to remember is this: Adults are just big kids who still love to have fun!

 

HAPPY HOLIDAY TO YOU

It’s that time of year again. The holiday season is upon us and everyone is trimming their trees, hanging up their stockings or lighting the Menorah. However, there are still birthday parties to celebrate. The big dilemma for most parents is to make their child’s birthday special enough so it doesn’t just blend in with the holidays. Let’s look at several ways you can adjust your party to add that "special touch".

The first important thing to remember occurs when you are party planning with the parent (The New Calliope, November/December 1996). It is imperative to ask if they want you to include the holiday in your show or to focus entirely on the birthday. My December birthdays are about half-and-half. Half of the parents ask me to stay completely away from anything to do with the holiday season and focus on their child’s birthday only. The other half either asks me to definitely include the holiday or give me carte blanche. One thing to remember when asking the parents during the party planning is to specify "holiday". I learned my lesson many years ago when I asked a mother if she wanted me to include some "Christmas" magic in the show. She responded by telling me they were Jewish.

If the parent specifically asks you to focus only on the birthday, your party can be planned pretty much as you normally would at any other time during the year. There are a few things to keep in mind, however. One is the excitability of the children during this season. There is so much sugar being ingested that your audience can be somewhat hyperactive. If the party starts right after school lets out, parents will sometimes ask whether they should serve a snack first. I like to recommend a light, healthy snack before I get there.

Now, let’s explore what can happen when the parents want you to incorporate the holiday season into your birthday show. First and most important is not to lose sight of why you are all there: to celebrate a birthday. Don’t get so caught up in the spirit of the season and forget to honor the birthday guest of honor. My party scenario remains the same. The changes I make are with the magic show, the balloon animals and face painting.

The magic tricks can be subtly or completely changed. By subtle, I mean to use a trick that you normally would use and tie it in to the season with your storyline or patter. For example, at a party with a Winnie the Pooh theme, I ask the children what color is Pooh Bear’s shirt (answer: red). I suggest that we do something nice for Pooh, like make him a new shirt. I open my sewing bag (change bag) and pull out a blue silk. The children will tell me it is the wrong color. We then use their magic to try to change it to red. It usually will turn pink or green before we finally get it right and the birthday child pulls out the final silk which is red. This is a trick that can be used at any time of the year with any type of theme. During the holiday season, I change it to making a new suit for Santa Claus. The rest of the trick continues as explained above with the end resulting in the birthday child pulling out the final red silk (Santa’s color).

Another example is performing a sponge ball routine. You begin by asking what color is Rudolph’s nose (answer: red). The sponge ball you hold up is black. They’ll tell you it is the wrong color prompting you to ask for their help with magic. Whatever your normal sponge ball routine is, the final outcome is producing the red sponge ball. You can find instructional books and videos on sponge ball routines from places like Harry Allen’s Daytona Magic and Duane Laflin’s Magic and Silks.

If you want to change completely to holiday magic, there are a lot of wonderful choices. Some of my favorites are using a change bag that looks like a Santa stocking, a Santa Claus climbing down the chimney (there are several variations of this), Rudolph silks where his nose is missing, making an angel halo appear from your change bag to give to the birthday girl, etc. These can only be used during the holiday season, but are wonderfully effective in connecting with the Christmas spirit. And don’t forget you can use them to entertain at other holiday events like Christmas office parties, holiday festivals, etc.

When a parent lets me know they are celebrating Hanukah, there are a number of fun ways to incorporate this into your show. As far as magic is concerned, you can produce the Star of David from a production box or a change bag. Also, the "Dreidel" is a wonderful game and song that the children can sing along with.

The use of puppets can involve everyone in the season. My puppet, Tricksy Rabbit, normally lives in a black hat. However, at Christmas time, he comes up out of a Santa hat. One of the routines I use with Tricksy Rabbit is where he comes out of the hat and tries to convince everyone that he is actually Santa Claus. The kids have a lot of fun trying to convince Tricksy that he’s a rabbit.

Do your homework and research Hanukah and Christmas to come up with some fun plays and skits to involve the party guests in.

Making balloon animals to go along with the holidays may be as easy as using red, green and white colored balloons only. During the holiday season, I make a reindeer, cinnamon bear, snowbunny, candy cane, Christmas wreath and other holiday characters. I like to have the children sing carols while I’m making the balloons. Face painting can also be modified to fit into the season. If you specialize in tattoo styles, you can paint trees, stars, presents, candy canes, menorahs, etc. For full face, I offer an elf, reindeer, Santa Claus, angels and other holiday characters.

As the birthday gets closer to Christmas, many homes will have their trees up and decorated, often in the same room where you are entertaining. I have seen the birthday presents piled beneath the tree. I always like to take notice of this and make a comment like "Wow! Look at this wonderful birthday tree they put up just for your special day." This always prompts the children into correcting me by pointing out that it isn’t a birthday tree. But it does clarify right away the difference between what the tree is there for and what we are there for.

When parents ask me for suggestions of activities for the children to do either before I arrive or after I leave, it is fun to get creative. One of my favorites is to have each guest make an ornament. The materials can be construction paper, colored glue, confetti, etc. It is nice if they have a separate small (artificial) tree to sit in the middle of the table. The children can hang their ornaments to decorate the refreshment table during the party and then take their ornaments home with them. Or they can leave them to create a "memory tree". I remember one young girl whose December birthday resulted in her having a separate "birthday tree" in her room that was decorated with all of the ornaments that her friends had made over the years at her parties. She had wonderful memories of each of her birthdays as she decorated her tree every year, adding new ones with each ensuing birthday.

There are definitely some December birthdays that get celebrated in June every year. I always call those "half-birthdays" because they are turning 5-1/2 or 6-1/2 or whatever. Remember to make those extra special, too, when they come along.

Finally, relax during this busy season and remember to have fun with the children. No matter how overpowering the holidays can be, the birthday party can still be made special…by you!

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